There's no place for profanity in College Park

May 04, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland has the hammer it needs to make sure a mob-mentality minority of misguided louts stops embarrassing the school in front of men, women, children, alums, senior citizens and national TV audiences.

The university even has the simmering disgust from the Board of Regents, three of whose members were concerned enough that they shared the stage last night with a cast of all-star Maryland coaches: Ralph Friedgen, Gary Williams and soccer's Sasho Cirovski.

"I have never expressed my views publicly but I have been outspoken privately. It's simply atrocious," Board of Regents chairman Clifford Kendall said at a campus forum on fan behavior.

He invoked his impending 50-year anniversary of graduation. "Everything is better than it was 50 years ago, except this," he said.

One glimpse of a Maryland game against Duke at Comcast Center the past few seasons, and who wouldn't wonder if a certain segment of the student body wasn't raised by Howard Stern?

"Is that a way for you to put yourself in the game?" said Len Elmore, the former Maryland All-American and Harvard-educated lawyer who moderated the forum at the Stamp Student Union.

Elmore was addressing those "fans" who insist it's their First Amendment right to wear profanity-emblazoned T-shirts and spew relentless and uninspired vulgarities at opponents.

Those also would be the "fans" who say the university should not step on their rights, even as they instigate and participate in celebratory "riots" when Williams' crew wins a national basketball title or ACC tournament.

The better Maryland has gotten in basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse, the worse the behavior of some its "fans" has become.

And now that an assistant attorney general for the state of Maryland has told the university it can indeed script an anti-profanity policy, the opportunity for a crackdown is at hand.

It would be tempting for a student government task force to recommend a policy on fan behavior, but it seems to know better, as student government representatives said last night that they would recommend a policy only as a last resort.

Not because anyone should ever wear one of those vulgar T-shirts into Comcast Center again, but because a university being an institution of higher learning, the Maryland "fans" are being afforded a terrific opportunity to do the right thing.

"So often, people cite freedom of speech," incoming student government president Aaron Krause said.

"That's an easy excuse that doesn't work here. Freedom of speech is for real things, important things like issues of religion, the press. We're talking about cursing here. I don't think cursing at Duke fans is a matter of freedom of speech. And I don't think it's a slippery slope you start to go down when you say don't do it."

It used to be the worst thing you could do to Terps fans was compare them to Duke fans. Maybe that's how this national embarrassment started.

The more clever the Cameron crazies got - arriving at the arena early, reading up on Duke opponents and then taunting them with psyche-bending put-downs without one lick of profanity - the more unlike them Maryland fans wanted to be.

If Duke fans create their aura by not cursing, well then, let's do the opposite.

No wonder, then, that at the forum last night that sought feedback from students about what the university should do to reverse an ugly trend, one brave soul accused some of his peers of something far worse than being like Duke:

"We've become Philadelphia fans," he said.

"And they boo Santa Claus," Len Elmore said.

Ouch. If that's not a challenge to shape up, what is? The question is, how long will it take for Maryland to show it can do the right thing? There's little doubt that the next time an ESPN producer writes a letter to ACC commissioner John Swofford about how the network has had to alter the way it broadcasts games from Comcast Center, that also will be the occasion when the Board of Regents demands that the university legislate behavior via policy.

In the meantime, there seems to be a willingness to allow for cultural changes to take place more organically. Everyone from the Board of Regents on down seems to understand that real change takes more than a legislative hammer coming down on the heads of everyone because a few jerks can't control their aggressive and anti-social behavior.

"Enforcing a policy is tough," Williams said.

"We're at a point where everything we do here at Maryland is seen on a national basis. You can debate whether that's right or not, but a lot of times the first time someone sees or hears about Maryland is through our basketball or football teams. We're in a new position.

"What I'd like to see is a serious attempt at trying to change that. Our students are outstanding enough to handle this situation. It's part of the educational process."

And if that doesn't work, maybe Williams, Friedgen, Cirovski and other coaches could threaten to walk out on a game.

Let the new F-word on campus be "FORFEIT."

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