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Scott Bruun: Hate Crimes and the Big Red O

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The big red "O" spray painted on the fire hydrant.

Okay, okay.  As premeditated ‘hate crimes’ go, it was small ball.  Maybe ‘hate speech’ is closer to the mark.  That is, if an obnoxious spray-painted letter qualifies as ‘speech.'

First, the background:  I’m a Duck.  I’m married to a Duck.  On game days Mrs. Duck and I wear Duck garb, put out a Duck flag, and for good luck drink our morning coffee from Duck mugs.  Years ago, we even placed a little green Oregon Duck “O” sticker on the yellow fire hydrant at the edge of our yard. Only one Beaver-neighbor ever complained.

So of course for Ducks across the state, including me and Mrs. Duck, last week was tough.  While we are all super-proud of the Oregon football team and its accomplishments, super-proud of our Heisman-winning quarterback, we were still deeply saddened by the National Championship loss.  Sad, but offering no excuses.  Ohio State cleaned our clock.

So I had respect for Ohio State and their victory. Respect, that is, right up until the time I left for work early last Wednesday morning.  That’s when I saw the garish Ohio State “O” that had been clumsily spray painted in red across our yellow fire hydrant.  A cowardly hate-crime assault, perpetrated anonymously in the dark of night by a knuckle-dragging, half-wit Buckeye neanderthal.

Or at least that was my first indignant, self-pitying thought.  Followed, after about two-and-a-half seconds, with a chuckle and grudging respect for a successfully executed covert-op.

Small ball.  And of course not a real hate crime, at least not in the sense that targeting or injuring someone because of race, religion or sexual orientation is a hate crime. No, the fire hydrant assault falls under a different category.  Call it a lesser hate crime.  A hate crime similar to, say, serving cheeseless lasagna. 

Yet over-the-top fandom raises some other questions.  Yes, we love our sports teams.  Yes, we love the sense of community, pride, and belonging that our favorite teams provide.  And yes, getting together with family and friends, sometimes even strangers, to share in the joy of victory, or soothe the pain of defeat, is as natural as anything we do as humans.  The Ducks, the Blazers, the Beavers (in-laws’ school, what do you do?), the Timbers, the Winterhawks, the Seahawks, and American Olympians of every stripe in every sport?  Pure joy.  

The Huskies? Not so much

But when does devoted team follower and fan become zealotry?  Then obnoxious, fanatical zealotry?  And when does that obnoxious zealotry become idolatry?  Idolatry around false gods?  I ask because I wonder what kind of mindset causes someone to sneak around in the dark of night to spray paint a big red O.  I wonder what kind of hate-fueled rage motivates fans of one team to scream, curse and spit on a young female fan of another, simply because she was wearing the wrong colors.  And I wonder, don’t we all, what motivates anyone that has anything to do with the Oakland Raiders.

I also wonder what was going through the minds of the three thugs who left my friend Brad, a life-long Pittsburgh fan, for dead.  Left him, as he was trying to get back to his hotel after a game, bleeding and broken on a busy street in Chicago.  Brad’s crime?  He had the temerity to wear a Steelers jersey, and his team had just beaten the Bears.

Our communities, our state, and even our nation seem to become more secular every year.  Traditional religion, traditional worship, are politely relegated to the shadows. We tend to silo that sort of thing.  Yet isn’t it interesting, coincidental in fact, how the monumental rise in importance, even dominance, of sports in our lives – especially football – coincides almost exactly with that decline in religion?  Almost like we’ve traded one god for another?  All of us are built to worship, after all.  Sunday at church, or Sunday on Fox?

So my friend “Big Scott”, who lives close to me, thinks I’m overthinking this. Maybe.  And I have to respect what Big Scott thinks.  You see Big Scott played for Ohio State back in the day, and then for a time with the Cleveland Browns.  Even in his sixth decade he’s huge, about 6’6’’ and tremendously strong.  Which, to my chagrin, makes me “Little Scott” in this relationship. At best.

Big Scott does it right.  He’s a huge football fan, a huge Buckeye fan, and yet still finds a way to keep it all in perspective.  Faith, family, country and Ohio State; in about that order.  And Big Scott assures me he was not the one with the red spray paint.  I believe him, of course.  He can still bench 400, what other choice do I have?

Big Scott also told me to find the “silver lining” in all of this.  Something about how ‘the pen is mightier than spray paint.’  Good point, but I’m not so sure.  You see the day after the red O incident, some other kindly neighbor, anonymously, came by and spray-painted over the red O with an even bigger green O.

Great, go Ducks.  Our side wins the battle of spray paint, for now.  And while I wait for the weather to dry so I can use a can of yellow paint to make everything right again, I’ll have the tackiest yard in town.  Well then, what the heck?  I might as well park my old car in the yard, too.  It does have a Duck sticker, after all.  

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs, yet dutifully commutes every day to Portland, where he earns his living on the fifth floor of Big Pink.


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