After living in various cities across the southwest much of the past 25 years, moving back to our home state of Oklahoma has stirred mixed emotions. We have returned as changed people. We have experienced others and places who
differ from us culturally, politically and religiously and we brought back with
us a deep appreciation that diversity enhances our American way of life.
Upon return, it has been challenging that we have grown much more left and blue than those in this politically very red, and religiously very conservative state. We have discovered the awful struggle it can be, when our choices and voices are drowned out by the political majority. In contrast, one of the best parts of being back home on red earth is that we are near our college Alma Mater, Oklahoma State University, and news from the university is routinely reported and readily available to us. We both gained much from our college days, the formal and informal education gleaned there, recognizing it as the beginnings from which our current lifestyle launched.
We especially enjoy supporting our OSU Cowboy sports teams! There is enormous in-state rivalry with another university, and it seems that just like political differences have become so polarized, the contention between fans seems to have evolved into a volatile force. Sometimes the interactions can be so angry, that even good friends and family find themselves at odds with one another. To maintain healthy relationships, my man and I will practice the art of ‘quietly bowing out’ whenever the rivalry of politics and sports escalates into personal affront.
Last Saturday, my man and I were back on campus for a basketball game between our Cowboys and the always highly ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The outcome of this game was of big import because a Cowboy win would almost assuredly clinch participation in the NCAA championship.
The Gallagher-Iba Arena on the OSU campus has a nation-wide reputation of being a formidable place for visiting teams to play. Fans and VIPs sit within a couple of feet of the court on all sides, and when the crowd is enthusiastic, the noise can be deafening. That’s part of the fun…the band, the excitement of traditions, the shouts of ‘Go Pokes!’, the antics of mascot Pistol Pete. Everyone wears their team shirts, so the arena is a sea of waving hands, hollering fans and orange stands. Surely, it is intimidating for the visiting athletes.
At this event, as we participated in Cowboy fan ‘rowdiness’ of game festivities from our seats, singing, cheering, waving, stomping….I was buoyed by the palpable excitement in the air, the camaraderie between fans, young and old, student and alum, dark and light skinned. In the moment, I became aware that the thousands in the crowd shared a common goal….to encourage and impact our team with positive energy; as different as we all are, we shared the bond of OSU traditions. This experience was so different from the political and religious discord, prevalent in our daily public observations and interactions. I turned to my man and told him how good it felt to be among our ‘orange tribe’ again, those who were like us in our school loyalty.
This experience was so different from the political and religious discord, prevalent in our daily public observations and interactions.
Public discord has a long reach, and athletes are not immune. This year, the hoops season started out with our Cowboys in top five national rankings and high hopes for success, but had fallen over time into several back to back dismal defeats. A particularly low time of our season occurred when our star player was suspended for several games as a result of his lashing out at a fan on the sidelines during a game. Reports indicated that the fan had spit racial slurs toward our player and had a reputation for having done so often in previous sports events. Unfortunately, our player behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner, and he and the team suffered the repercussions of it. Twenty year old players are supposed to maintain decorum and not be offended, even when the ugliness from age-experienced adults gets personal. The suspension was warranted. The fan was also wrong and instigated the incident by his hate-filled comments. There were no ‘winners’ in that situation, only disgraceful behaviors. I am embarrassed for our young player caught up in the moment, and encourage him to strengthen his resolve for all the future ugliness that will surely be flung his way; there are still ignorant forces alive in our nation, and successful black men will most likely continue to be inflicted with resentful responses to their hard work resulting in good fortune.
there are still ignorant forces alive in our nation, and successful black men will most likely continue to be inflicted with resentful responses to their hard work resulting in good fortune.
Kansas was favored by the polls, but both teams had incentive to win. Kansas had a first place seed in the Big 12 championship on the line and for OSU, an invitation to March madness with opportunity to salvage the season. Our star player had returned to the starting roster the last few weeks and was playing well. In the packed arena, with ten minutes left in the second half, our team was coming back strong from a ten point deficit and were making good progress, with a close score. Each team could almost taste the win. Players from both sides battled for each possession and point.
Then a free throw attempt by a Kansas player. Rising from the student section of the crowd began a chant, increasing in volume while the player prepared for his throw. As the chant grew louder, I finally understood the words, ”USA!, USA!, USA!” At first I was confused, then began to feel a bit sick in the pit of my stomach. At first disbelieving, then I became disappointed, discouraged. The player must have been an international student, thus the chant insinuating that he ‘doesn’t belong’. Evidently, some in our crowd were infected with similar ugliness that our player so painfully and publicly had endured earlier in the season. Were these few fans so short-sighted that they had completely forgotten our own young player on the receiving end of such hostility? This was not how to show support for our team, by spitting verbal venom on young athletes who are guests in our house. Loudly, I responded, saying, ‘No. Stop. That’s wrong!’ Several around me, mostly adult alumni, turned and agreed with me with affirmative comments, shakes of heads and thumbs up.
The Cowboys went on to win by a seven point margin…..upsetting this excellent Kansas team in front of an adoring crowd whose celebration reached fever-pitch with thunderous excitement. The Pokes had played well, deserved the accolade, and fans hugged one another and cheered as the throng of students stormed the court to congratulate the players, and continued as we all exited the arena, thrilled over our team’s victory.
I am proud of our Cowboy basketball team and coaches, of their fortitude for moving beyond the difficult time earlier in the season to more victories. Our team learned from the struggle with changed behavior to overcome the momentary poor judgment of a player; and that change was, in part, the incentive that brought them forward to this night’s unlikely win.
The Cowboy athletes gave the fans a good evening of sport. Even more significant than the victory was their example to us to rise above the foul hostility present in a crowd. Ignorance may have company, but it does not have the momentum.
Ignorance may have company, but it does not have the momentum.
Rise above and move forward. Every day, in quiet ways unrecognized by the majority, there are plenty who share that common goal.