Mr. Mark Scandling, head varsity water polo and varsity wrestling coach, said, “Good sportsmanship is one of the things that is a hallmark characteristic of the Deerfield community.” The Academy values athletes who hold themselves to high standards on the field and respect both their teammates and opponents.
However, Deerfield also values broad participation, which goes further than just having every student join a co-curricular. Students are encouraged to go to games and show support for their peers by cheering. Yet cheering culture at professional sports games has begun to involve “jeering at” or taunting the other teams and their players. Violence often results from heckling other players and fans. One famous incident occurred in 2004, when Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace), an NBA player on the LA Lakers team, attacked a fan whom he believed was responsible for throwing a can of Diet Coke at him. A brawl ensued, and Artest, other players, and fans were charged with counts of assault. More recently, on September 15th of this year, San Francisco 49ers fans beat up a Vikings fan who was heckling the 49ers. They had taken offense and knocked the opposing fan to the ground, proceeding to kick and beat him violently. These are extreme cases, and such events are unlikely to occur during prep school sports games, but they demonstrate the possible impact cheering against teams can have. If this sort of culture continues to pervade Deerfield athletic events, the question arises: “At what point, if any, does cheering undermine our athletic ideal of sportsmanship?”
Mr. Scandling stated, “What I like most about wrestling is that you have to shake hands right away.” By shaking hands with your opponent right after the match, wrestlers are forced to display sportsmanship, by standing up and shaking hands with their opponents, graciously accepting either victory or defeat.
On Saturday, September 19, Mr. Scandling approached the stands in the pool to ask Deerfield fans to be respectful of the other team while cheering. When asked why he felt it was his responsibility to approach the stands, Mr. Scandling stated, “I, personally, find it pointless to attack the other team from the stand. It doesn’t support our team; it demeans the opposing team in ways that are unnecessary. Why would you want to make your opponent seem less worthy? So you beat a less worthy opponent, big deal!” Mr. Scandling believes that we have to make a conscious choice to move away from that, to build our team up instead of trying to put the other team down. However, he recognizes that many people at the school disagree with his views on this issue.
For instance, Brandon Scott ’17, a football player and cheerleader, said that when he is on the football field, fans cheering against the other team help elevate his level of play. Scott said, “It gives our players a boost of energy, because we feel like our DA family is boosting us up, and we can show [the other team] what we’re made of.” Scott thinks that cheering against the other team shows support for our team in a unique way. “It gets us fired up… It makes the other team seem beatable.”
Scott’s teammate, Steven Lillis ’16, agrees with Scott, saying, “It’s a mind game.” He believes that if the fans can get in the other team’s heads, Deerfield can gain a mental edge in the game.
Deerfield prides itself on displaying good sportsmanship, but also on being fierce competitors and fans. Cheering against the other team may be detrimental to the first ideal, or it may help the team, depending on one’s viewpoint. At what cost does this trade off come? Should Deerfield students make a choice about where they want to draw the line that balances sportsmanship and cheering? Or do we, as a community, need to come up with a definitive stance on jeering?