- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

University of Maryland students yesterday said school and state authorities can’t suppress their vulgar chants at men’s basketball games, but if head coach Gary Williams asks them to stop, they will.

“Coach Williams is one of the best things that’s happened to the sports program. If he said, ‘Calm down the cursing,’ people should respect it and would respect it. People love Coach Williams. Everything that comes out of his mouth is gold,” said Justin Berlin, a 22-year-old senior at the College Park campus.

Mr. Berlin attended Maryland’s game last week against No. 1-ranked Duke in which Maryland fans chanted obscenities at Duke star J.J. Redick that were heard clearly in the arena and on national television.

He and fellow senior Noam Whitman said that free-speech laws prohibit the school from legislating codes, but acknowledged a conflict between fans who want to chant curses and those who don’t want to hear them, especially families with young children. They also said that other schools have chanted worse phrases at Maryland players.

Maryland’s chief counsel, Terry Roach, said university officials has asked the state’s attorney general whether the school can ban vulgar speech without violating free-speech laws.

Assistant Attorney General John Anderson yesterday said he is reviewing the matter and expects to make a decision next week.

Mr. Anderson said he had discussed the issue with school officials. He said he was not sure whether the state’s position, that such signs and chants are protected speech, will change.

He said he will review cases other than 1971’s Cohen v. California, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a vulgar saying on a T-shirt worn in a public building qualified as protected speech.

“There are other cases to consider,” Mr. Anderson said. “There are a lot of people who are upset over this matter.”

But many Maryland students said school authorities will achieve nothing by trying to enforce rules against vulgarity.

“What are they going to do? Arrest every person?” said Stephanie Maniatis, 20, a junior. “You can’t put a rule out because students are going to do what they want.”

Freshman Kevin Ford said the student body behaves better at most other games than during the Duke game.

Still, he said, “the only thing that’s going to stop [vulgar chanting] is if the refs give us technical fouls. … [Athletic Director] Debra Yow’s not going to do anything that’s going to make us stop. The only thing that’s going to make us stop is if we’re going to lose because of it.”

A request by Mr. Williams before the game, he said, also would help. Students “would definitely listen to him. The student body loves Gary Williams. He gets a bigger round of applause than any of the players when he walks out.”

Other students said encouragement from Mr. Williams, a Maryland alumnus who has coached the basketball team from a 6-8 conference record in 1989 to their first national championship in 2002, would be the most effective way to quell vulgar chants.

Last season before basketball games, a recorded message from Mr. Williams encouraging good sportsmanship played on the jumbo screen. The university has not played the message this year, and school officials said Wednesday they did not know why.

A spokesman for the sports department yesterday said Mr. Williams is considering talking to the student body before Sunday’s game against North Carolina State.

University President Dan Mote wrote a letter to the student body that appeared in yesterday’s student newspaper, the Diamondback.

“These failings in sportsmanship and aberrant displays offend most Terp fans and subject the university community to derision. While support of our team may be well-intentioned, displays of profanity simultaneously debase our team, our athletes and our university. Even more inexplicable is that these displays elevate our opposition both on the court and for the greater audience,” Mr. Mote said in the letter.

“What is the character of a person who yells profanity at a student simply because of his excellent play? Like it or not, that person becomes who we are. Our fiercest competitors could not do a better job at putting us down than these fans do,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, alumni have expressed disgust over the students’ behavior.

“It’s horrible. It’s embarrassing. When we went to school, the average SAT was lower so kids are smarter now, but they’re not acting with very much class. It’s not right. Maryland is a great program now. We want to win with class. Every alumnus is very embarrassed,” said George Mavrikas, a 1978 graduate and local sports agent.

Moises Cruz, who graduated in 2000 after playing for four years, said, “The crowd is great intensitywise. They have the right idea, but it should change a little bit to be more classy. If you’re on national television and yelling obscenities, it doesn’t represent the Maryland base of fans.”

David Drebes contributed to this report.


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