Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's Only a Game

Today I am not going to be funny. Nor am I going to have some super amazing photos for you all. I know you like those kinds of posts because you comment on them and tell me, but I just needed to get something off my chest and be real today about something that has been bothering me. Today, I wanted to write about bullying. As a teacher, I see students bullying each other regularly and have to speak to them about how we can treat everyone fairly instead of hurting others with words or aggression. Yet the bullying I am writing about today is not student bullying. It is adults bullying adults over something quite silly-- football.

Football season is upon us. This coming week marks the beginning of the NFL's regular season and you all should know by now that usually I could not be happier about this. And if you don't know, here's a little reminder. It would be an understatement to say that I enjoy watching the Steelers. I admit, over the years I have truly become a die-hard fan-- to a certain extent. However, this year is a little different. Sure, I'm excited for the start of the season and cheering on the Steelers, but at the same time I am filled with dread. What might I be dreading? It's as simple as this-- fan violence and aggression, or bullying.

Violence and aggression in football fans is something that I meet often. In Baltimore, football is king and if you don't like the Ravens then you don't belong. And if you like the Steelers, then you deserve to be mistreated-- at least so it seems is their mantra. When I first moved to Baltimore nearly six years ago, I couldn't have cared less about the Ravens. I didn't dislike them nor did I like them. They were just another team that I had no thoughts or feelings about. After weathering five football seasons in Baltimore (yes, I say weathering for good reason as you will see later in this post) I have grown to hate the Ravens. This hate has nothing to do with the team or a so-called rivalry. This hate has everything to do with Ravens fans. If you are a Ravens fan reading this, yes, you read that right. Because of many of you, I hate your team. It's hate by association with your fans-- not because of players, the city, your owner, or coaches.

Here comes that part about "weathering" five football seasons. Since I have moved to Baltimore, I have had been treated horribly. Before I begin to list the ways in which Ravens fans have mistreated me, please know that none of their behaviors were provoked by me. Before each of the incidents occurred, I had simply either clapped and cheered for a Steelers touchdown without taunting anyone, or I had been quietly minding my own business while wearing Steelers apparel of some sort. Usually, in most cases it was the latter of the two.

In these five years, I have been shoved and called a bitch while simply walking to the restroom in a bar that shows just about every football game that's playing that weekend. Apparently the Ravens fan that did this thought I deserved to be shoved because I was wearing a Troy Polamalu jersey. In this situation, I am the one that still apologized for "getting in their way" to which the response was, "You better be fucking sorry, you fucking Steelers fan."

In same said bar, I've had a Ravens fan throw an orange slice from their beer at me and had another Ravens fan threaten the bartender to never come back if he didn't kick me out. Another Ravens fan even offered the bartender $1,000 to kick me out. This all happened because I clapped when the Steelers scored a touchdown. Luckily for me, I've been going to the same bar to watch the games for five years and the bartenders like me and Andrew, so in each instance the Ravens fan was the one that got kicked out-- not me. At least some people have some standards in terms of how to treat others. And let me make note, this is not exclusively a "Ravens bar." On any given Sunday, you will find fans wearing jerseys and rooting for just about every football team there is in the NFL. Andrew is a Browns fan. He has never been treated this way, nor have I ever seen anyone rooting for a team other than the Steelers be treated this way.

I have lost track of how many times I have been pushing a grocery cart, picking out produce, or deciding which type of cheese to buy when a Ravens fan has approached me and called me a "fucking Steelers fan" or "bitch" or any other sort of name in the book you could imagine just because I had a Steelers sweatshirt on. Sometimes it wasn't even on game day. I have also lost track of how many times this has happened while walking down the street. The insults come either from other pedestrians or people driving by. I don't know any of these people that insult me, yet they feel they have a right to treat me with such disrespect while I have done nothing to them. Usually the aggressors are middle-aged men. So looking back on this treatment, yes, me, a young female, was shoved by a middle aged man that was twice my size. Something is very wrong with this picture.

I have had Ravens fans come up to me and scream and taunt me when the Steelers are losing or have lost (whether or not the Steelers are playing the Ravens). They have actively sought me out and approach me even if they are not sitting or standing next to me. And when they scream and taunt, they enter my personal space, sticking their faces about three inches away from mine. When I lean away from them and try to ignore them, they lean in closer and continue. When I walk away from them, they follow me and won't let me leave, sometimes even grabbing my arm or shoulder to slow me down.

In Baltimore, they have Purple Friday. Many of our school staff that root for teams other than the Ravens wear their teams' apparel. I once walked into a bar to join my co-workers for happy hour on a Friday afternoon. I had worn my Steelers jersey to school that Friday as I often do. A man in the bar spotted me, whistled to get the attention of everyone in the bar, and then pointed me out to all for their heckling pleasure. I was then heckled and cursed at while I walked to the table my co-workers were sitting at.

I've felt uncomfortable at staff meetings when other staff have displayed anti-Steelers memes in their presentations (they don't do this for other football teams-- only the Steelers). And when I've voiced feeling uncomfortable, other staff members tell me to get over it and that Steelers fans do the same. Sure, I have trash talked in fun, or played pranks on others due to their team affiliation (not just Ravens fans mind you), but when it comes to violence or aggression associated with football, you won't see me joining in. It can be done in good fun without making others feel singled out, uncomfortable, or unwelcome.

I could rattle on and on about the ways I have been treated horribly. This is something that happens every single weekend during football season. Every. Single. Weekend.

I love football, but being bullied is making me dread it at times. Yes, I have been brought to tears because of the hateful things people have done. I keep a smiling face on the outside when people mistreat me, but several times have completely lost it when I get home and there are no Ravens fans to judge. I have backed out of watching games with friends because I worried that I would be bullied. I have debated whether or not to purchase a cable package to guarantee that I can watch the Steelers in the safety of my own house every weekend. Yes, safety is the key word here. However, if I decide to become a hermit during football season then I miss out on part of the fun of meeting up with friends to watch a game, having some nachos and beer at the bar, and feeling like I'm not stuck in my house hiding. And why should I have to hide? I feel strongly about not letting bullies win.

It's only a game. So let's keep it at that. Football is not life. Most people in this world don't even care about American football. There is no need to turn to violence and aggression. I know that this is not every Ravens fan. I have friends that root for the Ravens and have defended me when other Ravens fans have treated me poorly, or have shaken my hand and said "good game" when all was said and done.

We teach our children and youth to be good sports and show class, so why do adults feel the need to bully because of sports? When we bully each other because of sports it takes the fun out of the game. It becomes too serious when it isn't supposed to be. I feel as though Andrew and I are an excellent example of how to stay classy and enjoy sports. He roots for the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers oldest rival, yet we are able to co-exist in the same house every Sunday afternoon and have done so for nearly eight years. Many strangers ask us how we ended up together and how we can stand each other when they see us out and about on Sundays decked out in Steelers and Browns jerseys. The answer is simple-- despite the rivalry, it is only a game. We should be able to cheer for the teams that we want to cheer for without feeling fear. And at the end of the day, we should be able to shake our opponents' hands and say, "Good game."


  1. That's just horrible. I didn't realize you were harassed so regularly. Nobody should have to put up with that, especially over something as meaningless as football.

    It's funny that you mention most of your bullies are middle-aged men. It could be that the generation gap has something to do with how they treat you (and perhaps women in general). Hopefully none of them have children of their own to "teach" but that's probably wishful thinking. And really, how sad is it that they get SO involved in a game? They obviously don't have much else to be excited about.

    Anyway, I love football and while I consider myself a Bears fan, I also own items repping other teams--including Packer's stock. (Oh, the horror!) I would never be so rabid about a game that it stops me from enjoying other teams, or makes the experience suck for another fan.

  2. There is NO excuse for violence like that. That's not just bullying, that's assault, and no one should get away with that. Team spirit is about support and community, not exclusion, regardless of whether it's football or a book club.

    That being said, I was raised to avoid conflict, so I'm sure I would have reacted by apologizing for existing and daring to be different (which is what happened when, at 24, I was bullied out of my college dorm for not being Christian).

    However, I'd say you're well within rights to snap a camera phone pic of the offending folks and take it to a security guard in the stadium and lodge a formal police complaint. People think they can get away with anything, especially with the support of a posse, until someone higher up the food chain tells them that they can't.

  3. i remember you writing about a similar situation last season... where people at a bar were harassing you because of your jersey. It's ridiculous to treat anyone in this way, especially over football. I come from a pretty deep college rivalry state, and we definitely have things to say about the other school in a general non-friendly way. But that being said, we have best friends and parents and brothers who attended that school... and it always ends up in fun and game bickering on both sides. I am very guilty of not attending the yearly rivalry game because I didn't want to deal with the team's fans. It's so unfortunate that's what it has come down too
    I think the only other sport that experiences this issue is English soccer... but that league has suspended teams before for a whole season just because of fan behavior.. maybe nfl should take a hint!

  4. This is so true. I come from a place where most people view football as a life or death matter. In fact, I've seen relationships fall apart and people become deeply hurt over their team losing. I'ts sad and it's wrong. We're all people and honestly football in the long-term is not important at all. It's fun and entertaining but I completely agree with you, bullying is not okay in any realm and especially this one!


  5. A lot of what you write about is totally uncalled for and should never be tolerated. Being shoved, being taunted, cursed at -- that's terrible. But the work stuff doesn't ring as true. I mean, you wear a Steelers jersey on Purple Friday? Knowing that the two teams are each other's chief rivals (you act surprised that this is the *only* team that they do it to)? And it seems like the co-workers are just doing good-natured digging. You didn't present any evidence about what happens at work except memes, so maybe there is more -- but it does seem like you intentionally rattle folks by wearing your rival jersey. That's fine, of course (co-workers do that at our school, too, and it's in good fun), but you shouldn't do it if it brings you discomfort when there is nudging from the other side.

    Pittsburgh fans are exactly the same way on their hometurf, by the way. I've experienced it firsthand.

    1. I think you entirely missed the point of my post. No matter what your team affiliation, bullying should not be a problem. It is ridiculous to feel bullied in any situation, especially over something as mundane as sports. Your statement about me wearing a Steelers jersey to work is only making a false assumption-- that I purposely wear the jersey to tick people off. Sorry, but that's not the type of game I like to play. If it ever seems that way, perhaps it is because I am defending myself from the barrage of verbal assault I receive from students and staff. After last night's Steelers loss to the Broncos, I literally felt sick to my stomach thinking about the trash talk I would endure ALL DAY LONG. It's hateful and spiteful and I don't care to hear it no matter which team you're affiliated with.

      Secondly, you make a remark that basically states it is my fault that I get bullied because of what I wear. That is an awful thing to say to anyone no matter the situation. Would you tell a student that it's their fault they are getting bullied because they are wearing a particular article of clothing when they're getting bullied and being called a nerd by their classmates? I think not-- at least I would hope so assuming that you are a well-rounded individual.

      Thirdly, I don't buy into the rivalry which is why I called it a "so-called rivalry" in my post. There are teams I feel much more "hatred" (if I could even call it that) toward than the Ravens. To be honest, I still don't really care if the Ravens win or lose or if they beat the Steelers. At the end of the day, it's only sports and it's only meant to be fun. And if I ever root for the Ravens to lose it's just so that I'll finally hear silence from Ravens fans.

      Your last statement about Pittsburgh fans is just as horrendous. I personally believe that bullying Steelers fans just because "they do it to us" is the worst reason ever to bully someone. Step up and be an adult and put your foot down by saying, "I'm going to stop doing this and be the bigger, better person." Doing something awful just because others are doing it doesn't make your actions any less awful. In fact, that makes your actions even worse as you are actively doing something that you've already determined to be a bad thing on a firsthand experience. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Whatever you've experienced firsthand from Pittsburgh fans-- think about if you were subjected to it non-stop for four months out of the year for 6 years straight. I am pretty sure you wouldn't stop supporting your team, but I'm also pretty sure you'd get sick of the treatment.

      Finally, I must say that it seems entirely cowardly of you to comment such assumptions on my blog in an anonymous manner. If you felt that this was open to fair discussion, you should have made your name known. It also makes it appear as if you yourself are trying to "stir the pot" which is what you just accused me of doing.


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