Public Comment

Commentary: Anger and Football Hysteria, Part 2

By Doug Buckwald
Tuesday September 25, 2007

It was with some sadness that I read the recent contributions of Jeff Ogar and Matthew Shoemaker in the letters to the editor section of the Daily Planet. They both provided true-life examples that serve to underscore the concerns I expressed in my Sept. 14 commentary, “Anger and Football Hysteria.” Each man seems to be convinced of two things: First, that I am a bad person, not just someone with views different from their own; and second, that I simply could not love trees and also support the Cal Bears football team.  

Mr. Ogar peppers his Sept. 18 letter with the kind of disrespectful language that confuses issues, rather than illuminates them. And he seems to be so consumed by his own anger that he scarcely has time to pay attention to the facts—which conveniently allows him to misrepresent my views in both big and small ways. I don’t value the lives of trees over people; however, I do think it’s important—particularly in this age of global warming—to understand and value the contributions that all living things make to our shared environment. The members of the Berkeley City Council agree with me on this point. In unanimously voting to oppose the plans of the University of California to cut down the trees in the Memorial Stadium oak grove, they declared: “This urban woodland is an irreplaceable resource that contributes to the well-being of all Berkeley citizens.” 

Also, contrary to Mr. Ogar’s assertion, I believe I care far more about the safety of Cal athletes and coaches who use Memorial Stadium daily than do some members of the university administration and athletic department. Why do I say this? They have known for at least the past 15 years that the Hayward Fault is capable of producing a major earthquake, and likely will rupture dramatically sometime soon. Memorial Stadium is literally bisected by the Hayward fault—yet they allow hundreds of students and staff to occupy rooms under the stadium every day! I believe that we should get these people out of the stadium and move them to safe, temporary facilities now, rather than waiting two or three years from now to protect them. They should be moved out of those dangerous facilities within the next 30 days, and I challenge Chancellor Birgineau to explain why he fails to address this important safety issue. 

Regarding my suggestion that “Chancellor Robert Birgineau, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, and Coach Jeff Tedford address their fans publicly to encourage more civil behavior toward the guests that come to our campus,” Mr. Shoemaker seems to have overlooked the key word “publicly.” Of course I’m aware that there are videos produced regularly on these issues, but the viewership of them is restricted by inclination and convenience. That’s why I recommend public statements. I think they should be made at the beginning of every home football game. 

I hope Mr. Ogar is sitting in a safer chair now—and so won’t fall out of it when he reads the next sentence. I repeat: I am a Cal Bears fan. Not only that, I remained a loyal fan through the lean years, when Cal consistently found ways to lose important games—often in the most disheartening fashion. Unlike now, those were the years when a post-season bowl game was a pipe dream right from opening day. Many of us true blue Cal fans stuck it out through those dismal years, when the emotional highs were few and far between, only because of our strong connection to Cal. And if Jeff Ogar is an actual fan, and I assume he is, he will understand exactly what I’m talking about. 

Furthermore, I believe it was very unfair for Mr. Ogar to imply that I treat some Cal alumni disrespectfully. I do not. In fact, as most everybody knows who is involved in the oak grove issue, I strive to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to anyone who wishes to discuss the issues. And if Mr. Ogar wishes to explore the matter further, I would be happy to talk with him at any time.  

I question the assumption, held by Mr. Ogar and others, that it is an either-or decision when it comes to building the new student gym/office complex or preserving the Memorial Stadium oak grove. I have spoken with hundreds of people about this issue, including experts in geology and engineering, and there is a growing consensus that this project can and should be built at an alternate site—both to preserve a valuable natural area and to better protect the safety of Cal students and staff. There is a win-win solution to this problem that is right in front of us. All we need is the will to sit down together and work cooperatively to reach a solution that the whole community can embrace.  

And finally, Mr. Shoemaker’s brief, two-sentence letter (Sept. 18) illustrates a dangerous logical thinking fallacy: “Black or White” thinking. This attitude—of dividing people and ideas into rigid and oppositional categories with no middle ground—allows one to dehumanize opponents and fosters disrespect and even worse treatment of them. Just for the record, I certainly do not think that Cal football fans are “evil”; after all, I’m one of them.  

What’s more, I have met and spoken with many Cal athletes over the past year, and I have been consistently impressed by their intelligence, insight, and how well they articulated their opinions about a variety of issues in the Cal community. Not only that, their level of commitment and passion for their teams was truly inspiring. These young men and women are shining examples of the best that UC Berkeley has to offer, and I look forward to meeting many more of them. 


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