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January 7, 1999



Last month I attended the Pitt-UConn basketball game at Fitzgerald Field House. I was both disappointed and stunned at the game's outcome. I saw none of the poor behavior alleged to have been engaged in by Pitt fans. However, I was dismayed by Pitt enthusiasts chanting "UConn sucks" during the game. I have also heard the "sucks" chant in Pitt Stadium, sometimes in response to the witless offering of Nittany Lions fans: "We are Penn State." There are a good many reasons to drop the "sucks" chant. First, the purpose for cheering at an athletic contest is to encourage the individual or team to perform better, or to express pride in, and approval of, performance. It is not to insult or denigrate the opposition. As a practical matter, if it has any effect at all, such negative chanting may spur the opposition and be counterproductive. Second, that chant reflects on those who participate in it and, unfortunately, may also reflect on the University. Those hearing the chant may draw conclusions about the sportsmanship and intellect of Pitt fans, many of whom are students and alumni of the University. Third, the University devotes considerable personnel and financial resources to maintain and to improve the perception of various publics, local, regional and national, about the institution. Several University Senate committees also are engaged in activities to put the University in a favorable light. The "sucks" chant does not complement these efforts. Fourth, the University has an extremely talented and competitively successful dance team. It also has a very capable group of cheerleaders. Both entertain the audiences at athletic contests and build enthusiasm and school spirit. The chant detracts from the positive image presented by these University representatives. A few weeks ago, a man told me that he and his wife had attended the Steelers-Ravens game in Baltimore early in the season. He said that the Steelers fans in his section used the traditional Steelers cheers, such as "Here we go Steelers, etc.," and that the Ravens fans sitting nearby responded with "Pittsburgh sucks." Do Pittsburgh Panthers fans need to behave at the level of Ravens fans? The use of "sucks" as an almost all-purpose derogatory term is very popular with teenagers and other vocabulary-deficient juveniles of all ages.

At athletic contests at some universities the audience hears something a bit clever which, although not a traditional type of cheer, can be considered to be supportive of the team. This fall, while attending a CMU football game, I heard, when the CMU defense was on the field, the following: "Kaopectate, stop the runs." I don't know whether this is an original CMU creation. Even though it doesn't create a particularly attractive image, it supports the team and does not disparage the opposition. Perhaps a new cheer to rouse fans in support of Panthers teams is needed. I will give $100 to the author of a new cheer in support of the teams that the cheerleading coach adds to the repertoire of the cheerleaders. Given that cheers are ordinarily very short, this is a generous offer, at least on a per word basis. Submit your proposed cheer to me or to Ms. Nuzzo, the cheerleading coach. I'll be happy to spend the $100.

Nathan Hershey is president of the University Senate.

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