Why do we boo? I mean, why that sound? Why not use some other guttural noise, something like “Ugh!!!” or “LaFlamme!!!”?

I used to think that some Roman decided one day that fans needed an outlet for their frustration at an offending gladiator or entertainer, and making the “boo” sound was the most visceral thing that could be done this side of tossing rotten food. But no. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, booing may have originated with the ancient Greeks, who would boo to voice their displeasure whenever one of their artists unveiled a sculpture that was fully clothed. They handed it down through the ages, though it somehow failed to catch on with the rest of Europe, where whistling is the preferred method of mob derision.

Booing is big here in the Northeast. In New England, we boo the Yankees and Brian Scalabrine. In Philadelphia, they boo everything, including Santa Claus. In New York, they boo anyone without a mustache.

But we don’t just limit ourselves to booing, especially at professional sport ing events. We call players, coaches and officials names. We scream epithets. We throw popcorn. We spill beer. We hurl insults like snowballs. Sometimes we hurl snowballs, too. And we all feel entitled to do it because the guys on the field are getting paid millions of dollars just to show up and we had to pay a week’s paycheck to get into the stadium.

It isn’t just over-inflated salaries and price gouging that causes some folks to act like idiots, though. Nationwide, there is more misbehavior by fans at college, high school and even rec league games.

Booing, it seems, is no longer enough to satisfy our lust for, well, our lust for what, some kind of frontier sports justice? In Europe, the TV news shows roll clips of riots at the football match. Here in the U.S., we see footage of rowdy behavior at a pee-wee football or high school basketball.

Why people feel the need to boo and scream epithets at a kids’ game is beyond me. But that is a mere matter of decorum compared to some of the other things that can, and too often do, happen. The booing and screaming sometimes lead to more incendiary behavior, like a fight in the stands or rocks being thrown at the visitor’s bus.

It is with this in mind that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is now contemplating a booing ban, along with some other rules, to improve fan decorum at high school sporting events.

The proposal has caused an outcry across the nation, most of it accusing the WIAA of trying to limit free speech. WIAA officials acknowledge the booing ban would be difficult to enforce, but they add that it’s not the booing they are concerned with so much as what other behavior it can cause.

“It’s the organized effort to try to intimidate or try to make fun of someone that becomes personal in nature that can escalate then into other concerns that we might have,” Mike Colbrese, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, told ABC News.

Maybe I’m naive, but I doubt the WIAA is just a bunch of politically correct do-gooders running around screaming “What about the children?” and worrying about what booing does to a kid’s self-esteem. I don’t follow the sports pages or police blotters in Washington state, but I suspect the folks in Washington have these “other concerns” for good reason.

In this age where everyone who is given an inch takes a mile, we Americans have shown time and time again that trusting us to act responsibly at a sporting event is like leaving a bunch of 3-year-olds alone in a room with a box of crayons. It only takes one to get the ball rolling.

Yes, a booing ban is a ridiculous measure to take. But these are ridiculous times we live in, where parents rush onto the field to assault an official or coach or even an opposing player, where a skirmish on the court sometimes busts out into a chair-throwing riot among the fans, where students wait outside in the parking lot, sometimes with weapons in hand, for people wearing the rival’s colors.

No, not every mass gathering at a sporting venue is a fight or assault waiting to happen. But it does happen. And unless and until fans show we can boo and jeer and leave it at that every time and not just 99.99 percent of the time, the folks at the WIAA and copy-cat sanctioning bodies around the country will just keep doing what the fans do – overreacting.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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