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Demonized Comet fans may deserve an apology

By John Burbridge

Whenever engaged in conflict, it’s best to ask “What Would Steve Kerr Do?”

Before winning five NBA championships as a player and another four as a head coach, Kerr had his mettle tested on numerous occasions.

During Kerr’s freshman season at Arizona (1984), his father — Dr. Malcolm Kerr, who was the president of American University of Beirut in Lebanon — was assassinated by two gunmen representing the Islamic Jihad Organization.

In the wake of this tragedy, a swath of Arizona State students came up with the idea to chant “PLO! … PLO! … PLO!” whenever Kerr handled the ball or stepped to the free throw line during an interstate rivalry game.

(They were referencing the Palestine Liberation Organization which had nothing to do with the assassination, but ignorance sometimes comes in spades.)

That ranks as one of the most abominable examples of fan behavior in the annals of sports, which is saying a lot. But even with tears glazing his eyes, Kerr managed to hit his free throws and somehow refrained from venturing into the stands to strangle one of the cretins.

Later as a member of the Chicago Bulls at the start of the 1995-96 season, Kerr had the nerve to call out Michael Jordan after the latter’s alpha-male antics breached into belligerence. Jordan responded by punching Kerr out, but while referencing the incident in the recent documentary “The Last Dance”, Jordan said he felt like the smallest man in the gym and reached out to apologize to Kerr.

The rest is history as that Bulls team, after ironing out some other bad blood issues, went on to become the greatest NBA team of all time — though Kerr and at least one or two of his Golden State Warriors teams might disagree.

As indicated by his actions above, Kerr had the self-discipline to walk away from abhorrent idiocy as well as the courage to not to walk away from tyranny, confronting it for the greater good.

Last week, a group of nearly 20 Charles City fans was removed from the center field bleachers due to allegations of what could also be classified as “abhorrent idiocy”. But the public shaming may have been reckless at best or slanderous at worst.

I’m backing that claim on what I heard … or rather what I didn’t hear while sitting near those ousted fans through three innings of the Class 4A-Region 6 softball game between Waterloo East and the hosting Comets.

I’m also basing it on what other nearby fans didn’t hear as most were mystified why the umpires — acting on the complaint levied by the Trojans — demanded the removal of the fans, mostly CC students or recent graduates, who were accused of making racist taunts.

As stated in my game coverage story as well as reiterating as a source in a subsequent news story in the Charles City Press, I didn’t hear any discernible racial epithets uttered by the fans in question. I could be wrong as audio being reviewed by the two schools involved may prove that I am, but what likely got the fans bounced were the unintelligible sound effects they were producing.

If Nirvana had ever recorded a song entitled “Sounds Like Teen Spirit” — with indecipherable lyrics, of course — it would have blown most woofers to smithereens. You’ll hear resounding examples of this “spirit” during fourth-and-goal calls at the 1-yard line; during free-throw attempts to send it into overtime … and during elimination softball games.

After taking an early 4-0 lead, the underdog Trojans were losing control of the game. Charles City traditionally employs a formidable offensive attack that combines speed, power and uber-aggressive base-running. Even solid defensive teams tend to get addled whenever the Comets are circling the bases on all cylinders, prompting errant throws and lapses of not backing up these errant throws and not moving from assigned positions to cover open bases.

Often adding to the din amidst the confusion and frustration are the rally/war cries from the Comet faithful.

Depending on how you tune your ear, these cries could be associated with those made by agitated primates — the likely basis of WE’s grievance. But you could also equate them with Wild Banshee shrieks, or Ozzie Osbourne at the beginning of “Crazy Train”.

It’s easy to sympathize with the Trojans as one of their players was quoted in a publication that they have faced hostile environments on the road throughout the season. But if it comes to light that this racial-taunt accusation which has ignited state-wide scorn and social media evisceration was born from a loose interpretation of unintelligible crowd noise and animation, it will prove to be a gross injustice to the assailed fans as well as another example of vindictive yet unsubstantiated censure that does nothing to dissuade the ongoing dissonance on the issue.

I fear school and league administrators will have more reason to fear unintelligible noise provoking more histrionics, and — thus — issue dictums to dampen student-section volume to the level of church mice.

As long as they maintain a respectful forum, student/fans should be encouraged to make noise at sporting events — unintelligible or not. It gives student/fans means to be factors in school activities they’re not directly involved with while fortifying kinship with fellow classmates.

And as for the student/athletes experiencing the brunt of this “teen spirit”, such crucibles provided by the extended extracurricular-activity classroom may forge the focus needed to effectively pursue their life’s work while blocking out distracting peripherals.

This whole missive may be unintelligible if not unintelligent noise on my part if audio from the incident does reveal an unambiguous slur that can be directly attributed to the ejected fans. If so, then I guess an open-letter apology from myself to the victimized team and its supporters is in order.

Otherwise, the demonized Comet fans deserve an apology from those who were quick to condemn them.


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