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Friday, April 19, 2024

Athletic department is misguided in its attempts to end ‘ES-FU’ chants

Fuck you. Eat shit.

Look at those words, at how innocuous they are in their black on white. The ones people care about are four letters apiece and, let's be honest here, are pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things. I didn't lead off with those words purely for the sake of shock value (well, maybe a little) but because I genuinely don't consider them a big deal.

To hear this university's Athletic Department and administrators talk about them, though, they appear to be the great scourge of UW-Madison. They're the things that will tarnish our national reputation, part of The Cheer That Must Not Be Named, referenced only in the sanitized initials "ES-FU."

"We believe you want to represent yourselves, your university and the football program in a classier manner than this," Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and head coach Bret Bielema wrote in a joint letter to student season ticket holders. "We believe you can have a great time at Camp Randall without chanting four-letter words."

With Wisconsin in the national spotlight as a football power, the Athletic Department and university administration don't want ESPNmics picking up "vulgar" chants and young children in the stands hearing obscenities.

To get students to stop the cheer, the Athletic Department has tried e-mail pleas and the laughable prize incentive of a bowl package for two of the student section's 14,000 members. And you have to imagine that these carrot incentives will, at some point, have a stick behind them—a gameday tradition the administration can take away if students don't change their behavior.

Here's the thing, though: Those cheers aren't the boogey man Wisconsin administration is making them out to be.

I get that parents don't want their kids exposed to bad language, and that plenty of people see swear words like the ones in that cheer as truly bad and threatening things. Parents should be able to control what their kids hear, and shouldn't have to worry about them coming across something truly offensive without a proper explanation.

So why don't they take that cheer as an opportunity to talk with their kids about bad words, and why they shouldn't use them? Every child will, whether they're at a Badger game or not, come across swear words. Parents should explain to their children why some words aren't OK to say, and why they don't want their kids saying them, instead of just writing angry letters and wishing the bad stuff away.

And before we go after students let's take a look at the adults who complain about the bad language to which their kids are subject.

Each gameday, we see plenty of alumni pregaming and binge drinking—some of them with kids. I wonder if the people who wrote in to complain about the chants are the same people who show up to parking lots at 8 a.m., drink until 11 and then drive their family home after the game. I wonder if they tell their kids not to use bad words before they tell them to pass over a seventh beer before noon.

Students are an easy target; they're loud and obscene and like to swear. And except for the money they will doubtlessly dole out for season tickets each summer, they aren't making any donations to the university.

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After they uncover their ears, however, alumni are a lot more likely to use their hands to write a fat check for a new weight room or arena. God forbid you go after them, or dare to tell them to act more mature and stop pregaming like they didn't graduate 40 years ago. You shouldn't ever change that aspect of gameday culture—so let's just make sure nobody hears any bad words.

And here's a suggestion for our Athletic Department, if it wants to create an inclusive atmosphere at Wisconsin events. How about you don't put students in racist Halloween outfits on the video board at the Kohl Center, or bring them out onto the ice in a "best costumes" competition like you did last year? That's a whole lot more offensive than some four-letter words.

Used in the context of that cheer, "fuck" and "shit" have no discriminatory meaning behind them, no connotations of homophobia or racism. They're just bad words being used because they're bad words, obscenity for the sake of obscenity without any malice. They are, in a way, stripped of their power by being rendered meaningless; they become silly words people can yell at each other because they're fun to say.

Before you go after students, let's look at a few other areas where we could improve Wisconsin's gameday culture. Drop this foolish crusade and realize that alumni and this athletic department aren't free from blame.

What do you think of the cheer? E-mail Nico at

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