My dear alma mater is having an identity crisis.
Saturday was our first conference game in the SEC. Our second-half flop to the Georgia Bulldogs was disappointing, but something else was bugging me. Mizzou seems to be utterly preoccupied with fitting in. Numerous newspaper articles talked about the difference in game day attire, what the Georgia fans were doing, where the Georgia fans were eating and tailgating, what the Georgia fans thought of the Tigers, how the Georgia fans liked Columbia. I’ve never seen Columbia fall so head over heels trying to welcome and impress a rival team. We were so eager to please, it felt like we were inferior and hoping to get a little approval.
Don’t get me wrong. Hospitality is great. I’m not against courtesy and manners on game day. Obscene and unsportsmanlike fan behavior has always embarrassed me. But there’s a difference between being polite and being insecure. The message I took away was that Missouri believes itself somehow unworthy of the SEC. And that ticks me off.
Some quotes from a Missourian article demonstrate what I’m talking about:
“I think it goes along with what Gary Pinkel was talking about — having to step up to the fact that we’re in a different conference,” (Binghams co-owner Dave) Danuser said. “Students are realizing that if they want to fit in with the SEC, they need to step up their game and dress up a little more.”
The article goes on to say, “As some MU students seize the opportunity to buy into SEC fashion, the question remains as to whether adopting the tradition will help Missouri fit in better with the new conference.”
“I do think we’re going to have problems,” (Envy store manager Lauren) Ward said. “I think some people aren’t going to want to convert over to the really fancy stuff. But I think dressing up will help us fit in. If not, when teams are visiting here and they’re dressed up, we’re going to feel like a visitor at our own home.”
Wait a minute, Mizzou. Since when did our goal become fitting in? Is that what we’re about? Conforming so that we won’t feel like outsiders? The college years are a coming of age for so many students. It’s a time to discover who you really are, not who people expect you to be. Or at least I thought so. I don’t have a problem with the tradition of dressing up for games. Football is a culture, and it can be fun and enriching to learn about other cultures and adopt new traditions. But if we do, it should be because we want to. Not to impress the SEC. Not to conform. Not because we’re afraid we’ll feel like “visitors at our own home.” That’s ridiculous.
A while back I received a letter from the athletic department asking for a donation. I realize they will ask alumni for money no matter what. But the letter went something like this: All the SEC schools spend huge sums of money on their sports programs. Their stadiums are really nice and their stuff is all fancy. If we have any hope of keeping up, we’re gonna need you to dig deep into that pocketbook. Let’s show them what Mizzou is made of (ie- please don’t make us look poor.) You know what? You got yourselves into this conference. I hope you can afford to compete. Maybe I should give you some money. But I’m not going to feel sorry for you while you’re worried about showing off for the SEC.
There was even an article titled Georgia fans impressed with Columbia but see room for improvement. Since when do Georgia fans get to decide where we need improvement? But we shouldn’t be surprised considering how we bowed before them and offered our humble town to them for the weekend. Most of their concerns centered around the perception that we are “too nice.” I’m not saying we should get ugly. But we should be who we are. A big part of the fun of sports is smack-talking and rivalry. Let’s prove we’re rivals and not a team to ignore or worse, to pity.
Who are you, Mizzou? You’re confident and proud. You’re cocky even in the face of the toughest opponents. If you lose, you brush yourself off and show even more bravado for the next game. You love your traditions. You know who you are. You’ve had your little identity crisis. Now get over it and stand tall.
Love, a True Tiger Alumnus.