A Brief History of the Beautiful Art of Flipping the Bird at the Ohio State University

By Johnny Ginter on July 13, 2018 at 10:20 am
Ohio State legend Marcus Hall

One day, maybe around 2500 years ago, a thete is repairing a toilet in an ancient Grecian house, owned by a real douchebag who keeps telling him that there's a reason why he doesn't deserve voting rights in the Athenian assembly, and that reason is that he repairs toilets and therefore sucks.

The thete, which is the lowest caste of freemen in ancient Greek society, has no real recourse here legally or socially. He's a toilet repairman, as was his father, and his father's father, and so on back all the way to a time when being a toilet repairman was in fact a pretty sweet gig. Not so anymore, as the owner of the house frequently and gleefully reminds him.

So what can the thete do? He could try and take him to court (which did exist and was actually kind of progressive for a time), but that takes time and money that he doesn't have. He could fight the guy, but that's not going to end well for him in the long run.

Suddenly, an idea pops into the thete's head: a single middle finger, raised to the sky in eternal defiance. Confused, the rich Athenian struggles to respond. But he can't respond. He's been owned.

And for the next couple of millennia (yes, really), people have been flipping the bird to piss people off in all kinds of fun and unique ways. It has spread all around the planet, and now, thousands of years after its creation, it is a nearly universally known symbol of rudeness and derision. In a way, that's kind of amazing and beautiful.

To have anything, even a crude display of vulgarity, last for that long and spread that far is a minor anthropological miracle of time and space. I wouldn't encourage my students or any future kids to indulge in it (especially if they're directing it at me, as I'm very fragile), but sometimes... well, you'll know when you need to use it. You'll know.

The earliest known photograph of the middle finger comes to us courtesy of 19th century baseball player Old Hoss Radbourn, which was the coolest thing to happen in 1886 besides the Haymarket Riot.

pip pip cheerio

Anyway, I got thinking about all of this because I stumbled on a highlight of Marcus Hall's incredible double bird display in the 2013 Michigan game, which he's told us he's embarrassed by but he totally shouldn't be. So that led me to a bit of a rabbit hole, and before I knew it I had scoured The Lantern's digital archives and catalogued virtually every significant recorded instance of someone flipping people off on Ohio State's campus, starting with the Vietnam era and going all the way through the present day. Here we go!

*Insert Fortunate Son here*

I majored in History at Ohio State for my undergrad, and one of the projects that I worked on was a (very) short oral history of the anti-war protests that erupted in late April and early May of 1970 in Columbus in the wake of the Nixon administration's continued bombing of Cambodia.

The OSU riots are typically overshadowed by the deaths of student protesters at Kent State during the same time, but it's an important part of history every Buckeye should know. The professors and witnesses that I talked to described an incredibly contentious scene, which involved bullets being shot, tear gas being deployed, armed personnel carriers rolling down High Street, and according to The Lantern, more than a few middle fingers, which student Carl M. raised to the cops who beat him up during the protests, and lecturer Carolyn M. bemoaned as she watched the protests (presumably in between writing mash notes to her pal Spiro Agnew).

The Champ Henson Incident

Ohio State lost the 1975 Rose Bowl to USC, 18-17. During the game, fullback Harold "Champ" Henson, who was not in the starting lineup, demanded to coaches that he be put in the game after Ohio State recovered a USC fumble near their endzone. Henson scored, and it was later reported that in response he made an "obscene gesture" towards the Ohio State coaching staff.

Henson would later deny the incident happened in an interview with The Lantern, but in that same interview he also was discussing forgoing his final year of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft, so who knows. Henson went on to be the Pickaway County commissioner, where he's still ably serving his constituents, albeit with what I assume to be are zero middle fingers.

You're ruining it for everybody

Intramural sports at this university are a joke.

Go on...

What was once a fine institution of organized student competition has become a silly, pointless exercise in wimpiness and good sportsmanship. That's right. I'm talking about this new sportsmanship rating garbage some pantywaist in the recreation department came up with to promote better conduct in intramurals.

True, true. Please. Continue.

What an outrage. No yelling at officials. No swearing or obscene gestures. Why play at all? They are taking all of the fun out of the games.

Damn, it's like Matthew M., writing in an editorial in 1987, is reading my mind! Wow! Maybe the 80's weren't a cultural wasteland where college students threw off the shackles of intellectual engagement and dove headfirst into slavish consumerism and deference to authority!

Sportsmanship, good conduct... what's next, common courtesy? This poses a serious threat to all sports. Pretty soon we will all be shaking hands with each other, congratulating our opponents, or worst of all, thanking those contemptible referees.

Oh, irony. I see. Equally bad was this hot take from Ty W., titled "Overzealous participants ruin intramural enjoyment," written a year later, which is pretty much the same article but with the added bonus of someone having to feign being angry at an opponent chugging some Mad Dog 20/20 while playing co-ed softball. The genesis of all of this was a 1979 directive telling student-athletes not to flip people off. This will become significant later.

Kid Rock sucks

And Ween, despite both apparently featuring lots of raised middle fingers in their acts when they came to Ohio State in the early 2000s. Actually, you know what? Ween's fine. Kid Rock definitely sucks though.

And so we come to it

Look, I know Marcus Hall doesn't love that he'll be forever associated with this, but it rules. Not just as an act of defiance against a crowd of over one hundred thousand screaming Michigan fans, but as an expression of his cultural heritage as an Ohio State student and a member of the human race.

Yes, he got in trouble for it (thanks, Puritanical attitudes of 1979), but sometimes you gotta do what you've gotta do. Which in this case was flip everyone off in the stadium and also watching on television.

In 1984, April G. wrote in The Lantern about potential branding for the upcoming Olympics. In it, she suggests that the official Olympic sign of displeasure be "the extended middle finger," in an eloquent defense of one of mankind's greatest cultural achievements.

I think this sign is universal enough by now that everyone present (regardless of sex, age, race or creed) will get the message. Of course, everyone should be a good sport about it, but you and I know how that goes.

Yeah, I do April. I do. Hopefully we can be good sports about it in the future.

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