Recent blog posts have addressed the comment made by Head Coach Jimmye Laycock ’70 following last Saturday’s game. In a game marred by numerous personal fouls, most of them coming from Old Dominion, Laycock said afterward that, “If [ODU] understand[s] what is good football as far as personal fouls, if they learn about that, then yeah, I’m okay with [them entering the CAA next season]. But if they don’t learn about hitting late and hitting after the whistle, then no, I’m not.”
Those who have covered Laycock throughout his career at the College found the remark to be both interesting and newsworthy. Most also understood the context of the remark. Laycock is, almost above all else, a very private man. Very rarely in my four years at the College have I heard him speak of anything outside of football. Even when off the record or in lighter moments, Laycock prefers not to stray from the familiar topic of football.
Knowing this, it seems pretty clear that Laycock was referring to the Monarchs’ actions on the field—not making a remark about Old Dominion University in general. Some in Norfolk disagreed, saying “Laycock’s admonishment of ODU and its coaching staff is characteristic of the way many W&M people look down their noses at their Hampton Roads neighbors.” Some even referenced how Tribe soccer player Nick Orozco received a red card versus Old Dominion Tuesday night, saying, “This must have been some kind of mistake. Those from the College of William and Mary never act that way.”
Newspapers pay columnists to provoke reactions. Sports sections, especially in an era of increased fragmentation for newspapers, often represent one fan base more than another. The Flat Hat, for example, caters its sports content toward the College, and this means that we, too, have been guilty of poking fun at William and Mary’s opponents over the years.
But here is what I would add to the conversation.
Fans, by their very natures, are illogical. We (and I shifted the pronoun here because I am a fan, too) root for the biggest, strongest and fastest men and women not because of our personal relationship with the athletes themselves, but because they make us feel powerful. I’ve said this once before in a column, but the best thing I’ve ever read about fans’ relationships with athletes was in a novel, ironically not about sports, called A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter. Salter writes:
“One must have heroes, which is to say, one must create them. And they become real through our envy, our devotion. It is we who give them their majesty, their power, which we ourselves could never posses. And in turn, they give some back. But they are mortal, these heroes, just as we are. They do not last forever. They fade. They vanish. They are surpassed, forgotten—one hears of them no more.”
We root for athletes because of their physical skills, not because of their personalities. To justify what might become, in some cases, illogical obsessions with such athletes, we assign athletes personality traits—in order to make ourselves feel better. Peyton Manning can’t just be a great quarterback; he also has to be a great person and leader. Otherwise, we as fans have a hard time justifying why we root for a man who can throw an oddly-shaped ball farther than another man can.
Without intending it, this point was exemplified in the comments about Orozco. Yes, some Old Dominion players may have made some punk plays Saturday. But, by all accounts, so did Orozco Tuesday. Does this mean that any of those players are bad people? No, it only means they made dumb decisions. But because we are fans, we want it to mean so much more.
So we, as fans, assign moral characteristics to childish games. If you’re an ODU fan, you see Laycock’s comments as condescending and Orozco’s play as thuggish. If you’re a William and Mary fan, you respond that it is pathetic to interpret Laycock’s comments that way, and that ODU and its fans were the only thugs on the field Saturday. The truth, as it always does, seemingly lies somewhere in the middle.
Maybe some Old Dominion fans gave the one-finger salute to some Tribe players as they walked off the field Saturday. But is that emblematic of the character of the entire Monarch’s fanbase? No more so than Michael Alverado (remember him?) is emblematic of the character of the entire Tribe team.
In my four years as a reporter at the College, I’ve met some nice athletes, as well as some jerks. I’ve interviewed superstars that could not have been kinder to me, as well as third-stringers who I wouldn’t want to ever talk to again. The opposite is also true. But to assign those characteristics to the game itself, or to any team or university’s respective fanbase, is simply a false assumption.
That, I feel, has been the greater point lost in all of this. Could some have made this point in a more nuanced manner? Maybe. Did others overreact in their responses? Maybe. But I think both sides had their hearts in the right place, and hopefully we can put this issue to bed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go make fun of Albert Pujols. Have you ever seen that guy? What a jerk.