Written by Joe Kleinsasser Tuesday, 14 October 2008 14:44
In major college and professional football, signs are all the rage.
Signs praise players, belittle opponents, support teams and energize fans. Some are funny. Others are serious. Still others get personal.
TV cameras frequently zero in on the most eye-catching signs, because signs display an integral part of the college football atmosphere.
A few signs are outrageous. But what’s outrageous to me may not be outrageous to you. And that, my friends, is a conundrum for some administrators.
Cleverly worded signs can rally the crowd and at least generate some laughs.
Last season there were such signs as:
“We want a new Carr with Les Miles!” — Michigan fan
“Kansas football: A tradition since September!” — Jayhawk fan
“If you can read this, you are not a Cornhusker” — Colorado fan vs. Nebraska
Signs aren’t much of an issue at local high school and small-college games. In fact, signs are few and far between at Hillsboro High School and Tabor College football games.
However, signs have become a big deal in some locales. Just ask students at the University of Virginia.
The Charlottesville school has banned all signs at home games. An athletic department spokesman said the policy is “intended to support and promote sportsmanship and positive game day environment for all fans in attendance at athletic events.”
Not all signs are banned, of course. Signs announcing the cost of over-priced refreshments are allowed. What exactly is banned?
Bio-medical engineering student David Becker can tell you. During a game last year against Duke, Becker held up a sign that read, “Fire Groh!” That would be Al Groh, the Virginia football coach.
According to Rick Reilly, ESPN.com columnist, a guard took away the sign, telling the student, “No signs.”
So Becker made a smaller sign, thinking that maybe he had violated some kind of size-limit rule. That sign was confiscated as well. When Becker asked why, he was told, “Word from the athletic department.”
According to Reilly, “So he (Becker) wrote ‘Fire Groh!’ on a sheet of notebook paper. The guard took that, too, saying signs of a negative nature weren’t allowed and that if Becker wanted to go for one more, he’d gladly pitch him out under an ‘exit’ sign.”
Bear in mind this is at Virginia, the nation’s first secular university, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, or as Reilly points out, “Framer of the constitution! Champion of ‘certain inalienable rights,’ like free speech! The man who once wrote: ‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing’!”
Virginia, and I suspect many universities, have policies permitting the removal of signs with derogatory comments or profanity, or ones that block another’s view.
But the new policy now covers all signs, even the positive ones.
While the new policy deals with signs, banners and flags, what about slogans on T-shirts? A University of Virginia athletic department official admitted that remains a gray area. If that goes, will freedom of vocal expression be next?
In bleacherreport.com, a columnist wrote “News flash, Virginia big wigs: Just because people don’t write it on a sign does not mean the anger or frustration will go away. Colleges are supposed to be a safe place to express opinion. I hope UVA will remember that.”
Reilly suggests that Virginia students should bring signs that say nothing. Bring signs that say, “This Is Not a Sign.” Or bring 60,000 signs and let the athletic department goons try to sort them out.
If nothing else, this debate is a sign of the times.