Sports can bring out the best in people, inspiring sudden moments of brilliance, awe-inspiring feats and grace under pressure.
Sports can bring people together in all the literal and figurative ways — teammates, fan bases, communities.
Throughout the year in Montana, in all corners of our big state and small towns, awesome examples always emerge.
What transpired on a court in Great Falls last week was another great reminder. Before the Northern C high school basketball tournament there, players and coaches from Box Elder, Belt, Heart Butte and Power locked arms at center court. The crowd of roughly 3,500 erupted with loud cheers and applause, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
It was a powerful show of solidarity between two reservation schools and two off-reservation schools in response to an unfortunate series of events. Earlier in the week, Billings radio host Paul Mushaben wrote an online post titled “Indian Basketball” that was published on the Cat Country KCTR 102.9 website. The post strongly suggested that American Indian teams should play separate postseason tournaments because of their fans. Mushaben cited a recent alleged incident, claiming “the crowd (was) so unruly and disrespectful of the facility that it may be time for the (Montana High School Association) to proceed with an all Indian tourney.”
Mushaben did not specify when and where this purported incident occurred, and the MHSA said it hadn’t received any concerns from statewide tournament managers about recent crowd issues.
In a later interview with the Billings Gazette, Mushaben denied that his post included racial overtones, but went on to say, “It seems that the majority of the problems occur when Native Americans play.” According to the Gazette, he likened his comments to the issue of gang violence in cities such as Chicago, which he said “comes basically from the African American community.”
KCTR deleted the post, suspended Mushaben and issued a statement saying that the station “does not support the blog or the sentiments expressed.”
If we’re ready to have a serious discussion about the prevalence of unsuitable fan behavior, I’m all for it. But it must encompass everyone and there is no place for discriminatory undertones.
Disorderly fan bases are certainly not unique to any one team, community or demographic. Growing up in Missoula and playing basketball through high school, I traveled across the state and faced many rowdy crowds, some that were overly harsh for a teenage sporting event. As a sports reporter for nearly a decade now, I’ve witnessed unacceptable disturbances from many crowds, unfortunately more often than I’d like to admit.
There are certainly heated rivalries that walk a fine line between raucous intensity and gratuitousness, but singling out reservation schools and their fans is simply inaccurate.
Sports can bring out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst. Ironically, last week’s ceremony was the anniversary of college basketball coach Bobby Knight’s infamous chair-throwing episode. Most often, the issues center on fanatic spectators.
Many of the best crowds I’ve ever seen came from American Indian communities. It’s a well-known fact among Montana sports fans that tribal towns empty during games to travel far and wide to support their teams.
I wish more fan bases would show that level of support for their student-athletes.
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