Sickening News Illustrates Out-Of-Hand Iron Bowl Fans
by Christopher Smith
Dec 04, 2013 10:34 PM EST
Paul Finebaum lunatics. Harvey Updike. The Roll Tide/War Eagle documentary. Four consecutive national championships. Cam Newton. Mark Ingram. Social media. The Toomer's Corner Oaks. Two ridiculous Tigers comebacks in four years. The constantly burning hatred between Alabama and Auburn has erupted to new proportions after a confluence of ingredients combined in the last five years. And now a mother of three and a case worker for at-risk youth is dead. The pride I have in my home state's ability to churn out historical college football teams every decade is a double-edged sword, balanced by the embarrassment of the vitriol, hatred and violence spewed by a culture supposedly known for Southern hospitality and charm. For all the glory of the 2013 Iron Bowl, probably the most dramatic in the history of the series, it led to a murder Saturday night, apparently because the deceased victim wasn't distraught over Alabama's loss. Police have charged 28-year-old Adrian Laroze Briskey with murder, according to AL.com. Though accounts differ, the police providing a different narrative than the alleged victim's sister, both attended an Iron Bowl party, after which 36-year-old Michelle Shepherd was shot dead in an apartment parking lot. Alcohol may or may not have been involved, and the two may or may not have exchanged words and fought. Shepherd's sister alleges Briskey was upset because the two weren't taking the loss seriously enough. No matter what the cause, a football game never should lead to a loss of life. Rivalries, even good-natured "hatred," create the sort of excitement, tradition and bonding between family and friends usually reserved for holidays. "Hate" is a strong word that causes some to recoil or believe it never should be used. I don't take issue with its use or existence, but college football fans, in this case Alabama or Auburn fans, should "hate" the opposing team's logo, "hate" when the other team wins or "hate" having to hear trash talk for 364 days. "Hate" Dennis Franchione for dropping the rope he cajoled fans and players to hold onto during NCAA sanctions, leaving town for Texas A&M, but don't hate him to the point of wishing him physical harm. And don't genuinely hate each other because of a difference in rooting interest. I'm not talking from on top of a Clydesdale or sparing myself judgment — after a couple gut-wrenching breakups, more than a half-dozen cross-country moves and hundreds of miles typically separating me from my family, I don't have many close relationships. My diet often tips toward Ramen Noodles more often out of financial necessity than an indiscriminate palate. I often place my identity in my career or athletic accomplishments. I can see how under certain circumstances, a person could intertwine their self-worth and the success of a football team. But that doesn't excuse the lack of perspective to realize that a game, which you spend four hours or so watching on TV each Saturday for four months a year, shouldn't bring you to act in ways, violent or otherwise, that should be reserved for genuine causes: Protecting the safety of someone or something you love, or someone or something that can't protect itself. Sports violence isn't limited to Alabama-Auburn — a fan died in an apparent parking-lot altercation at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium less than a week before the Iron Bowl, and the well-chronicled beating administered to San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow are just two examples — but the unsurpassed intensity of the rivalry in the Yellowhammer State seems to bring out the worst, at least among the fringe extreme of each fan base. Though it's common practice these days after monumental sports failures and perhaps sensationalized in the media, Alabama kicker Cade Foster received death threats after missing three field goals in Saturday's loss at Auburn. And lest we forget, the Tigers couldn't celebrate the win by rolling the huge oaks at Toomer's Corner because, well, they aren't there any more. Harvey Updike, a lunatic Tide fan, poisoned the iconic trees after the last heartbreaking Bama loss on The Plains, in which Cam Newton overcame a 24-0 deficit en route to a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. I happened to be in Hoover on Saturday night, watching the game from my parents' home. Within hours, before the postgame analysis had stopped, a local news station reported a murder at an apartment complex a few miles away, and I got a sinking feeling. It's difficult not to brace for the worst in a state where people become fringe celebrities by calling Finebaum's sports talk radio show and imparting hateful rants against other teams' fans. Planted squarely in the Bible Belt, many of them churchgoers, Tide and Tigers fans often ignore scripture that warns against judging your neighbor for the speck of sawdust in his eye until removing the plank from your own. Often any grounds for one fan base to disparage the other side soon will become grounds for self-incrimination. Sure, there are bright spots — Auburn fans that organized a tremendous amount of support following the devastating tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2011, or Alabama fans who rallied to support Foster this weekend — but the "every fan has a voice" nature of today's social media, along with the unprecedented success of the teams (winners of the last four national titles) has ushered an era of ugliness perhaps unmatched in the history of the rivalry. It's easy to marginalize the recent incidents and call it a coincidence that they've been connected to football teams. Granted, the most egregious behavior — defacing monuments, true violence — is limited to the margins and wackos who just happen to associate themselves with fan bases. But there are plenty of adults who fail to discern the line when it comes to acceptable fan behavior, often when alcohol and emotion intertwine among those who self-identify as a Tide or Tigers fan more than a husband, a wife, a mother, a daughter or a friend. Yes, I realize the alleged murder involved two people who rooted for the same team, but that only serves to ratchet its senseless and avoidable nature and underscore the distorted importance placed on and the emotion stemming from the Iron Bowl. Somehow, fans need to realize football games aren't worth committing crimes, much less death. Until then, unfortunately, we'll hear about more incidents like this one in years to come. The next time your rival beats you or vice versa, go ahead and sulk, or rub it in. But please, can we all agree to keep it within the lines of sanity?