Politics, Moderate



Michigan-Michigan State Fracas Is a Cause for Concern Within Our Sporting Culture

Jessica Johnson on

The violent brawl that occurred on Oct. 29 in the Big House tunnel after the Michigan State Spartans lost to their in-state rival, the Michigan Wolverines, is a troubling and sad reflection on an ugly facet of sporting culture. The most disturbing part of the videos that have surfaced is the footage that captured Spartan teammates swinging their helmets and kicking Michigan players.

The Michigan players who were attacked have been identified as defensive backs Ja'Den McBurrows and Gemon Green, and so far, eight Michigan State players have been indefinitely suspended while an investigation by the university and law enforcement is ongoing. It is highly possible that these suspensions may end up in expulsions once the investigation is completed. Green's parents have decided to press charges, and since football helmets could possibly be viewed as deadly weapons in their case, some Michigan State players could end up being convicted of felonies and serve prison time.

Everyone who is an avid college football fan knows that the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is ultra-competitive, dating back to 1898. Michigan has referred to Michigan State as "little brother" since 2007, when then-running back Mike Hart gave a humorous and good-natured interview after the Wolverines overcame a 10-point deficit to win 28-24 that year. However, one has to wonder after this year's game if the storied matchup is becoming too toxic. Many questions are also being raised regarding the type of culture that Spartan head coach Mel Tucker endorses for his program. While a coach cannot be blamed for every poor decision that young men under his tutelage make, the gang-like attack by MSU players in the Michigan tunnel is causing many to believe that Tucker is lacking discipline within his locker room. Tucker is also in a precarious position due to currently having a losing record where even making a low-tier bowl is most likely out of reach. He signed a 10-year, $95 million contract after going 11-2 last season but has been harshly criticized since his team fell out of the AP Top-25 rankings in September. The tunnel melee scandal only exacerbates matters, especially if more recruits from Tucker's 2023 class start decommitting, as a three-star quarterback did at the beginning of the month.

When thinking about the violent nature of football in general and how it has been psychologically analyzed, many sports scholars would concur with George Orwell, who once said: "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in violence. In other words, it is war without shooting." Orwell's assertion is unfortunately an accurate assessment when we see fights break out between athletes at college and professional football games, and when you consider the football matches around the world that we refer to as soccer, violence almost seems ingrained among fans. Last month, 129 people died after a fight broke out between fans at a soccer match in Malang, Indonesia, and in March, a brawl escalated in the stands at a game in Mexico, resulting in 26 injured. Thankfully, there were no serious scuffles between fans at the Michigan-Michigan State game, although a fan tried to touch Tucker's head as he walked through the tunnel before kickoff. The jealousy and boastfulness that Orwell referred to is hatefully carried out by many fans on social media today, mainly Twitter and college team message boards, where people spew vile insults at coaches, players and one another, which makes fun banter in rivalries look like an antiquated tradition.


As the investigation continues of the Michigan tunnel incident, the tragedy here is twofold: the physical injuries suffered by McBurrows and Green and the educational and professional opportunities that the suspended MSU players have squandered by letting anger dictate their actions. Regarding the latter, I'm reminded of Proverbs 14:29, which teaches that one who is "quick-tempered" displays and elevates "his foolishness" for everyone to see. In a sporting culture that lauds cockiness and pride, young men would greatly benefit from being taught Godly principles in competition that reinforce the standards of winning with dignity and accepting defeat in grace. It's understandable that emotions may flare in games and that players will get chippy with one another, but there is no excuse for the violence that took place in Ann Arbor.


Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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