This story was produced by Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org, a non-profit, online news website dedicated to collaborating with Iowa news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative work.
A football fan spat on a University of Iowa student’s father, who was wearing a UI shirt. Another fan chucked a full can of beer at an Iowa State University cheerleader’s head, and others yelled obscenities from an apartment balcony at an ISU student in Iowa City for the UI-ISU football game in September.
Those are just a few examples of sports-fan behavior that many think has plummeted to the trashiest level in years.
“Everyone can cheer on their school and boo the other team, but I think it gets too personal with fans singling people out or calling them names, something that should have nothing to do with a football game,” said Alexa Probst, a sophomore cheerleader at ISU. “I had to witness one of the cheerleaders on my squad getting a full beer can thrown at her head just because she was wearing an ISU uniform.”
Mark Weisman, a sophomore running back for the Hawkeyes, said trash talking is about equal among universities, and it happens on and off the field.
“They get some alcohol in them, and they start saying whatever they want,” he said of the fans who draw attention to their rude behavior.
One more round may be on its way. The UI football team will try to defend home turf at Kinnick Stadium on Friday against the University of Nebraska.
Poor sportsmanship has caught the attention of top UI officials. As trash talking degenerated early in the football season, President Sally Mason urged students before the Oct. 20 Penn State game to start behaving.
Before that game, UI fans wore T-shirts mocking the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal while taking a jab at Nebraska. Written on the T-shirts was, “I’d rather shower at Penn State than cheer for the Huskers.”
Fans at Ohio State University and Louisiana State University had similar T-shirts, the Ohio State one aimed at the archrival it plays on Saturday — Michigan — and the LSU one aimed at the rival University of Alabama.
“It crosses the line for the people who were affected by Sandusky’s actions,” Lauri Peterson, a UI sophomore, said about the disgraced former Penn State assistant coach. “It isn’t something to joke about in my opinion.”
Joshua Berka, assistant director of event management for the UI athletic department, said police can shut down anyone trying to sell unauthorized T-shirts on campus. Police who see fans wearing an offensive T-shirt in the stadium can ask the offenders to leave.
While fans and athletes trash talk at every game, the tenor during an Iowa-Iowa State game usually has a harsher edge.
Indira Alic, an ISU sophomore, visited Iowa City this year for the game and said she dealt frequent harassment from UI fans.
“I got called a dumb whore by some guys from a balcony and everyone told me to go back to ‘Lames,’ ” Alic said. “I’ve seen some trash talk in Ames, too, but not nearly as much as when the game is in Iowa City.”
But Caitlin Johnson, a UI sophomore, said the rivalry is equally bad in both cities.
“Last year when the game was in Ames, my dad was spit on by an Iowa State fan,” Johnson said. It was unprovoked, she said. “Spitting on a 50-year-old man who has done nothing to an ISU fan is when trash talking becomes inappropriate.”
One targeted group is cheerleaders. Kaitlyn Dornbier, a junior Hawkeye cheerleader, believes simply wearing a cheerleading uniform exacerbates trash talk from fans.
“We are one of the faces of the university and, being such, it gives people an outlet to express frustration and dislike with the institution or program as a whole,” Dornbier said
LITTLE CAN BE DONE
With trash talking occurring throughout the game, is there any way to prevent it?
Probst, Peterson, Alic, Johnson and Weisman said no. Even though they see it many times getting out of hand and say it could be taken down a notch, they do not see much the universities can do to stop it. Fans have the right to their opinions, they said. But when fans drink too much, confrontations often happen.
Nevertheless, Berka said the UI will keep trying to reduce hostility between teams.
“We strive to always show hospitality to visiting fan by positive cheering and removal of degrading remarks,” Berka said. “On game day we, as fans, need to treat them as guests in our home.”
The Hawk’s Nest, UI’s official student section of Hawkeye Athletics, is asked to play a role in the university’s effort to improve sportsmanship, although it yells “sucks” after the names of visiting team members when starting lineups are introduced before a basketball game.
Any hope for fan behavior this coming weekend may rest Berka’s suggestion that fans usually are more hostile at the beginning of a season than at the end.
“In the heart of the Big Ten season, fans stop worrying so much about the rivalry and start focusing more on our football team’s actual performance.”
Michelle Ngo is a sophomore journalism major at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.