Taunting at High School Sports Events

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.

In January 1015, I retired after teaching English for 34 years at Newton South High School. I continue as girls' tennis coach there, this being my 26th year in that role. My wife, Dahlia Rudavsky, to whom I have been married for forty-four years, is an employment lawyer on the side of the oppressed. My wife graduated from Newton South, and we have lived in Waban since 1980. My favorite pastimes are writing (see my periodic column in the Newton Tab) and playing tennis. I also help raise funds for Yad Chessed, a wonderful local charity. You might also find me supporting various causes around Newton.

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Matt YospinJess BartonEmilyNortonSallee Lipshutz Recent comment authors
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Lisa DiFelice

I have to agree with you. That group (is it the “old men”?) over the years has made many offensive comments that provoke other offensive comments. It’s suppose to be fun? But I think it invites a hostile environment. It is supposedly an honor to be invited into this role, run by the senior class. With these most recent events at hand, I think the school administrators should take action.

Julia Malakie

I cover a LOT of high school sports for the Lowell Sun, in northern Middlesex County and southern New Hampshire. I can’t remember any ethnic or religious-related chants, or anything about sausages. The big ones are “you can’t do that” after a foul call, and “air ball” when someone misses. I’m told that BC fans like to yell “safety school” at BU fans. That’s rude, and BU’s a great school, too, so I doubt it’s even an accurate insult.

I’d bet most of the kids yelling these over-the-line religious taunts would never dream of doing so if it were them alone. I think there’s definitely a herd effect, as with the bullying problem. It’s up to the adults on the scene, whether administrators or teachers or parents, to call a halt to it as Bob did. And for parents to try to raise kids who will resist the herd effect.

Kids learn from adults and when they see bad behavior highlighted in the media in a manner that makes it seem acceptable, if not outright encouraged, we should not be surprised to see more occurrences. Until the issue is handled on a higher level, I think the cognizant dissonance between our lessons of civility and the behavior of our society’s “role models” will be continue to be an obstacle.

Sallee Lipshutz

Cognitive dissonance is putting it mildly! Highly civilized societies have been crumbled by demagoguery, defined (www.vocabulary.com/dictionary) aptly as “a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people.” It is that worst nature in each of us that we must not unleash or allow our children to express in hurtful ways at others. It takes courage to stop it. I applaud the Principals at CM and NN; I applaud the coaches and teachers who taught my children at South; I applaud Bob Jampol. I also applaud anyone who says that the Donald, whatever his political message includes, and however much you might rightly or wrongly agree with his observations, has crossed the line and unleashed an uncontrollable evil that can devour the world with its feckless recklessness.

Emily Norton
Emily Norton

Good for you Bob for speaking up. I am guessing the kids will always remember that.

Jess Barton

Great post Mr. Jampol. Echoing Julia, I can’t recall hearing any religiously motivated chants at high school games before, but with the group think and anything goes atmosphere at many high school games coupled with the current political climate, I can’t say I’m too surprised that it has come to this. In my opinion, it has been an established practice for fans to yell “you suck” (or worse) at both teams and individuals for no other apparent reason than it being part of the game. In this instance, this reprehensible chant occurred before the game even began and was preceded by North fans taunting the CM fans, and it is shocking that the chants degraded in the way they did, but in my opinion it was only a matter of time. Religious hatred will always rightfully rise to a higher level of alarm but to a high schooler caught up in the atmosphere of a tournament game in the MA high school fan culture of anything goes, is it really that surprising? Since I started going to North volleyball and basketball games as a child, especially tournament games or those against rival schools such as Needham or Brookline, I always found that it was pretty expected of fans to create a somewhat hostile environment, the belief of which was bolstered by the police presence at many games, and instances of fans breaking out into fights over the years. Individual taunts and the like have been tolerated for years and while… Read more »

Matt Yospin

Good for you, Bob, for speaking up. It’s pathetic that sports cheering has devolved into bigotry. I hope that people in all communities take this as a teachable moment and work to foster civility and a culture of positive cheering.