Monday, November 21, 2005

Your U.P.D. at Work

by Shea Stewart
Oxford Town editor
Appeared in today's Oxford Eagle

I was calmly escorted out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium late in the first quarter of Ole Miss’ lopsided 40-7 loss against LSU by an armed University Police Department officer.The whole way down the ramp to the east gates of the stadium I was smiling, laughing and shaking my head over the utterly ridiculous reason why I was leaving the stadium ushered by an UPD officer. I was not being forced to leave per se but was leaving the stadium by my own accord.I was not drunk.I was not drinking or smoking.I had not been cursing.I was not participating in any illegal activity whatsoever inside the stadium.My crime? I was simply standing. That’s it. That’s all. I was being a good, die-hard fan and standing with my weathered red pom-pom in hand cheering on my beloved Rebels in what proved to be a futile effort.I had been standing the whole game in my assigned spot — Section L, Row 26, Seat 25 where my season tickets are on the east side of the stadium. With the walkway directly behind me, and what I — and any sane person — would perceive to be plenty of space to see over me, I figured I was OK. It is a football game after all, and a bitter rivalry game at that, so I was standing and cheering along with a handful of Ole Miss Rebel fans and thousands of LSU Tiger fans. Apparently though it was not good enough for the thirty-something LSU couple behind me.With about a minute left in the first quarter, and still some hope that the Rebels could hang tight if only they improved their field position, an usher approached.The conversation went like this:Usher: “Sir, would you mind sitting down so these people can see?”Me: “Are you serious? This is a football game.”Usher: “I was asked by these people to tell you to sit down.” Me: “You are really not serious, are you? This is a football game. Am I not allowed to stand and cheer for my team?”Usher: “These people asked me to get you to sit down. Will you please sit down?” Me: “I tell you what. You get those people to ask me nicely to sit down, and I will sit down.”Usher: “How about I get this gentleman (motioning to a rather large UPD officer) here to make you sit down?”(At this time, it was the end of the quarter so the commotion is not causing any fans to miss the game. My girlfriend also was asking me to sit down, but I am a man of principle so I stuck to my guns and the officer came over to me.)Me: “You are not serious are you?”Officer: “Sir, you need to sit down right now.”Me: “This is a football game. Am I not allowed to stand and cheer?”Officer: “You can sit down here and watch the game or we will take you out and you can try to watch the game from outside. I promise you, the view is much better from in here.”Another UPD officer had surrounded me at this time along with another “deputized” police officer, but my mind was racing. Should I be a docile fan and sit? Should I give up the fight? Should I be a sheep? Should I let a couple of LSU fans dictate the environment in which I can enjoy my favorite team in my favorite sport? Then, right as I was in the midst of considering all these thoughts, a voice came booming out the wilderness.Officer: “SIR! You can sit down or we will take you out of the stadium.”Me: “Well, I guess I better leave then.”The bigger officer motioned to another officer to escort me out. I asked my girlfriend to go down a section and sit with a group of friends, and I got up and started walking out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the last time with my head hung high, but my love of Ole Miss sinking low.Is this what it has come to? Have we sunk so low as a society and a school that we cannot stand and support our team? I wanted to scream in the freaking officer’s face and tell him, the weakling little usher and the two LSU fans that we were watching a football game —although it resembled a slow, gruesome slaying. You are suppose to stand. You are suppose to cheer. You are suppose to be involved. Football might be the best of all spectator sports, but it is a lot more enjoyable when you throw all your emotions on the line.Being forced to leave a football game between Ole Miss and LSU, in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, because of two LSU fans complaining about me standing is a sham, a travesty and a out-right disgrace. The usher who asked me to leave was clueless, and the cop is a bully. The two LSU fans can go ... well, you know where they can go.Also, did Ole Miss not sell hundreds of standing-room-only tickets? Where was that section? Could the police officer and usher not direct me to that section? No, I know Ole Miss. They had my money already so they could care less about what transpired afterward.Of course, as a member of the “T-shirt and cap” crowd as certain higher ups at Ole Miss would describe me, I guess I can expect no better. It is apparent Ole Miss does not care about me or fans of my ilk. We are the sheep mindlessly following the shepherd. Well, no more for me. I have been burned once but will not be burned again by the powers that be.I am not a big-money donor, giving what I can to the Loyalty Foundation, but I am a 2000 graduate of the University of Mississippi, a season-ticket holder, and a knowledgeable fan any school would die to have. Since 1999, I have missed a grand total of six games out of 82 — home, road and bowl. I have journeyed to Jonesboro, Ark., Lexington, Ky., Lubbock, Texas, Laramie, Wyo., Columbia, S.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and all points in between.I don’t want an apology from UPD. The usher? Forget him. My message is simple:To Chancellor Robert Khayat, Athletic Director Pete Boone and Loyalty Foundation President George Smith:A little piece of this dedicated and devoted Ole Miss Rebel fan’s soul was stripped out and stomped on Saturday night. I will not be reordering my season tickets, and I will be canceling my Loyalty Foundation membership and my Ole Miss Alumni Association membership. It was fun, but the fun is over.I realize at Ole Miss the only time we are suppose to stand and cheer is when the band plays “Dixie.” I’m sorry for being out of line and being unruly by simply standing and supporting my team. If I come back to a football game at Ole Miss I will watch it from the Grove where I have satellite television and no one can tell me to sit down and not cheer.But maybe my services would be more welcomed at a different school, a school which actually wins and treats its fans with a little honor, appreciation and grace.Thank you.If there are other loyal Ole Miss fans out there who have been so humiliated, perhaps you should think about whether Ole Miss is treating you with the esteem you deserve. Perhaps we all should.