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Today's Tidbit... Opponents Versus Visitors
Words matter, and our choice of words to describe others goes a long way to communicating what we think of them. For example, consider the minor controversy after Harvard Stadium's opening. The stadium scoreboards were more advanced than most. One sat atop the stands at the closed end of the stadium, and the other stood behind the goal posts at the stadium's open end.
Like all good scoreboards, Harvard's showed the number of points earned by Harvard and the number made by the opponent.
Most people would not give a second thought to Harvard using the word "opponent" to describe the visiting team. Still, the term led to a kerfuffle or, at least, a suggestion from Barrett Wendell, Class of 1877, and an English professor, to choose a different label. Wendell believed Harvard did not invite opponents into its stadium; Harvard invited visitors.
Go ahead and Google "football scoreboard" and click on images. You will find pictures with generic labels for the teams showing Home matched up with Visitor, Visitors, Guest, or Away. Following Harvard's labeling change, none of the scoreboards refer to the team being welcomed as the Opponent.
Why does this matter? It matters because fans sometimes lose their heads, equating the opposing team and their fans as enemies and treating them by that standard.
Take, for example, the 96th playing of The Rivalry between Lehigh and Lafayette. The two schools are 12 miles apart and strikingly similar in many respects, but having played more often than any other combination of college teams, their familiarity bred contempt.
When the teams met at Lehigh for the 96th time in 1959, the 4-4 Lehigh Mountain Hawks were favored over the 4-4 Lafayette Leopards. However, the game did not go Lehigh's way. When Lafayette took a 9-0 lead, Lehigh students threw hard green apples and pears into the Lafayette crowd. They moved on to bottles, lettuce, and cabbage at halftime, and at the game's end, with Lafayette holding a 28-6 lead, Lehigh's fans surrounded the goal posts to prevent the Lafayette fans from tearing them down. (Tearing down the goal posts was far more common and acceptable then than now.)
That was the final straw for Lafayette fans as fights broke out across the field. Called a riot by the newspapers, the fisticuffs took 30 minutes to contain and ended only after the police used billy clubs to disperse the crowd.
While the goal posts remained standing until an unidentified group returned early Sunday morning to take them down, the altercation resulted in injuries, many disciplined by the two schools, and at least one forced to leave school.
Even students in lofty environments like Lehigh and Lafayette can get carried away, losing sight of a football game's actual importance. Situations like these remind us to think of our opponents as guests or visitors and treat them accordingly.
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