Bad experience for Penn State Fans

By Diana Hirsch of Canton

My husband, Keith, and I are Penn State alumni. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, so the Illinois-Penn State football games have a special meaning. My first time on the Illinois campus was during Homecoming in 2005, a game that ended in a Penn State victory. As we relaxed in a café that night, two Illinois fans walked in and said, “Hey, you guys played a great game.” Given the history of Homecoming at Illinois and the lopsided victory that day, I was both stunned and impressed at the magnanimous greeting shown at that moment. “That is the kind of fan I want to be,” I said to Keith.

We returned to campus for this year’s game, an event I had been looking forward to because I’d told people for weeks how wonderful the fans are.

This visit was a completely different experience.

From the moment we pulled into town on Friday afternoon, we were booed as we walked the streets and drove around town. The morning of the game was no different, as yells were hurtled our way as we traversed through campus. As we walked behind the Penn State Pep Band on the way to the stadium, we heard boos and vulgarity, as well as witnessed obscene gestures directed at the band members.

I accept a certain amount of friendly rivalry at a sporting event, the bravado and taunting to psyche out a team, especially when fans hope to avenge a previous home game loss. What goes on in the stadium, however, ought to remain in the stadium.

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After the Illinois victory, we experienced more boos and taunts. Always proud to support Penn State, I became uncomfortable walking around. I stopped meeting the eyes of Illinois fans because I wasn’t confident that just words would pass. Even downtown, an older woman who was either an alumna or a parent stopped me on the sidewalk to say something to me.

We attended the Penn State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor the previous weekend – also a Penn State loss – and to my surprise, the Michigan fans were better than the Illinois fans. We received exactly one boo, emitted from a fraternity house as we neared our car after the game.

Two years ago, I admired Illinois fans, striving to be just like them. This year’s disrespect directed toward Penn Staters taught me what a fan should really be, the fan that I will be to all visiting teams. It is not someone who wears blue and orange.