To many, the Michigan vs. Notre Dame football game last Saturday was nothing more than a collegiate football match. While certainly entertaining for those fans lucky enough to be in Michigan Stadium on game day and a worthwhile athletic experience for the athletes on the field, it would be hard to overestimate the national exposure that games such as these provide the University. Not all of this exposure, however, is positive. Before, during and after the game, a number of Michigan fans and students behaved shamefully.
The University puts a premium on achieving the high levels of athletic excellence needed to garner national recognition for its programs, paying tuition and lowering entrance requirements for its top recruits. As if to justify these expenses, Michigan football put on a show Saturday that will be talked about for weeks to come.
Detracting from this stunning performance was a number of students and fans inside and outside of the stadium; those present at the game had front-row seats. Many Michigan fans verbally and/or physically attacks anyone unfortunate enough to be there in support of the visiting team. Attacks on individuals were sporadic but not uncommon, and went well beyond the good-natured ribbing that goes along with any competitive endeavor. A handful of Michigan supporters did their best to make these visitors to our town and our univeristy feel wholly unwelcome.
The usual column of spectators leaving the stadium turned into a walk of shame for the Notre Dame faithful, forced to endure the physically intimidating environment of hundreds of intoxicated partygoers intent on taunting and harassing anyone not wearing the maize and blue. These individuals attacked visiting fans, often verbally, but occasionally physically with bottles and food thrown through the air.
Such attacks are to some universities a regrettable but inherent part of the spectacle of college sports. Michigan fans scoffed in 1998 at the behavior of Michigan State fans, who were videotaped vandalizing and destroying private property after their men’s basketball team lost to Duke in the Final Four. The behavior of Ohio State fans has earned the reputation as some of the worst in the Big Ten.
It should not go unmentioned the overwhelming show of support that came from a normally dormant student section. It was one of the few occasions over the past several seasons in which the Michigan fans stood behind their team. Most of the crowd participated in the “Maize-out,” and much-maligned quarterback John Navarre was cheered all four quarters for his solid play.
While the events of last Saturday were isolated incidents committed by no more than a fraction of Michigan fans, these acts of verbal and physical violence should be condemned by all those interested in promoting the reputation of the University and its students. There is a distinct difference between the faithful support of your home team and the wanton abuse of your opponent. Michigan students and fans should do more in the future to ensure that those visiting our campus are made to feel welcome, from wherever they happen to hail.