And not a moment too soon. Or perhaps even at exactly the now controversial moment it should have ended. But, yes, the longstanding rivalry that marked college sports for Missouri and Kansas ended last Saturday in the final 3 seconds of an overtime period in a heart-wrenching, gut-clenching basketball game.
from The Kansas City Star, Feb. 26, 2012
Jayhawk Country erupted in the kind of revelry they generally reserve for when they take all in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. Tiger Nation collectively wrung its hands into the wee hours over a call that didn’t get called and the one that did, both game-changers.
Sportcasters were all but apoplectic, labeling the whole affair “epic” and deeming it the most exciting game in the history of the sport. Seriously?
I have other, less generous labels, and not for this game but for the purported rivalry between two schools I happened to have attended. I use the term “happened” by design. You see, in-state tuition was a lure for me as an undergraduate and even moreso when I was footing the bill myself as a graduate student.
Funny how AP polls and recruiting sweepstakes never figured into my decisions and my personal bottom line trumped all other considerations given that both schools had stellar academic offerings in my areas of interest.
Rivalry seems a gross understatement as a means of capturing the intense and utter hatred of fans by fans that fuels this competition allegedly dating back to the Civil War. I detailed a few of the most unseemly elements of what’s called the “Border War” in a post here when the Big12 conference began its slow-moving implosion two years ago, which coincided with my epiphany that the entire country needed to be cited for unsportsmanlike behavior.
Frankly, I’m not sure it’s possible to fully appreciate this insidious cultural beast unless you’ve lived smack in the middle of it and endured the heinous trash talk that marks the week preceding MU-KU games, which is cleverly called “Hate Week.”
By “middle”, I mean literally the middle. As in the Kansas City metropolitan area which straddles the state line, dividing two states and numerous municipalities therein. Because the unseemliness doesn’t rise up out of a wheatfield in western Kansas or from a tobacco farm in the Missouri bootheel quite the way it does in KC.
Here in the heart of America it gets real ugly, real fast.
Schools and workplaces all over the KC metro area will not be full of good-natured banter and ribbing, but, instead, bitter, biting, hurtful comments lobbed from and at both sides. And sadly, no one will bother to say, “Oh my gosh, wasn’t that just a terrific and exciting nail-biter of a game?” Nope. Nobody. Not even me.
‘Cause that’s how we roll now as a sports culture. Just check in on the Twitter chatter from the weekend or some other social media venue that permits instantaneous knee-jerk reactions that blossom into screeds or that fosters sheer vitriol in discussions that are but thinly veiled cyber-bullying. I guarantee the hatred will be palpable.
And since it virtually begins at birth when parents start inculcating their children with this hatred through bibs and ballcaps, it plays out on the playground before anyone ever gets to college.
Conspiracy theories abound now that multiple colleges are exiting the Big 12 to go to other conferences not governed by the Lone Star State. But politics, posturing, predators and power grabs have defined this league in recent years, much the way they define all of college sports, even the upcoming beloved bracketology of March Madness.
So by now you’re thinking, “Hey, it’s just a game, people!” And, in another part of the universe you might be right. But not here, not now. And you don’t have to go all the way back to the Civil War to figure it out.
Just go as far back as thwarted proposals to rebuild after a devastating 1951 flood demolished parts of the KC area right before the Civil Rights movement and study the history of local city constitutions, real estate covenants, and a 35-year saga of public school desegregation and you’ll discern more than you ever wanted to know about how this rivalry reflects far more about the policies of Reconstruction than abolition.
Then, against that tense historical backdrop, toss in the carving up of limited resources, refusal to cooperate on bi-state efforts, endless poaching of businesses from both sides of state line. To that toxic mix, introduce the current climate of college sports, which historian Taylor Branch so masterfully outlined in his Atlantic article, “The Shame of College Sports”, last fall, and, finally, add on the economic bust that is felling higher education across this region.
You get the picture. This heralded, bally-hooed sports rivalry, deemed historic by its sheer longevity, is a not-so-covert expression of the worst kind of ill will, the arrogant kind that perversely revels in the demise of others in all forms and forums: political, social, cultural, racial, economic, educational.
A time-out lasting at least several years is in order just so people might learn to live together before they even think about playing together again.
A glimmer of hope turned up on my doorstep a few days before that final game at the height of Hate Week. Ferocious prairie winds ripped a rotting rope in half on the flag pole in our yard, liberating an oversized team flag I’d given my husband as a Christmas gift, sending it sailing down the block while we were away.
An unknown neighbor, most certainly one who favored the other team, found the flag and tucked it, neatly folded, inside our door.
That, in my book, is true sportmanship.
So, is MU-KU hatred an anomaly? What is the sports rivalry like in your neck of the woods?