Thursday, February 17, 2011

on poisoned trees and a toxic atmosphere

"Seriously, can our 2 teams please quit playing organized sports against each other?"

That was the text I received from my cousin Jamie last night, as social media, the national media and the blogosphere raged on about the (apparently very intentional) poisoning of the live oaks at Toomer's Corner in Auburn yesterday, or as I refer to it, Possibly The Dumbest Thing That Ever Happened Ever. The rhetoric was predictable: Auburn fans bemoaning the classless attack on the campus landmark, Alabama fans condemning the act disowning the guy who (apparently) copped to it and the national press enjoying an offseason civil war that just won't stop.
The question now becomes: Can something positive come from something so absurd?

Maybe the most hateful development of the digital age is an increase in vitriolic rhetoric. For reasons that are not entirely clear, people seem much more inclined to be hateful to one another from behind a computer screen. In the wake of the horrifying shootings that occurred in Tucson earlier this year, a number of political leaders and analysts on both sides of the aisle have wondered if we should not re-examine the atmosphere in our country, and whether we are encouraging people to be violent through our over-the-top rhetoric.

Alabama and Auburn fans may now need to do the same before a similar incident of violence occurs between them. The increased stakes — both programs competing on a national level, both recruiting at a national level, with accusations of cheating and fraud on both sides — is making a simple sibling rivalry into a violent culture war.
We should've seen it coming, of course. I even wrote about it in the spring of 2009, as some Auburn fans planned to hire private investigators to follow certain Alabama recruits in search of proof of wrongdoing.
The Alabama-Auburn rivalry — call it "The Iron Bowl" if you wish — has always been an intense one, no question. When we play one another on the field, we want nothing more than to beat one another's brains in. That's the way football is supposed to be played.
One thing that's always struck me about attending those games, however — and I've now been to every one since 1995 — is how (relatively speaking) friendly the rivalry actually is. ... We're all going to have to work together, worship together and live together when all this is settled.

(An important note: This isn't merely limited to Alabama and Auburn or even the SEC, and if you don't believe me, read this entry from Deadspin about the war of words between Duke and North Carolina.)

Of course, the climate isn't any better. In many ways, with both teams coming off a national title, they are now worse than they ever were, culminating in ... whatever this is (don't believe me? read this Meltdown post from RBR).
And so the question now becomes, Where is the breaking point? Will this be the thing that finally causes us all to take a collective step back and have some perspective? What else has to happen here? Does someone have to be arrested? Does someone have to die?
(Good grief. I just wasted an entire post on the deaths of some trees. I hope you guys are happy.)

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