When the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers walked off the court in Exactech Arena on Saturday night, the players made sure to make a bold exit.
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) January 13, 2019
After beating arch-rival Florida, players gestured to the fans by mimicking the “Gator Chomp,” an act that was on display towards the Volunteers all night. In fact, the Chomp wasn’t the only thing directed at the Vols’ bench. According to Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield, fans were calling the player “inhumane” names.
Per Grant Ramey, Schofield elected not to expound on that comment:
Admiral Schofield said the gator chomp celebration was something that built up over the course of the game, after Florida fans behind the Tennessee bench called Tennessee players “inhumane” names.
Admiral declined to say what he or his teammates were called.
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) January 13, 2019
It didn’t take long for tweets and comments to come flooding in against the Vols. Some basketball analysts, even ones that didn’t play the game, stated there was “no need” for reciprocation:
This is a potential title team but there is no need for this. Just walk off with a road win. That alone sends a loud message. https://t.co/hSD9Md6OsF
— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) January 13, 2019
Comments such as these begs the question: where has the love for showmanship gone?
It’s not just decimated college basketball. The snowflakes have fallen all across the major sports and have blanketed the age-old tradition of jubilation in competition.
The infection of the no-fun police infected Big XII football this past fall. After certain affairs took place in their first meeting, Oklahoma was warned before the conference championship game versus arch-rival Texas.
Players were warned about mocking the “Hook ‘Em” gesture with a “horns down” prod. The reprimand would be a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Tennessee fans are all-too-familiar with this penalization. Former running back John Kelly was flagged for doing the Chomp in front of fans after a touchdown in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, otherwise known as The Swamp, back in 2017.
Major League Baseball has seen the infestation as well, despite the league championing for a more youth-driven approach. Their unofficial slogan for the 2018 playoffs was “let the kids play.”
Former stars like Ken Griffey, Jr. were highlighted in commercials and advertisements advocating for more flare in the sport. This promotion was in reaction to instances where lines were blurred on emotion and celebration.
Ronald Acuna, Jr. was a subject of one example. Back in August, Acuna was on a tear. The Braves’ rookie had eight home runs in eight games. When he walked up to the plate for his first plate appearance in this particular series against the Miami Marlins’ Jose Urena, he was trying to hit a leadoff blast for the fourth straight game.
Urena denied the National League Rookie of the Year a chance by beaming a 97 MPH fastball towards Acuna’s upper body, ultimately hitting him in the elbow. It was the fastest pitch ever recorded for the Marlins pitcher according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
One can easily speculate that this was in retaliation of Acuna’s performance. Not only was he hitting home runs, he was having fun doing it. He didn’t mock other teams or taunt pitchers. He simply celebrated in theatrical fashion while crushing the competition.
That is effectively what the Vols did Saturday night on the basketball court.
The passion for a team, mixed appropriately with disdain for a nemesis, is what makes sports so much fun. This is especially the case for collegiate competition, where sports like basketball and football are fading into semi-professionalism.
So let’s take advantage of the opportunity we have to witness the best athletes in the world suitably represent their brand, whether it be a university or professional organization. There is no need for a barrier between harmless sentiment and healthy competition.
After all, the passion is there to not only provoke others, but to defend ridicule from the enemy. In the case of Tennessee’s Grant Williams, the culture of the Tennessee basketball program provides the opportunity to relish the role of antagonist.
Grant Williams on #Vols becoming a team that opposing fans fill the building and boo: If you don't love it, don't come here. Don't come be a part of it. This is what we want, what we've worked so hard for. We're competitors. We love this.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) January 13, 2019
These Vols are a perfect model for those who want to pursue supremacy. At least they are doing their part in keeping sports fun.