Gentlemanly conduct and hockey etiquette

Men’s hockey’s dazzling 7-0 victory over Amherst on Feb. 2 demonstrated two cardinal facts about Williams: we are better than Amherst, and at the same time we manage to act worse than them.

Now let me say from the outset that there is no love lost between myself and Amherst. They are, as a school, singularly arrogant, pretentious and blindly ignorant to the facts about our two respective institutions.

The most telling example of both Amherst’s ignorance and arrogance, I think, is from an anecdote I heard recently about the Williams-Amherst basketball game. The game, which was played at Amherst, was, sadly, a defeat for the Ephs. This, however, is immaterial – what is telling was the cheers they used to heckle us. “Safety School!” they screamed, alluding to the vaunted U.S. News and World Report college rankings, in which Amherst is listed as being better, overall, to Williams, whatever that may mean. In loudly proclaiming this fact, our rivals only expose their lack of understanding and unwillingness to delve deeper into the details of that survey. If we were truly the safety school of their jeers, why, Lord Jeffs, did U.S. News rate Williams, not Amherst, #1 for selectivity? Why, in other words, do you call us a safety school when it is harder, not easier, to get into Williams? The only clear answers are either blind ignorance or mindless cheering, neither of which would occur at a top-notch school like Amherst, or so we are led to believe.

As Williams students, not only chosen through a more difficult admissions process, but also victorious in most athletic contests between our two colleges (the latest being two Saturdays ago), we should and for the most part do hold ourselves above the level of the Lord Jeffs. We try to create – I know it sounds quaint, but here goes – a gentlemanly student body, a student body that behaves with dignity, grace and kindness (these are our goals, or at least should be). I would also add that the word gentlemanly should not be used to exclude females from this ideal of good behavior; it is in this usage a genderless word. Here, the word stands not just for pleasant customs, such as holding doors for others or standing up to shake hands, but for something deeper and more universal: a sense of fair play, and the aforementioned dignity, grace and kindness – in short, for things that make for a civilized society. This much-treasured civility was sorely tried during the hockey game, not by the team, who played admirably, but by us, the fans.

It soon became apparent, for those of you who weren’t there, that the Amherst goalie suffered from a sort of twitch, something that looked rather obviously out of his control after close enough examination. His head bobbed forward in a rapid-fire peck, the way a chicken’s might as it struts around the barnyard. Now, I can see the shock value, or even the sort of nervous humor, coming from the goalie’s affliction – after all, it’s only a natural human reaction to laugh at unfamiliar and unusual things. If we had only laughed out of surprise and then “quieted down” to our usual rowdy cheers, perhaps that would have been forgivable; but that’s not what our crowd did – we made fun of him, and that is simply mean.

“The goalie has Tourette! The goalie has Tourette!” the cheering section of the Williams crowd chanted. That is by any standard a cheap shot; there’s nothing the goalie could do to control his condition, it had nothing to do with his playing, and the jeers were a personal attack. It’s as unfounded as attacking him on any other embarrassing feature he couldn’t control. “The goalie has a birthmark across his face!” would not be accepted, so why should this? Granted, many of the chanters were drunk, and the fever and excitement of an unchallenged victory created a carnival atmosphere, but these are no excuses. We are better than that at Williams. Simply because Amherst engages in factually erroneous jeering does not mean we should start unspeakably mean ones.

I heard someone shout “Don’t worry Amherst, we’re only up by four!” (That was when we were up by four, not seven.) That is a “good” jeer, or as good as they can get anyway, and relates to the events on the ice, not to the personal features of the players. Those are the events to which we should be sticking, not only in hockey or football or lacrosse, but, metaphorically, in our lives as a whole. We truly are better than Amherst; let’s act that way.