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."