Opinion: Keep tailgating civil

Illustration Illustration

Illustration Illustration

By Chris Kozak

The changing colors on the trees signal the beginning of autumn – which itself signals the start of football season. College football unites students, fans and alumni of varying beliefs and backgrounds together for one common goal – cheering their team to victory. The celebration typically begins before the game through the phenomenon of tailgating, when people pull their RVs into the parking lot or field, fire up their barbecues and crack open their coolers stuffed with all types of meat and beer. According to tailgating.com, this tradition first began in 1869 before the game between Princeton and Rutgers and has more recently evolved into a pre-game necessity – especially at universities in the South where tailgate parties sometimes last from three to five days.

Sadly, tragedy struck at one of those schools last week when two fans at an off-campus North Carolina State University tailgate were murdered. According to witnesses, two men were throwing a football back and forth when a car with two intoxicated occupants recklessly drove through the parking lot. An argument ensued and a fight broke out between the men playing catch and the men in the car – one of whom was an N.C. State student. The men in the car returned within an hour, declared they had “a .38 Smith & Wesson for (the other men),” and shot them to death.

This, of course, was an isolated incident. But unless tailgates are better policed and regulated, this great Saturday afternoon celebration might soon come to an end. It might be difficult to believe someone is going to open fire at a tailgate, but had there been some kind of security in the tailgating area, the incident could have been prevented. After all, no university wants to go through the public relations nightmare that N.C. State currently is experiencing.

The presence of an organized security team could regulate what appears to be nothing more than an out-of-control party at N.C. State. Michael Byrne, whose column appears on PackPride.com, an N.C. State fan Web site, believes the shootings are “in part the result of a tailgating area that is less a celebration of Wolfpack football than a gathering of the drunk, the classless, and the trashy.” He goes on to say that the tailgating site “leaves an image of the university that couldn’t be more embarrassing – and that’s on days when people don’t get shot.”

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of those who partake in tailgating activities here at the University do so with respect for their surroundings. This might be because of the fact that in general, Illini fans and students have more class than the average college football fan (at least when we’re not playing Michigan or Iowa). It also might be because extravagant tailgating is as much a staple of southern culture as high school football, pickup trucks, Confederate flags and the Waffle House. Many fans in the north don’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking their own food, and are happier munching on a restaurant burger instead. Additionally, because most Illini football games kick off at 11 a.m., many of us need to wake up earlier on Saturday than we do for class during the week; leaving less time for “pre-game activities.”

Regardless of the aforementioned reasons, tailgating should be a gathering of friends and families united in support for their university. Of course, doing this is supposed to be fun, and having fun typically doesn’t mean drunkenly wandering around picking fights. You’re at a tailgate because your team is playing that day, not because you are looking for target practice.

Chris Kozak is a senior in LAS. His column runs Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]