October, 2015 | Bottom Line Ethics

I have been involved in some interesting discussions since my last blog, “I Miss the Hiss.” I certainly did not expect the level of back and forth that arose from writing it, but I can appreciate both sides of the argument. I know the yell leaders have put forth their view in The Battalion. I thought it was worth one more blog to address some of the concerns of those who dismiss the view that “hissing is a good thing.”

I see the horse laugh as part of passing on culture more than anything, and this process needs to be intentional in most cases. Though I don’t wear an Aggie ring, I do have some experience at passing on culture. Linda and I have raised five kids together, beginning when Jimmy Carter was president, and our youngest is in college. We have spent the last 37 years passing on a particular culture. As a result, if you meet my children, you are likely to be addressed in certain ways and afforded a measure of respect, even before you have “earned it” in the relationship. Many of the criticisms of my position on the hiss remind me of criticisms I received of my parenting skills. (Of course, both may be well founded.)

12th Man #4

The first objection to the hiss is that it is hypocritical. You mean the same thing as a boo, so you are just being hypocritical to hiss, and it is actually more irritating than a boo is. This view makes some sense to me. But there are also a lot of ways to express anger in a marriage, and the way you do so says something about your character. My wife does not appreciate a snarky laugh when I disagree with her on something, but it is way preferable to shouting at her and calling her an idiot. I am trying to do better than a snarky laugh. But there are orders of magnitude to how we disagree that say a lot more about us as individuals than they do about the person on the other side of the relationship who is “wrong.” The hiss is not perfect self-control, but it has humor injected into the disagreement rather than pure anger.

The second objection is, “You’re wasting your time, Mike. You need to let go.” (This is usually accompanied by “smh.”) People said the same thing to us repeatedly when we were raising our kids, and I’m glad we decided not to listen to them. If you are going against the flow of culture, you do have to swim upstream to be unique. But that doesn’t mean the waters are not swimmable. And if that is true, how did the hiss last until 2015? Couldn’t you have made the same argument in 1985? Because it is going to end some day is not a strong argument that it ought to end today. “Some day” we’re all dead.

The third argument is that booing is my choice. You can’t tell me what to do. True. And I love that we are still a free country. Besides, I’m a professor. I’m used to people not listening to my suggestions.

Fourth, the team prefers the boo to the hiss. I saw one player’s Twitter post to that effect. I think that is one of the most legitimate arguments against my position. But if my kids were mistreated by classmates or a teacher, I didn’t go yell at that person, even though I might have felt that was the most effective thing I could have done. With teachers in particular, I generally gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were trying to get it right. I would express my disagreement whenever necessary. But my goal was to do it with respect. Were my kids happy? Not always. Did they feel supported? You would probably have to ask them. But I am confident that my yelling would not have made them more successful.

Finally, booing helps the team get calls later in the game. Officials can be intimidated. Again, that may be correct. It’s an empirical question, and I’ve never seen anything more than anecdotal evidence regarding officials’ behavior after a controversial call against the home team. So why not boo loudly after every innocuous encroachment or offside penalty (which they do in some stadiums)? Is that the culture we want?

I actually think the self-control demonstrated by the horse laugh helps restrain us from being that kind of culture. In all the discussions since my earlier blog post, I have not heard anyone argue, “I wish we were more like Tech fans.” (Of course, I admit that I did not view all of the memes of my position on fan sites.)

What is truly unique about our culture in Kyle Field is honor and respect. It is what bonds the Class of ’56 with the Class of ’86 and the Class of ’16. All throughout the game, we honor people – and we stand. We stand for an invocation, for the national anthem, for “Texas, Our Texas.” We stand for Bugle Call out of respect for someone who has had a significant life. And, if you are a student, you always stand as the 12th Man. The way we treat the other team, including inflammatory players and coaches, the way we treat their fans, and the way we treat the officials is simply an overflow of our love and respect for one another.

Linda and I don’t become different people when someone comes into our home, just because they don’t share our view of life. This is true even if they mock us for being Aggies or loving A&M. Without changing who we are, they get the benefit, while they are in our home, of the love that flows within our family. That includes respect and restraint on my part, even when they are disagreeable, or downright irritating.

Kyle Field is our home, and I will be rooting hard at every home game for the Aggies to clearly establish their position in the SEC West. I really want us to win. But, on Sunday morning, visiting fans will go home to their home state and I will wake up in Aggieland. Here’s hoping that the place I wake up in is always unique, a group of people who love one another and are unafraid to live by our core values.

Because those values are what brought me to A&M. What has happened to me as a result is what I hope will happen to many of our visitors. In fact, we sing it at every game: “Then they will come and join the best.” It will happen, not because we are the same, but because we do things differently.

Don’t dismiss the hiss.

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One of the funniest traditions I encountered when I came to Texas A&M was the tradition of the “horse laugh.” As an alternative to booing, especially the officials at a sporting event, Aggies have traditionally yelled, “Riffety, Riffety, Riff-Raff! Chiffity, Chiffity, Chiff-Chaff! Riff-Raff! Chiff-Chaff! Let’s give ’em the horse laugh!” followed by hissing from the crowd. It actually makes me laugh and takes the edge off a bad call by the officials.

During the second quarter of Saturday night’s game, A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was ejected for targeting after a crushing block on an unsuspecting Mississippi State defensive back. It was, to say the least, a controversial call, and the 12th Man was incensed. Boos rained down on the field as the penalty was assessed and Seals-Jones was ejected.

Kyle Field is viewed during an NCAA college football game between Ball State and Texas A&M, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 56-23. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Kyle Field is viewed during an NCAA college football game between Ball State and Texas A&M, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in College Station. Texas A&M won 56-23. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

We had a string of disappointing losses in Mike Sherman’s last year, but the crowd never devolved into what I saw Saturday night, including after the phantom penalty on the last drive of the final Texas game. But the same chorus of boos happened after a controversial call in the LSU game last year, and I remember feeling regret over it. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel that way, since the same thing would happen in virtually any stadium in America, pro or college. Still, one of the things I admired about A&M even before I got here was the ability to express disagreement and anger, even disdain, in creative ways. The War Hymn makes clear how Aggies feel about Texas every time it is sung, but the locked legs sawing Varsity’s horns off are as much about school unity as they are about vanquishing a foe.

Saturday night you could hear a little hissing in the crowd, but it was overwhelmed by the boos and the invective, at least in my section of the stadium. Certainly it was a reaction in the moment by a large subset of the 104,000 in attendance, and I am not recommending an unemotional response. And I am probably not the right person to point it out, since this is only my 10th year as a season ticket holder. But it feels to me like we are losing something around here that is important.

This year we have put up a statue of our core values on the west side of the stadium, the same core values that are over the entries to the MSC across the street. Saturday night I saw five of the six celebrated throughout the game, and most of them demonstrated in significant ways: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty and Selfless Service. We paused numerous times during the game to recognize those who demonstrate these qualities—former players, generous donors, Bugle Call, outstanding alumni. The Big Event was celebrated as a national example of student service.

And, to be honest, there were many demonstrations of respect including, I think, the way Mississippi State fans were treated. But Kyle Field Saturday night was not the Kyle Field I have known and respected both as an outsider and as a part of the faculty. And I know that part of that is loyalty—to the team and to Seals-Jones—and part is a perceived lack of integrity in people’s minds from the officials. Part of it is also the desire to create the kind of intimidating atmosphere we encounter at Alabama or LSU, stadiums that are the proving ground for excellence. There is a lot at stake—money and image and recruits, and all the ancillary benefits those things bring to the university.

But in the midst of becoming the mega-university we are quickly becoming, I hope the yell leaders will provide direction to all of us admission-paying adults, and to the student body, on how to be an Aggie when things are the worst for us. It won’t be long before the next “worst call I have ever seen,” and it will be much more critical than the one Saturday night. How will we react then?

I am not foolish enough to believe that my words will move the needle on something like this. But I have a sense that this is one part of Aggie culture that can be quickly lost and, once it is lost, difficult to ever retrieve. And though I don’t wear the ring, I love this place, and all that it stands for.

I miss the hiss.

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