An anonymous former Oregon football player sent a graphic letter to John Canzano of The Oregonian, entitled 'I Love the Ducks. I Hate Duck Fans,' detailing his troubling experience as a fan at Autzen Stadium during last week's nationally televised game against UCLA.
Attending a game as a spectator for the first time in his life, the player was offended and appalled by what he saw in the crowd, and ended the letter by telling Oregon fans to "go (expletive) themselves."
The player's identity was kept anonymous, though Canzano revealed he had played in a recent BCS bowl game for Oregon.
Here are three takeaways from his rant:
Fans Can Get Spoiled By Success
What has happened at Oregon in the past decade-plus is remarkable. Mike Bellotti took the team to new heights in the early 2000s, winning 10 or more games four times from 2000 to 2008. Chip Kelly took it to astounding new heights during his four-year tenure, as the team made four straight BCS bowl games, winning two. Mark Helfrich has kept the ball rolling in 2013.
This season alone, the Ducks are undefeated, ranked No. 2 in the country, possess the scariest offense in college football and are a favorite to make the BCS National Championship Game.
Still, according to the letter, apparently none of that is good enough. Fans were screaming expletives at the players all game long.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, the current Heisman front-runner, was told to, "Throw it inbounds, (expletive)," and running back De'Anthony Thomas was chastised for not running well enough.
Those are two of the most elite players in the country and top NFL prospects. The fans in question have enjoyed dizzying success in the past few years because of these players' contributions. The hard work of the players is the reason these fans feel so entitled in the first place.
Is that really a fair way to reward them?
College Athletes Are People Too
The most haunting part of the letter was the comparison between college athletes and Spartans, explaining how the players sometimes feel like exploited warriors:
I remember walking in from fall camp practice and talking to my teammates about how similar our lives were to the TV series Spartacus. We were slaves. We were paid enough to live, eat, and train... And nothing more. We went out on the field where we were broken down physically and mentally every day, only to wake up and do it again on the next. On the outside, spectators placed bets and objectified us. They put us on pedestals and worshipped us for a short time, but only as long as we were winning. In the end, we were just a bunch of dumbass (racial slur) for the owners to whip, and the rich to bet on.
That's a chilling representation of how college athletes are treated, and it might be a bit extreme. But even if college athletes aren't being exploited quite the way Spartans were, the player's allusion does bring up an interesting point.
It's important for fans to recognize that players are people too. They're college-aged kids who are students and sons and brothers when not on the football field. This is something they do, but at the end of the day, it is not who they are.
Calling someone an expletive because he made a bad play might seem justified from the crowd, but it's not. You aren't just saying that to a faceless drone in a helmet, you're saying that to a real human being.
This letter is a reminder that athletes are not just athletes—they're people. And they deserve to be treated with respect.
Groupthink is Dangerous in Big Crowds
Groupthink is a dangerous phenomenon, especially in large, alcohol-infused crowds.
In the letter, the player identifies one particularly troubling example of groupthink, where a woman's vulgar (and pointless) jokes are rewarded with laughter instead of scorn:
Not too long after, a woman a couple seats down yelled for 10 minutes straight about how the players were playing like "(expletive)". The coaches were being "(expletive)". The refs were being "(expletive)". All during the time I was telling my friend how embarrassing it was to have her on our side. And then I started hearing laughter from the surrounding crowd and encouragement of that behavior. Is this really what goes on in the stands? Is this really the type of people we attract???
Groupthink is a mode where individuals act differently because of the pressures of a group around them, making faulty decisions out of the necessity to conform. They think their behavior is acceptable because other people are doing it.
No one wants to be the guy who stands out from the crowd. No one wants to be the one who fights back or tells that lady to zip it. If they did, as the anonymous player did, they would be ganged up on and chastised by other members of the group.
It's easier for people to laugh along with the crowd than to go against it. But that type of attitude is a slippery slope.
Bonus: Not All Oregon Fans Should be Judged on This Experience
I went to a private school in Los Angeles, where a great deal of the student body was made up of Oregon natives who had trickled down to California.
Not all Ducks fans are as mindless as those identified in the letter. I know this for a fact. Like any fanbase in any sport, Oregon has some trolls, but the entire student section should not be judged on their actions.
Rival schools are sure to have a field day with this ordeal. Students at, say, Pac-12 rivals like USC or Stanford will laugh about how a former Ducks player cursed out the fans, and in turn will use it to draw sweeping conclusions about their fanbase.
But that isn't fair. Think about the last college football game you went to. How many people in your home audience didn't carry themselves with class and respect?
Would you want other fans to judge your whole school on their behavior?