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Do student sections go too far during college sports games?

 USU students at an Aggie basketball game
Noah Giles
USU students at an Aggie basketball game

Heckling. Players are used to the sound, but they aren’t immune.

“They hear it. there's no question that they hear it,” said Riley Jensen. Jensen, a mental performance coach based in Utah, would know: He played football at USU.

“We were at Colorado … and there was a group of people that were all in yellow shirts,” he explained. “They were all like shouting obscenities and like flipping me off.”

To people like Ty Smith, student sections are the best part of the game.

“Everyone was loud and fun and just energized,” Smith said. “I would grow up looking forward to that as part of the game.”

But sometimes, they go too far. Chanting "Russia" to a Ukrainian player, a BYU fan accused of yelling racial slurs at a Black volleyball player, a Jazz fan banned for life for harassing an athlete … these incidents are recent but the crowd turning on an athlete is not.

“I think that the new generation likes to say that it's different, and that it’s more,” Jensen said. “I don't think it is.”

Athletes are taught to overcome a crowd through mental coaching.

“One of the main tools that we use for athletes when it comes to these sorts of things is just a reframing tool," Jensen said. One example he gave is when an athlete is heckled by a supporter of the opposing team — it’s almost a compliment because it means you’re good and they want to get under your skin. The real problem is when an athlete is booed by their own fans.

“It's hard to reframe when your own fans are disparaging you,” Jensen said.

So where is the line? Smith said it’s when it gets personal, like when Colorado State students were yelling “Russia” at USU player Max Shulga.

“That's something that's not related to basketball, and it's not related to him as a player,” he explained.

Erik Christensen, executive officer for USU’s public safety, said it’s difficult to know when to step in.

“We have adopted this policy of we're the last resort,” he said. “We don't want to be censoring speech or anything like that.”

Christensen said there are policies in place to deal with crowds, but action is rarely needed.

“It really just boils down to don't make it personal,” he said. “The second that it becomes personal and then it's probably too much.”

A long time lover of NPR and radio reporting, Clayre Scott joined UPR in August of 2021 as the producer of the weekly podcast UnDisciplined. She began reporting in 2022 and now enjoys telling stories through sound and getting weekly texts from her family after hearing her on the radio. Along with her work at UPR, Clayre is attending Utah State University to get her degree in Broadcast Journalism, with time on the side to study Political Science and Art History.