This week’s column is a celebration of the art of heckling at sporting events. All too often dismissed as drunken rambling or rants from a crazed parent, heckling, when done in a witty and spirited way, makes both participating and watching sporting events more thrilling.
Though I may someday come to regret that statement, I believe I have seen both the most entertaining and most obnoxious of what heckling can become. You see, my father and I for years were among the lowly few who held Washington Bullets season tickets. Many weekday nights were spent at the Cap Centre in Landover, Maryland watching our team get shellacked by everybody.
What made it entertaining, if not for the both frequent and monstrous dunks of opposing teams, was watching possibly the most famous heckler in NBA history. His name is Robin Ficker. He is a certifiably crazy man who is also a lawyer (not a jab). Known throughout the league for years, he would attend all home games from the vantage point of his seat right behind the opposing team’s bench. When the Chicago Bulls came to town one year, he read aloud lengthy passages from The Jordan Rules, a book that was highly unflattering in its depiction of Michael Jordan, for the entirety of the game.
Ficker’s act was so good that the Detroit Pistons, prior to their playoff series with the Bulls, brought him in to sit behind the Bulls bench for their games too. I personally witnessed Charles Barkley turn and dump water in his lap. Though his example of heckling is not one that I would wish everyone to follow, the value that I would take from him is that he made an effort to be witty.
Much of what I love about college sports is the atmosphere. Professional sports cannot match the emotion and excitement in college arenas.
For example, the student section at Duke is renowned for its ability to make Cameron Indoor Stadium shake at will. When an opposing player is introduced they greet him with “HELLO (first name), YOU SUCK!” While not the most innovative chant ever, it shows their level of involvement. Fans are more involved in the game when this goes on, and it is more exciting for both the fans and the players. My personal evidence is this year’s home basketball game with Amherst, an experience I will not soon forget.
It is an admittedly hard line to toe between clever and repugnant comments, and most obvious rules of sportsmanship and decency clearly apply to attending sporting events, but I want to make room for the fan who supports the team by getting on the opposing players a little bit
The lone hecklers out there are the people I appreciate the most. The voice at Hamilton that told Sean Keenan ’00 he had his girlfriend’s number, or Saturday when a Bowdoin fan asked Joe Weiss ’01 to use the powers of visualization to see his airballed free throw before he actually shot it.
This past Friday at Colby my teammate Brian Doherty ’01 was icing an injured hand on the bench when a fan started yelling,” Hey four, stop icing your hand, you’re never getting off the bench.” When he would stop icing, they would yell, “Why aren’t you icing your hand, four?” Brian found himself in a lose-lose situation. This was clever heckling, and in the locker room after the game was a source of humor.
Most athletes who do not take themselves too seriously can agree that good heckling is something that they can respect. It is not always easy to block out the things being yelled at you, especially when any eye contact is met with the retort, “Why are you listening to me” or “I’m in your head.” Yet at the end of the day, I respect the fan who makes an effort to bring emotion and spirit to cheering, regardless of the fact that I am being constantly told to eat something.