Star Tribune Editoral

An early February Gophers basketball game included so many F-bomb chants against the opposing team that coach Tubby Smith was compelled to write to fans about it.

A couple of weeks later, a high school basketball game got ugly when an entire section of Eden Prairie students chanted "Food stamps, food stamps" at their Hopkins opponents -- a socioeconomic slur that students said turned to use of the N-word directed at some players of color.

Such coarse incivility should not be tolerated. It isn't allowed in high school or college classrooms, and it has no place at school sports events.

Violators should be expelled from games immediately.

It's just this kind of mean, racist, intimidating talk that leads to hundreds of altercations each year that turn physical. Racial slurs are fighting words that can incite assaults or riots.

Minnesota has had a few incidents where parents got into fistfights over a referee's calls at their children's games. One out-of-control parent in St. Paul screamed racial slurs at a coach and continued to harass him by phone even after the game.

Coach Smith merits kudos for his eloquent e-mail to Gopher fans.

He wrote: "Vulgarity does little to intimidate the opponent; it only reflects poorly on us. My request of you is to continue to bring your game -- be inspired, be loud, be creative, be clever -- and be respectful ... support our Golden Gophers by cheering with class.''

Still, school leaders may have to take stronger steps than a written admonishment to reign in taunting, threatening or profane shouts from fans.

Albert Lea schools have had a no-tolerance policy for 10 years. At the beginning of each game, folks in the bleachers are warned that abusive fans will be escorted out of the building.

In Minnetonka, student leaders are asked to mingle with their classmates during games to make sure that students keep their cheering positive. They remind their peers that they are there to cheer loudly for their team -- not tear the opposing team down.

In addition, some high schools and colleges post sportsmanship guidelines that call for respectful behavior and language from athletes and fans.

An even tougher way to handle taunts and foul language would be to stop games and impose penalties on the team with the abusive fans -- or force a team to forfeit the game for conduct unbecoming.

That kind of dramatic action would shut up the potty-mouths. Either they'd be respectful or there would be no game to watch at all.

Minnesota State High School League guidelines say: "Profanity, negative chants, booing, trash talk, name calling, personal attacks or other acts of disrespect are unacceptable and must be immediately addressed by school and/or tournament administrators.''

So in the end it is up to individual school and sports league leaders to act swiftly and decisively when fans commit personal fouls.

But because refs and school staff can't be everywhere at once to hear offenders in a noisy stadium, parents and other students must practice self-policing.

Offensive shouts disrupt the enjoyment of the game, so parents, students and other spectators must band together to voice their disapproval and report the miscreants if their behavior doesn't change.

Ultimately, young people learn by example from the uncivil discourse seen and heard all too frequently among adults at professional sports events and in daily life.

To model good behavior for kids, grown-up fans must do a better job of keeping their own profane, abusive and racist remarks in check.

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Readers, what suggestions do you have for dealing with inappropriate outburts from fans? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, write no more than 250 words to opinion@startribune.com. Include your name and the city where you live.

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