What does it mean to be a college sports fan? Is it setting up a tent and waiting in line for days to cop season tickets? Is it painting your chest and losing your voice heckling a rival at the free-throw line? Is it taking a caravan cross-country to support your team at a bowl game?
Should there be any more to it than that?
On Sunday, a video surfaced of members of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity singing a stomach-turning, brutally racist chant on a bus. The words: "There will never be a n***** SAE. There will never be a n***** SAE. You can hang him from a tree but he can never sign with me, there will never be a n***** SAE."
University President David Boren took swift action by shutting down OU's SAE chapter and giving its members until the end of the day Monday to leave campus. Meanwhile, the student body protested. Athletes, including members of a Sooners football program that has won seven NCAA Division I National Championships, were among them.
On social media, those athletes expressed their anger at an institution and a student body that worships them for their performance on the field, but does not accept them as full human beings off it.
Crazy cause after the games they welcome us through their doors with open arms..
Students at big-time sports schools pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in an environment where they can both receive a first-rate education and indulge in a super-intense, super-fun fan culture. They pay extra for their season tickets. Typically, they operate in an entirely separate universe from the football and basketball players -- except, of course, on gameday.
At Oklahoma and elsewhere, it's easy to see why many athletes feel like they exist on campus solely for the entertainment of the student body. That feeling can only be exacerbated 100-fold if you're a black athlete on a predominantly black team at a predominantly white institution where racist chants are sung and Confederate flags are flown.
In December, this frustration was voiced perfectly by University of Maryland wide receiver Deon Long, who held a sign at a Black Lives Matter protest that read: "Are we still thugs when you pay to watch us play sports?
To some degree, this power dynamic between fans and athletes is inevitable in an NCAA system dependent on the exploitation of black labor. But that doesn't mean its supporters -- the students, the fans -- cannot be more responsible in their fandom. Part of what's both dangerous and powerful about sports-crazed campuses is the atmosphere of family and community centered around sports. When 82,000 people pack into Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to rally around a common goal, that's a powerful thing. In those moments, Sooners fans care deeply about the players on the field.
Imagine if the same level of support showered on Sooners football players after a big win were being showered on them now in a moment of deep anger and pain. Or imagine if 82,000 people banded together to demand that athletes be treated like campus employees and get paid what their labor is worth. Or imagine if the explosive energy felt inside a college basketball arena were harnessed to fight for college athletes' right to unionize. The NCAA would disintegrate before our very eyes.
Monday's protests at OU, organized by a black student alliance called Unheard, offered a beautiful example of students showing solidarity with black athletes, students and faculty. There, and on other campuses across the country, the connections between toxic racism in academic institutions and toxic racism in college sports must not be forgotten. True college sports fans must go beyond painting their chests. True fans stand up for their favorite players when they are being dehumanized.
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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 2: Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves puts powder on his hands before entering the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 2, 2015 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 2: Goalie Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks eyes the puck during the NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 02, 2015 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
AMES, IA - MARCH 2: Frank Booker #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners is fouled by Georges Niang #31 of the Iowa State Cyclones as he takes a three point shot in the second half of play at Hilton Coliseum on March 2, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State defeated Oklahoma 77-70. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - MARCH 06: Eric Young Jr. #4 of the Atlanta Braves dives for a fly ball during the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Champion Stadium on March 6, 2015 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MARCH 08: MXGP riders race during the MXGP on March 8, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MARCH 06: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was created with a fish eye lens) Kirsten McAslan of Great Britain & Northern Ireland competes in the Women's 400 metres rounds during day one of the 2015 European Athletics Indoor Championships at O2 Arena on March 6, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FL - MARCH 3: Mel Rojas Jr. #81 of the Pittsburgh Pirates dives but is unable to catch a fly ball in center field during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on March 3, 2015 in Dunedin, Florida. The Pirates defeated the Blue Jays 8-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 5: Josh Jooris #86 of the Calgary Flames scores in a shoot-out against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on March 5, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FL - MARCH 3: A group of Toronto Blue Jays players try to stay cool in the shade before the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on March 3, 2015 in Dunedin, Florida. The Pirates defeated the Blue Jays 8-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KS - MARCH 03: The Kansas Jayhawks pose with the trophy after defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers to win the game and clinch an eleventh-straight Big IX Championship title at Allen Fieldhouse on March 3, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 06: Horses race in the Greenlane Cup HCP Trot during the New Zealand Trotting Cup at Alexandra Park on March 6, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created using multiple exposure in camera) Lin Dan of China in action as he beats Tian Houwei of China in the men's singles during day three of YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships at Birmingham Barclaycard Arena on March 5, 2015 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - MARCH 6: Ty Kelly #68 of the St. Louis Cardinals turns the double play forcing out Gregorio Petit #3 of the Houston Astros during the third inning of the spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 6, 2015 in Jupiter, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Astros 5-2. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 08: Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks sails over teammate Cory Crawford #50 during a game against the New York Rangers at the United Center on March 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
BRADFORD, ENGLAND - MARCH 07: Billy Knott of Bradford City strikes the ball as Daniel Williams of Reading closes in during the FA Cup Quarter Final match between Bradford City and Reading at the Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade on March 7, 2015 in Bradford, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 07: Loui Eriksson #21 congratulates Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins after he scored a goal in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers, sending the game into overtime at TD Garden on March 7, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Flyers 3-2. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 7: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche is snowed by Scott Hartnell #43 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche after covering the puck during the first period on March 7, 2015 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/NHLI via Getty Images)