Public Comment

Commentary: Anger and Football Hysteria

By Doug Buckwald
Friday September 14, 2007

Several of us from Save the Oaks at the Stadium took our marching trees to the Solano Stroll last weekend, and we got an overwhelmingly positive response to our “Go Green, Save the Oaks!” message. We quickly ran out of our flyers, and were repeatedly stopped by people along the way who wanted to hear the latest about the oaks campaign. We got encouraging words from across the political and demographic spectrum: young and old, male and female, local and out-of-town. Many Cal alumni joined in showing their support for our cause, and teens (who seem to be wearing a lot of tie-dye shirts these days) were by far our most enthusiastic supporters. It was very uplifting. 

There was one incident I want to mention, though. As I was passing through the crowd, an angry Cal Bears fan reached up high and snatched my “Save the Oaks” sign right out of my hands and tried to walk away with it. I was able to grab it back from him, but this seemed to make him even angrier. He stuck his face right in front of mine and yelled at me repeatedly, “Get that sign out of here!” The people in the crowd stared at him and noticed how out of control he was. I honestly thought he was about to hit me. Fortunately, he decided to walk away without any further incident. 

But this caused me to reflect on the sad fact that anger is frequently a big part of the emotional response of many sports fans—even on the collegiate level. And this anger is often purposely inflamed by rally committees and yell leaders—and sometimes even by coaches and university administrators—in the hope that it will be channeled against the current week’s hated foe. For the Cal fans, it was Tennessee last week, and soon it will be another team. But anger is a very powerful emotion to invoke, and it is difficult to manage once it has been unleashed. I witnessed how poorly some of the Cal students treated the Tennessee fans, and I was shocked by the level of verbal abuse that was directed at them—even after Tennessee had lost the game and their somber fans were heading home. What ever happened to good sportsmanship? Any true Cal supporter ought to be ashamed of these disrespectful incidents; they are a very poor reflection on the reputation of the University of California. 

Even more important, though, is this: once this anger is whipped up to a frenzy, it cannot be channeled exclusively against the opposing team; it sometimes becomes a volatile fuel added to the frustrations that some individuals experience in their everyday lives, and they act out in aggressive and dangerous ways. This is one of the aspects of the current football emphasis that is prevalent on the Cal campus, and it is important for us to consider the implications of it for our community. 

I think it would be helpful if Chancellor Robert Birgineau, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, and Coach Jeff Tedford would address their fans publicly to encourage more civil behavior toward the guests that come to our campus—not to mention toward their fellow alumni who may feel differently from them about the appropriateness of current construction plans. It would be a step in the right direction, and it would help all of us Cal alumni and supporters feel greater pride in our team and our university. 


Doug Buckwald is a UC Berkeley graduate (1982) and a Cal Bears fan.