When I got to my seat at Yost this past Saturday night, primed and ready for the Wolverines” meeting with Michigan State, I realized that I was lucky to have arrived 15 minutes before faceoff.
It gave me time to evaluate the letter placed on every seat in and around the student section from Athletic Director Bill Martin, a respectful request that fans show support for Michigan in ways other than verbally attacking the Michigan State players and their families.
I thought it was the first move Martin had made in his nearly two years at the helm that I really disagreed with.
I was still getting accustomed to life at Michigan when former Athletic Director Tom Goss was run out of town, leaving a department in disarray.
And I remember well my reaction when former University President Lee Bollinger convinced his buddy Bill Martin to take the interim position a little more than a month later.
I have nothing but respect for the man who, after eventually accepting the position full time, decided to donate his $250,000 salary for the first year to the department, which was in financial chaos by the end of the Goss administration. Martin is the type of man who always returns phone calls if he doesn”t have time to before he leaves work, he calls from his home. He realizes the importance of embracing the students and their concerns, and is insistent on maintaining Michigan”s great sense of athletic pride.
My gripe is not with the letter. I think that politely asking the fans to change their behavior is a respectable effort. It doesn”t matter how I, personally, feel about the Yost chants I think that if he wants to change the appearance of the program, that”s his prerogative and his job.
But while I don”t consider myself a radical supporter of Thoreau”s “Civil Disobedience,” I have no problem with the fact that not only did the fans not change their behavior, but they were more vociferous than ever.
My problem is what lies behind the letter. Anyone who read the note could have figured that it was a thinly veiled threat. Martin is so adamant about the issue that he has admitted that he would be more than willing to throw fans out if the situation does not improve. He told me that two months ago, when he mentioned his plans to put a letter on the seats (just as coach Red Berenson did several years ago).
By putting the note on seats, the only possible reaction I could have expected was that a couple of thousand fans would stand up, look around and realize that they had the numbers war won. Sure Mr. Martin. You and what army? I was right.
Again, I do respect what Martin is trying to do, even though I may not agree with him. But there is a better way to do it. He should be meeting with the leaders of the student section and directing his impassioned plea toward them.
If he can appeal to the students” good nature, and convince them to stop embarrassing the families of players, while still having fun, then more power to him. I”ll respect him even more.
But if he wants to go to the mattresses on this issue and bring martial law to Yost, he needs to realize that he”s not going to win.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.