Discouraging Words Take Center Court in Wisconsin

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What Happened
If you go to a basketball game anywhere in America and someone misses a shot, you’re likely to hear chants of “aaaiiir ballll, aaaiiir ball!” You’ll probably hear lots of other fan-chants, too…unless perhaps you attend a high school game in Wisconsin.

Late last year, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association sent an email to students, warning basketball fans not to “taunt or disrespect” opposing teams with their chants. Among the phrases considered to be no-nos are “air ball,” “fundamentals,” “We can’t hear you,” and “There’s a net there.”

It took a while for the email to reach the attention of the media, but once it did the WIAA was showered in boos. Critics ranging from the left-leaning website Salon to the sports gurus at ESPN mocked the idea of banning disparaging chants. Stephen Colbert also jumped in the fray. “I think this is crazy,” he said on “The Late Show.” “Watching basketball without chanting is like watching baseball without napping.”

“In what state is a 16-year-old kid yelling ‘Airrrrr-ballllll’ considered something that’s so disrespectful it needs to be banned?” writes Sports Illustrated‘s Kenny Ducey. “How is reminding the other team that you need to improve your fundamentals a bad thing? Who even chants ‘There’s a net there’ anyway? Also, what if a student is tossed for chanting one of the above phrases? What are you going to yell at him if you can’t yell ‘You can’t do that!'”

However, Wisconsin officials say the email was blown out of proportion. The WIAA has cautioned high schoolers to curb unfriendly chants for more than a decade, and the association never has punished a school for its air-ball-chanting fans. The email was simply a reminder, the organization says, for fans to treat opponents with respect.

Talk About It
What do you think about Wisconsin’s guidelines on game-time chants? Do you think booing or calls of “air ball” should be banned? Do you think it can be banned? Is it bad sportsmanship to boo? If you’re an athlete, what do you think about those sorts of chants—particularly when they’re directed at you? Does it bother you? Make you mad? Is it just part of the game?

Regardless of what you think about the situation in Wisconsin, the hubbub reminds us that we all sometimes hear things we’d rather not. Criticism—deserved or not—often is merely part of the game; and to some extent we all have to deal with it.

When have you had to deal with criticism or taunts outside athletics? When has someone made fun of you? How did you handle it? Is there a difference between playful taunts and outright bullying or abuse? Where should the line be drawn between the two?

Is chanting “air ball” during a basketball game different than belittling someone in real life? Why? Have you ever taken a joke or a taunt too far? How important is it to treat people with respect?

What the Bible Says
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:43-45).

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12-13).

Paul Asay has written for Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. He writes about culture for Plugged In and has published several books, including his newest, Burning Bush 2.0 (Abingdon), available now. He lives in Colorado Springs. Check out his entertainment blog at Patheos.com/Blogs/WatchingGod or follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

About The Author

Paul Asay has written for Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. He writes about culture for Plugged In and has published several books, including his newest, Burning Bush 2.0 (Abingdon), available now. He lives in Colorado Springs. Check out his entertainment blog at Patheos.com/Blogs/WatchingGod or follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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