Last Friday’s nightmarish events at the Catholic Memorial-Newton North basketball game have provoked strong reactions on all sides. The exchange began when some North students chanted “Where are the girls?” and “Sausage Fest!” The first taunt mocks CM for being an all-boys’ school. The second has two different glosses. The least offensive is that sausage fests are all-male events,. More troubling is the suggestion that the taunt has pornographic content.
CM’s response, however, shocked the North crowd into silence: “You killed Jesus!” This accusation, even if historically inaccurate, has presaged persecution and slaughter for millennia. Let’s be generous and assume that CM’s students were being playful and did not grasp the icy chill any Jew would feel when hearing this taunt.
By the way, this exchange of insults preceded the contest’s beginning. Had I been an administrator in attendance, I might have halted the proceedings right then and there. Hindsight, of course, is always twenty-twenty. In my view, the CM chant falls way beyond the pale. Barring the CM fans from the next game seems a fitting punishment for an egregious sin, however imprecisely those students understood the pain their words inflicted. Adolescents need consequences for bad behavior.
Nonetheless, the events at that game must be seen in the context of contemporary culture, specifically its tolerance of cruelty and rudeness in public spaces. In this light, North’s students are hardly innocent. I attended a home game earlier in the tournament against Xaverian. The North students came ready to battle the opposing fans. Alas, there were hardly any there, only the families of the players. Thus, the North section contented itself with making fun of the physical appearance of a few of the opposition players or shouting insults at missed shots. Though in a lower key, their behavior still embarrassed me, a parent of a North alumnus. Another parent told me that the taunting between the two rooting sections at Brookline-North football games is particularly venomous and at times obscene.
Newton South students behave no better. In the late 90s I stopped attending home basketball games because of the fans’ incivility. Once, when the South students taunted and drowned out the opponents’ cheerleaders, I tried to intervene. I addressed the students: “Your behavior has made me ashamed of belonging to this community. We are the hosts, and we should treat our visitors as guests.” They looked at me incredulously. One of them responded, “But it’s just for fun, and all the college kids act the same way. You’re taking it too seriously.” That answer, I supposed, was sincere…but utterly wrong. I replied, “Why not just watch the game and cheer on your team? Why put down the opponent?” They smiled and shrugged their shoulders.
A few years later I attended a girls’ volleyball match, South at North. North had the best team in the state, led by a great coach who is still there. Fairly quickly, North’s players took control and never looked back. The large lead, earned fairly on the court, didn’t sit well with South’s fans, who started chanting, “Newton North s___s!”
As the only teacher from South in the stands, I once again felt constrained to weigh in. I walked over to the crowd and shushed them, no mean feat (fortunately, some of the ringleaders were my own students). “First of all,” I cried, “that chant is rude, and it doesn’t represent our school well at all. Second of all,” I added, “it is untrue since North’s girls are way ahead. It makes no sense.” With that I walked away. This time my words did the trick, at least until the end of that game.
Facts remain facts, however. Many students attend these indoor athletic events just to engage in verbal warfare with fans from the opposing school. Bad behavior often involves cursing the refs, mocking opposing players, and disparaging the other team’s fans and cheerleaders. I just don’t grasp the source of the venom. Then again, judging by the candidates’ behavior in this year’s presidential campaign, I shouldn’t be surprised at all.