When I was younger (10 or so, let’s say), I remember helping my brothers make cardboard signs for them to take to a Steelers game. I remember vividly the Prang marker set we used and how clever my brothers and I thought we were when we made a sign that said
when the game was televised on NBC. Oh, we were smart ones all right.
I think I speak for most when I say that signs are a fun and jovial part of the atmosphere at sporting events. Most support their team, sometimes they make small jabs at the opponent, and yet other occasions they call attention to completely different phenomena (for example “Hi Mom, please send $!” pleas). Whatever the inspiration, signs are overwhelmingly a tradition that many sports fans have come to embrace.
Not so at the University of Virginia, according to Rick Reilly’s latest story. According to some sort of rule there, no signs of any size are allowed at sporting events anymore. Not even “Go UVA!,” not even a message on a sheet of notebook paper. The only exception, unsurprisingly, are advertisements.
As a former UVA student myself, I’m pretty appalled by the school’s stance against free speech. Apparently it is some sort of new athletic department policy. Reilly interviewed former UVA football standout Ronde Barber about the situation and Barber said, “Seems odd. You’d think if there was one university that would stand up for free speech, it’d be Virginia. When I was there, the signs were really clever.”
I graduated after Ronde Barber, and thankfully, sometime before the new communist revolution. And I’d have to say, my experience was pretty much the same as Barber’s. UVA may not have had national championships in football or basketball, but we had clever fans dammit!
Of all of the amusing signs people brought to games, my favorite was one that someone had a picture of Dick Vitale‘s head Photoshopped into a Duke cheerleader’s uniform. Some friends and I had camped out 17 days — yes 17 days! — for the big UVA-Duke basketball showdown at UVA’s University Hall (U-Hall, because we love to abbreviate everything at UVA). Anyway, my friends and I got front row seats to the contest, and a group with that poster was right behind us. To no one’s surprise, Dick Vitale was there to broadcast the game.
And how do you think he responded? He laughed and even autographed the sign for the students! Unbelievable. I think this says in a nutshell why people should be able to make signs; they make for a good laugh, add to the enthusiasm and atmosphere of the game, and hey, the best can take whatever heat is dealt. Like Reilly said about coach-slamming signs, “Who, exactly, is Virginia protecting here? Groh? The man can handle himself. After all, he was once the head coach of the New York Jets.” Right on, Mr. Reilly.
The whole controversy is downright disturbing. UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson. That’s right, the very man who penned the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s third president, and so fervently stood for rights like free speech. Good ol’ TJ (or Teej as I liked to refer to him back in the day) would roll over in his grave if he knew what was going down at The University these days. As Reilly said, it’s un-American, and where is the line drawn? Does this mean that in the coming years the Lawn won’t have free speech either? No organizations intercepting unsuspecting students in an effort to get them to join their organization/show up to their meetings/donate money/buy their baked goods/rally behind their cause? As annoying as I found those soliciting tables (I’d walk the 2 or 3 minutes out of the way to avoid them), I 100% support their right to be there. Maybe it’s time the UVA athletics department took the same stand.