An away game provides a vision for BYU fans' potential.
Until last fall, I was fairly content with my role as a BYU Cougar fan. I traveled to games, wore blue, and cheered loudly in a stadium full of fans. But my concept of what it means to be a BYU fan and my vision of what BYU athletics could become were forever changed when I experienced a reality check in the form of a trip to South Bend, Ind., where the BYU football team was playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. What made an impression on me was the gracious way we—BYU fans and players—were treated by our hosts.
It began as I was walking toward the stadium through the parking lots filled with blue-and-green-clad tailgaters. Some noticed I was a BYU fan and went out of their way to welcome me to Notre Dame. They expressed appreciation that we would come all the way to Indiana to watch the contest. They complimented BYU and what it stood for. I thought this was rather interesting but didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until it happened again a short while later. I was stopped several times on my way to the stadium by typical Notre Dame fans anxious to extend a welcome to BYU and its fans.
If the pre-stadium kindness assault shook me up, it was nothing compared to what I experienced once I reached the historic stadium. The ticket takers and ushers greeted us like long-lost friends. They asked if they could be of assistance. They talked to us and welcomed us to Notre Dame. They were genuinely concerned about our comfort and welfare.
Inside the stadium I didn’t hear any chants or derogatory remarks aimed at BYU’s players. When the Notre Dame marching band took the field, it turned to BYU’s fans and played the “Cougar Fight Song.” The PA announcer was effusive in his welcome to BYU and even sounded excited when, during the game, he was able to inform the crowd that a BYU player had broken a record. During the game I didn’t hear any booing.
After the game, we were again bombarded by Notre Dame fans thanking us for coming and wishing us well with the rest of our season.
By the time we reached our car, my head was spinning. This was not, I thought, your typical college game-day experience. We had come to witness a football game and had received a barrage of kindness—to the point that I began wondering if these people were closet BYU fans. My view toward Notre Dame was changed forever that day. It struck me that if anyone had preconceived negative feelings about Notre Dame or its fans, one home game’s worth of the fans’ overwhelming kindness would be plenty to dissipate them forever.
That brings me back to BYU. My trip home was filled with thoughts about how we BYU fans could provide similar hospitality. Visitors come to campus from all over the world for all sorts of reasons. The university does a terrific job of making these people feel welcome. Could we as fans help provide an equally positive experience for our game-day visitors? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if opposing fans and teams and referees went away from LaVell Edwards Stadium shaking their heads in amazement at the kindness they received at BYU? How would that affect their perception of BYU? What if we helped make their experience at BYU one of the best of their lives—regardless of the game’s outcome?
The experiences of last fall have left me with the firm conviction that BYU fans have an important role to play at athletic events. Yes, we should cheer for our team and give BYU the greatest home-court and home-field advantage in the country because of the ear-cracking decibel level. But beyond that, we should go out of our way to welcome our visitors. We can greet opposing fans, welcome opposing players, and even express appreciation when they make great plays. We should roll out the “blue” carpet like no one else in college sports.
Imagine what it would be like if 64,000 fans were to make good sportsmanship a top priority. Games would be more pleasant experiences for our fans and would be memorable, enjoyable experiences for our visitors.
Let’s set a goal to be the best fans in America. And I mean best in every way.
Frank VanderSloot, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is president and CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., and a member of BYU’s National Athletics Advisory Council.
INFO: For more on BYU’s efforts to encourage sportsmanship, see An A+ in Sportsmanship.