A Burning Passion for Sports

There’s nothing at all wrong with a certain amount of enthusiasm for a sports team. Here in a basketball-crazed town in a basketball-crazed state we’ve seen how it can promote civic pride, inspire healthful habits in young people, and provide a necessary distraction from the worries of the world. At the risk of sound old-fashioned, however, we believe that rioting and arson are taking team spirit a bit too far.

The observation is prompted by reports that thousands of fans of the University of Kentucky Wildcats celebrated their victory in Saturday’s semi-final round of the national collegiate basketball tournament by turning over cars, burning furniture in the streets, and generally acting like Palestinians at a martyr’s funeral. The fans’ youthful exuberance was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that their victory came over in-state rival University of Louisville, but still, it was just a semi-final. Should the Wildcats prevail in tonight’s title game against the University of Kansas the reaction might well rival the Rape of Nanking.

Alas, the post-championship riot and arson spree has become something of an American sports tradition. Every year at least one of the professional or collegiate championship games in football, basketball, or baseball results in costly and sometimes injurious mayhem, and if any team in the vicinity of Detroit hoists a trophy the results can even be deadly. We suspect it’s a result of a lamentable tendency in our society to take sports too seriously and the rules of civilized behavior not seriously enough, as well as vast amounts of alcohol.

Should the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas win tonight’s game, we expect a more subdued celebration. It’s not that Kansans are so much better-behaved than Kentuckians or the residents of any other state, although we’d like think so, but rather a matter of history. Back in 1863, during the “Bleeding Kansas” days, William Quantrill and his pro-slavery Raiders made an infamous attack on Lawrence, then a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment, and the town’s been touchy about being burned to the ground ever since.

— Bud Norman