College football fans are no strangers to hatred.
Ask any Auburn fan how he feels about Alabama and he’ll describe his level of dislike as something close to the way we’d feel if we had to visit the DMV and the dentist on the same day. For Alabama fans the feeling is mutual.
Hate is so ingrained into the passions of college football that Georgia’s rivalry with Georgia Tech is called “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” That description makes hate sound more like a well-aged bourbon than a negative emotion — the kind of feeling that only a connoisseur can truly appreciate.
Some rivalries have gotten so intense that at least a few folks have become concerned about the passion they spark.
Hugh Kellenberger — in a column for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger — recently wrote that there was now too much hatred in the Egg Bowl rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“Never has the Ole Miss and Mississippi State rivalry been more toxic,” Kellenberger said. “It’s become mean-spirited, short-sighted, and to the detriment of the state as a whole.”
Kellenberger isn’t the only one to express these concerns — especially around the South where the temperature always seems to run a little hotter in more ways than one.
That response is understandable. There are legitimate disagreements in America right now that don’t show any signs of retreating to an easy solution.
Gallup released a poll in April that revealed 35 percent of Americans are worried “a great deal” about race relations. That’s the highest percentage in the history of the survey. That percentage has almost doubled in the last two years alone.
Our own eyes can corroborate that evidence as well. It’s never been easier in our society to look at someone’s skin color and guess which political candidates they likely support. There’s also a presidential election coming in November.
Given that atmosphere around the country, asking to dial down the rhetoric for something as frivolous as college football seems like a responsible request.
The truth is we need our SEC rivalries now more than ever. Sports have a unique way of bringing people of differing cultures together, and we could use a big dose of that right now.
Take a diverse state like Louisiana for instance. It could be that one of the things its residents have in common is a love for LSU and a hatred for the Tigers’ rivals. That may still be adding another dividing line to an already-divided country, but sports produces different divisions from the ones we’ve come to expect. It’s more about purple and gold than black and white.
Lately there have been too many examples of how a lot of things are more important that college football. There have been terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and horrors more suited for futuristic action movies than real-life. It’s been enough to make the famous question once asked by Rodney King in the aftermath of riots in Los Angeles feel anything but rhetorical.
Can’t we all just get along?
There’s no simple answer to that one, but there is a reason for hopefulness. When serious issues happen around the world — or in our own backyards — we’re also reminded of sports’ incredible ability to take our minds off those troubles and give us a break from bad news.
One thing almost everyone in this part of the country can agree with — regardless of our backgrounds — is no sport does that better than SEC football, and in the midst of what has been a pretty brutal summer around the globe, the chance to see our conference rivals back on the field this fall embracing a much more fun and light-hearted version of hate can’t get here soon enough.