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Pistols at Dawn

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Respect and honor. Since the dawn of civilization these two things have caused normally sensible human beings to try to kill one another. Respect grants persons leverage to do certain things, or a certain amount of deference from others when they do the things they do. Honor represents forthrightness, conscientiousness, truthfulness and that a person indeed does what they say they will. This truly is the foundation of any society, civil or otherwise. Unless persons earn respect through honorable conduct, no one can be trusted and nothing can get done.

As a result, for centuries outrightly questioning someone's honor or disrespecting them before others meant a fight. And not just a back-alley, bare knuckle square off. Rocks. Swords. Pistols. It meant someone was going to die. It wasn't truly until the 1900's that the practice of the duel was erased from polite society. the funniest thing about duels was that the "wronged" party would as often as not lose the duel. Instead of protecting his honor, he'd end up in a wood box without honor, without diginity, and without the opportunity to prove anyone wrong.

The loss of the duel has become a net positive for society. Its demise has meant that the slightest insult no longer results in a pile of bodies and that people can disagree with one another without society calling for actual blood.

Without the threat of death looming over someone wishing to voice a contrary opininon, the world has become open marketplace of ideas. Just about any opinion, from the ridiculous to the sublime, can be heard anywhere a person opens their mouth, puts pen to paper or types upon his keyboard. For every point, a counterpoint. For contention, a rebuttal. This forces us to think, to adapt, to hone our argument to be as persuasive as possible. It's a good thing.

Unfortunately the side affect of the open marketplace is sometimes we are exposed to ideas and positions we find offensive, slanderous, and sometimes outright wrong. These opinions to not mesh with our world view, or in the case of Michigan Football, how we see things.

The last year has been as difficult as any living Wolverine fan has ever experienced. For young and old alike, this season is new ground. When you lose your eighth game in a season for the first time in 129 years of football, it's fair to say that everyone's starting from scratch. Even so, the resilience of Michigan fans, their strength and sense of humor have shone through the darkness that a 3-8 season brings.

But when things go this bad, it gets to even the best of us. And when it does, we all find different ways of venting that frustration. None of these methods are right, and none of them are wrong. They are what they are. The sounds of a tired and frustrated fan base searching to make sense of something they can't.

When there is sufficient hurt, anger, frustration, and desperation to go around people can turn on one another. Over the last few months there's been a near civil war on the message boards over Rodriguez' tenure, the play of the team, individual players, and the opinions expressed on the "major" Michigan sites. I once felt Michigan fans were above these sorts of things.

One of the great things about college football is the endless debate it creates among its followers. Almost like a religion, it inspires so many different beliefs even among its core followers. There are 119 different beliefs in the greatness of college football at the Division 1 level alone. What's even more amazing is there are even more different view points among those different "belief" sets. No group professes their faith in their team the same way and no supporter believes in their team in the same manner that another fan does.

A perfect example of this is diversity of view points in the Michigan blogosphere. MGoBlog, The MZone, Me, Joey, Johnny, Michigan Against The World, and all the rest all have very different takes on our team and how to react to what they do. We all react in different ways to the actions of our team and the way our team is perceived by the outside world. However, we all react similarly when asked why we support Michigan. The answer is simple. It's because Michigan is the best!

I have disagreed in print and in person with just about every proprietor of a Michigan site on the interwebs. MGoBlog and I had a running fisk duel over the hiring of Coach Beilein. However, the tenor of the conversation never rose above the facts of the matter and never resorted to name calling or questioning each other's "fan-ness." How could we? We consume our free time watching, reading and writing about Michigan, so to say one or the other isn't a fan because we disagree would have sounded hollow. Worse, it would've sounded stupid.

What troubles me are the visceral and mean spirited reactions of people toward different expressions of emotion during this season. Somehow it is okay to be angry, but not okay to long for happier times. Johnny's recent post, After the Gold Rush, spawned reactions from supposed Wolverine faithful that I was appalled to read. Johnny's writing has always been my gold standard. Many pieces I have written on this site and on my previous home on Blogger were inspired in some way by his gift for linking letters and words into abject prose. This is not to suggest that I have always agreed with him, or his sentiments, but I have always respected him and considered him an honorable young man.

If you are looking for a reason Rich Rodriguez said the following, it is what was contained in the comments section of Johnny's piece.

This is a public position. It's not like a politician, I'm not running for office. I mean, God bless them. They choose to have that public scrutiny. As coaches, we know it's part of the job, but we don't choose to have it. Most of us would rather not.

But the biggest thing that is disappointing is when somebody, not necessarily the media, but when a fan or somebody would make it personal to your coach or to your players. Especially to the players, because those guys are amateurs. When they would make a personal comment or say something that's not related to coaching or not related to playing.

I don't get on message boards. I don't think anybody, any of our players or family should. But it's amazing some of the things that people would say or amazing things people will yell at you of a personal nature. You almost want to tell them get a life. I mean, there's a whole lot bigger problems. You lose a ballgame, and then you look at the economy or after every game I usually get to meet one of our veterans or somebody. You know, to take it personal on a coach or player to me, I don't think it's ever right.

But I'm glad fans have passion, but it's still kind of I guess a lot more bolder. You all would know. It's a lot more bolder what people would say and write. Not you all, but bloggers or whatever, than it used to be. We've seen it coming for a few years.

Further, it's bad enough for MGoBlog to comment on it as well,

The saddest thing about the internet is this sort of anonymous hatred. I love the internet. It gave me a writing outlet and a job and online scrabble. But, man, trawling through message boards after a loss in search of some scrap of useful news and/or analysis is depressing. It kills my productivity. It makes me want to do something else. And it's because of these little hate factories that just lose their head and spew.

I've always maintained that civility among fanbases is something that is critical to our enjoyment of sport. It's absence creates a hostile environment for everyone, friend and foe alike. Further, it diminishes the ability for those two groups to speak to one another a civilized human beings. Without civility we are forced to yell and scream at one another in an effort to communicate even the most basic things. There is no respect. No honor. No discourse.

How can we truly enjoy something if we are so mad, so angry, so seething with rage at an opponent or their fanbase that we forget that this is just a game? We lose a piece of humanity when rage and anger are our subsuming emotions. It is even worse when that rage is directed inward at people who actually share our love of our team, but chose to express it in a different manner. We cease to offer support to the ailing in favor of proving how tough we are, calling them weak, less of a fan for not toughing it out or being "more supportive." Our ability to feel joy is diminished when vengeance or self-righteousness becomes our primary objective.

Every team has its supporters that will go over the edge and say things that bring the whole group down with them. Intolerance is not confined to organized religion. It can rear its head in all manner of unsuspected ways and one of them is supporting a football team. If someone doesn't like my team then they must be blind, deaf, dumb or all three. And inbred. Yeah. Inbred bastards.

The ability to agree to disagree some how got lost in the morass. This is where college football and religion collide. We cannot accept that there is another path to the Valhalla we all believe in (BCS Baby!). Because our core belief that our team is the best is deemed insulted we must respond in kind. We must tear down the infidel. Yell at the blasphemer. Degrade ourselves to prove our team/belief is better.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our responses a tad. Remember that this is a pastime rather than a matter of life and death. Remember that the people we accuse of being mindless idiots are thinking the same thing about us. Remember the best way to convince someone you're not all bad, is by pointing to the positive rather than peeing on them when they disagree. Perhaps it's time to raise the level of discourse above our guttural instincts.

I think as human beings who are members of a civil society we must act better, treat fellow fans among us with more respect, and require those around us to do the same. If you take this as preaching, fine. It is. I will lob rocks from my glass house with impunity in the name of better discourse. I am not perfect. I have said things in print and out loud that I regret. I will be the first to admit that I am largely full of crap. But that will not stop me from at least attempting to state a critical point.

Telling someone to F themselves because they feel differently than you do demeans us all and makes you look like an intolerant jackass.

Respect is a word tossed around lightly in today's society. To some extent "honor" has a bit of a hollow ring to it as well. But it does not mean that the true meaning of these words should be lost on us. We should respect one another's view points, no matter how different they may be. And we should honor the school and team we root for by not sinking to the lowest common denominator in our discourse.

Leaders and the Best means, to me, that even in times of trouble Michigan fans and graduates are at their best. Finding solutions to the problems that beset us and leading the way toward those solutions.We must rise to that occasion rather than sink into the muddy waters of what basically amount to anonymous internet duels.

We must learn to tolerate differing view points. Without that there is no respect, no honor, and we might as well go back to pistols at dawn.