BY DAVE SCHRACK, SPORTS EDITOR
Mason athletics is now well underway. Teams and individuals are returning to the field, courts or pitches to continue their hard work from last year.
Consequently, fans and students will be returning to the stands dressed in green and gold to cheer on the Patriots. Sports are, after all, an undoubtedly important aspect of Mason and Mason’s culture, as it has a tendency to unite the school. Look no further than the men’s basketball team’s Final Four run, for example.
But it is important to remember exactly what being a spectator entails.
At its core, a spectator is someone who attends a game, and spectators who are attending a home game are there to support the local team and its players. But that is what home spectators are on the field. In the stands, however, home spectators are also a part of the city or campus which hosts the team.
The simple fact of wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “George Mason University” tells other people that you, or someone you know, are a part of the Mason community. And by wearing such a tee to a game, you are not just telling everyone in the stands you or someone you know is a part of Mason, you are also telling that to the visiting team.
In other words, by attending games, you become a representative of George Mason University.
This is why we must remember to be respectful during games, not just to each other but especially to visiting teams and athletes.
A team coming to play at Mason is a beautiful opportunity for us to showcase Mason and its community. It is also symbolic of Mason’s growth as a school, considering Mason is markedly younger than the other schools it plays.
As such, our duty as spectators is not just to support the Patriots, but to be gracious hosts that will send the visiting team home with respect and admiration for Mason. Moreover, we must also highlight why we have the right to play and compete at such a high level.
Yelling “Go Patriots!” or “Go number 6!” is absolutely acceptable during games, but taunting or harassing the visiting team, let alone anyone else, is absolutely unacceptable.
To think about it from a different perspective, switch roles for a minute. Imagine you’re an athlete who’s traveled hundreds of miles with your team, forcing you to sacrifice important school time and leisure activity, to a lesser-known school in a lesser-known town, only to have that school mock you on the field. You wouldn’t think highly of that school, right?
Now imagine if that school were Mason.
Mason is an extraordinary school with a wonderful community, and it is on us to ensure that we do not send visiting teams home with anything less than that impression. No team should leave with a sense of dread over their next visit to Mason, and no individual athlete should be disillusioned with the people in the stands.
Mason’s athletics program is also among one of the most talented and dedicated schools, boasting an Olympic gold medalist, a Final Four team, and an administrative office run by two Super Bowl champions. To have such teams go out on the courts, only to hear its fans heckle the opposing team, would diminish the hard work of not just the teams and athletes but also the administration.
It is also important to be wary of the bystander effect while in the stands.
Most people like to think of themselves as heroes waiting for an opportunity to fly, but human psychology suggests otherwise. They envision themselves being the dissident bystander to stop a crime amid an unflinching crowd incapable of action, when in fact, the bystander effect states they would be part of that crowd.
The bystander effect, though mainly pertaining to crimes and wrongdoing, is prevalent in the stands, too.
When a friend or family member starts making fun of a visiting athlete, it is easy to join in and hard to tell them to stop. But the right decisions are often some of the hardest to make.
Hence, if a friend or family member does make fun of a visiting athlete, immediately tell them to stop because it is disrespectful and rude. Don’t cause a scene, or risk an altercation or draw attention to yourselves.
Firmly, but quietly, remind them that by wearing that Mason tee, they are broadcasting that they are a part of Mason and are essentially making fun of that athlete on behalf of the Mason community.
But if you do join in, don’t beat yourself up for it.
We’re human, and our lives are spent accounting for mistakes we make, because we are fallible and susceptible to error.
Taunting or harassing a visiting player, while itself an impolite and improper thing to do, is a mistake that most, if not all, people make from one time to another.
Should you make that mistake, don’t dwell on it, lose sleep over it, or think about it constantly. Just remember not to do it again, especially when attending a Mason game.
Ultimately, when attending a Mason game, remember that you are there for the team or athlete, and no one else but that team or athlete.
Remember you are also there as a member of the Mason community that has devoted its time and efforts to ensure that fans such as you are not only able to attend games, but to watch teams and athletes win those games.
Remember that visiting teams have also put in that same hard work, and spent a lot of time and money into meeting the Patriots on the field.
Remember that games are games, no matter how important, and there is no need to over-emotionally invest yourself into that game.
And remember to root for Mason, Mason teams and Mason athletes.
But don’t root against the visiting team.