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‘Look them in the eye and say that’s wrong’ College athletes say in-arena harassment still happens too often

Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 7:06 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - College athletes say they are harassed often on social media, but there are rarer instances when harassment moves to the playing field.

“When you talk about line crossing like you got to get into death threats. That’s no secret. It’s something that every player who has had a serious role on the team as seen,” said Iowa senior Connor McCaffery. “The in-person thing, that’s the thing people are scared to say stuff to your face.”

However, that doesn’t mean it never happens in-person. In February, a fan allegedly hurled a racist remark at a Wisconsin wrestler. In March, an Illinois fan allegedly told Kris Murray to kill himself.

In both instances, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said these fans were not found.

“The Illinois athletic director, he followed up quickly. When we had the issue with the Wisconsin wrestler we followed up quickly even though it wasn’t our student athlete we felt responsible,” said Barta. “In both cases we weren’t able to identify the person.”

Asked about the remark against Murray, Iowa men’s basketball head coach Fran McCaffery said it’s far too common.

“Here’s the problem, it’s not going away,” McCaffery said. “I mean it happens to my son Jack, he’s a freshman in high school. He’s getting killed on the road.”

Barta says Iowa will kick fans out or revoke their ticket privileges. He says he doesn’t have an exact number of people banned per year, but according the the athletic department, there were 63 ejections during seven home games at Kinnick Stadium in 2021.

“You have a privilege when you purchase purchase a ticket, but you also have responsibilities and that’s laid out in our website when you purchase a ticket,” Barta said,

The fan code of conduct posted on Hawkeyesports.com outlines behavior that will not be tolerated, including “harassing or threatening other patrons, stadium staff, players or game officials.”

Iowa players say threats are no part of the game, but they do welcome trash talk

“I actually thrive when we go to opposing arenas,” said Iowa senior Jordan Bohannon. “I think talking trash is should be part of sports that should never go away.”

Even though the line can be vague, Connor McCaffery makes it clear what’s acceptable and what’s over the line.

“Stuff that you would hear from any random trash talk scenario is generally going to be OK like ‘you suck, you’re a bum, you can’t shoot.’” McCaffery said. “I think it crosses the line when you get into the profanities about your brother, ‘I hope this happens to your brother I hope he gets hurt and can’t play anymore.’”

As for a solution for when taunts *do* go over the line, Barta calls the best practice “bystander shame.”

“If someone next to me is yelling something inappropriate I got a look them in the eye and say that’s wrong,” Barta said. “I think that’s our best opportunity is to just get people to say enough that’s wrong.”

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