Vols Beat Commodores, But Fans Commit Flagrant Foul
Submitted by on 01-22-08, 11:06 pm | Updated on 01-22-08, 11:25 pm
To the Editor:
The Tennessee Volunteers beat the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday night, but their hostile fans committed a flagrant foul: ethnocentrism. Welcome to the prejudiced American South, the Vols fans said to Australian Commodore A.J. Ogilvy. While the Tennessee defense held the freshman phenom to 12 points (his second lowest total of the season), its fans went on the "offensive," taunting him with chants such as the nationalistic "USA, USA" and the mocking "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy." The packed Thompson-Boling Arena was surging with xenophobia.
I understand that passionate Southeastern Conference fans, no matter the school, will say or do anything for their teams. To them, neither moral codes nor governmental rules oversee their language and actions. But to me, a line should be drawn between chanting "air ball" and mocking another nation's expressions (while also "patriotically" boasting of their own nation's supremacy). Do we chant "African" when a black player steps on the court? No. Do NBA fans stigmatize Chinese basketball stars Yi Jianlian and Yao Ming as "Chinamen"? No. Ogilvy is a foreign student who should be treated just the same as any of his peers, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture and religion.
According to the American Council on Education, there are over half a million international students currently pursuing postsecondary degrees in the United States. In 2004, there were 2.5 million international students worldwide. We live in a global society. The American South of today is not the American South of the 20th century. A large proportion of the country still thinks of the South as regressive, their citizens racist and ignorant. In some ways, unfortunately, this stereotype might still be true. The behavior by Vols fans last Thursday certainly wasn't exactly welcoming of "ethnic others."
I've lived in the South for over half of my life, and in this time I've watched the region grow more progressive, tolerant and diverse. For example, I live in Memphis, and one night my friends and I were dining in one of the city's most famous restaurants, Gus' Fried Chicken, and in walks a large group of Chinese basketball coaches dressed in blue jump suits. Odd, right? Not in the American South of the 21st century. The coaches were visiting America as part of the Chinese Basketball Association's partnership with the University of Memphis. As I saw Tigers coach John Calipari and his cross-cultural peers drink sweet tea and eat fried chicken, they presumably discussed basketball wisdom — offenses, plays and theory. Secrets of the game are being passed across the seas every minute.
Calipari is not unusually progressive among American coaches. He is one of many who believe that basketball is one of the world's fastest growing sports. In many ways the game's growing global popularity — from China to Australia to America — is a larger metaphor of how countries can, to put it bluntly, get along. In fact, Calipari hopes that the partnership will help recruit more Chinese basketball players to the University of Memphis. When Chinese student-athletes start attending Memphis and other American universities in larger numbers, will fans chant "USA" and ridicule the language or expressions of foreign cultures? I certainly hope not.
Last Thursday night, Tennessee fans revealed their "U.S."-against-the-world mentality, in which they believe that "we" (zealously patriotic, and therefore militaristic, U.S. citizens) are "better" and more "moral" than all foreigners ("others"). President Bush smirks over Volunteer nation, I'm sure. In my opinion, we do not live in an age in which blind ethnocentrism and stubborn nationalism is something nobler than mere ignorance and disillusionment. Stop living in the intolerant past, Vols fans, because the basketball is being dribbled all over the world.
--Bryan Hearn is a junior at Rhodes College and a former Vanderbilt University summer student.