Threat Level Imagines a World in Which Rivalries Begin and End on the Field

By Johnny Ginter on October 31, 2022 at 7:25 pm
Michigan after beating the Spartans
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is going to be a somewhat different Threat Level than usual.

I've been thinking a lot about what unfolded between players after the Michigan and Michigan State game, which the Wolverines won 29-7. If you need a handy recap of how the Michigan offense and defense performed, the long and short of it was that they were par for the course for most of the season: run the ball a million times with success, don't ask J.J. McCarthy to do too much, stall out repeatedly in the red zone and settle for field goals, and rely on a stout defense to ensure a win.

Similarly, if you need a recap of the attack on Michigan players after the game, we've got you covered there as well; the most recent update is that Michigan State coach Mel Tucker is indefinitely suspending four of the players involved and cooperating with law enforcement in the event that charges would be necessary.

Which is the right thing to do, obviously. The video of the attack is awful and what happened was disgusting.

And I think my point with the Threat Level this week is to point out that there's no "But..." that has to be written after the above sentence. There is no moral accountability sheet that we have to tabulate. Michigan State fans aren't required to bring up every offense a Michigan player or coach has perpetrated against the Spartans to somehow balance the scales of guilt when something bad happens. No one, no matter how obnoxious we perceive them to be or assume they were acting, deserves to be assaulted, period.

Sometimes Bad things can just be Bad without stumbling backwards over piles of grudges and late hits and alleged crimes and general garbage behavior to try and prove a point about who's morally superior.

The reason I bring this up is because football rivalries don't have to be the weird ciphers for social grandstanding that they too often are. Threat Level is an intentionally silly, goofy weekly post in part because I pointedly feel that the way we reckon with these things as sports fans, particularly in college football, frequently slides into a kind of cultural appraisal that is ultimately destructive and makes things worse.

Also it isn't very funny! Not that that's my biggest complaint, but look, while I'm as guilty as anyone in terms of making bad jokes about fanbases (including my own), I generally try not to do the Midwestern "just kidding, but also you can tell from my face that I'm absolutely not kidding" thing where I say some incredibly derogatory shit behind a half-laughing façade.

"Ha ha you guys are illiterate losers who are horrible people who support assault" and "Ha ha you're snobby hypocrites that support coverups of rape ha ha" aren't jokes, they're just hateful attacks.

Making it a fandom beef lets actual institutions and organizations off the hook, and doesn't do anything to laser focus responsibility on who actually is capable of taking responsibility when something like this happens.

Accountability doesn't wear team colors, nor should it. If a fan makes a choice to continue to support a scumbag after evidence confirming that fact, that's on them, but it shouldn't mean that we play out this whole ridiculous drama about who stinketh the most, when energy could be better spent demanding that the powers that be are taking positive action to confront these issues.

And the issues are often pretty dire. The more I thought about this, the more I remembered, and the more depressed I got. It isn't just a hallway fight, it's harassment, it's sexual assault, it's threats, it's freaking antisemitism, it's a whole host of things that aren't acceptable and should exist in a separate category from "having fun making jokes about screen passes".

The long and short of it is that it's necessary to demand better, 100% of the time, no matter who is wearing what jersey, even and especially if it's our own. There is a moral standard that everyone can uphold together, whether they're in East Lansing or Ann Arbor or Bloomington or Columbus. I'm glad that in this instance, that seems to be happening, and it makes it easier to remember when things go right.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
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