SPORTS

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February 6, 2004

It pays to heckle our opponents

Many people believe that hecklers are loud, drunk, slovenly idiots who have nothing better to do than make fools of themselves in public. In reality, heckling is a delicate art that requires courage and practice, although a few beers don't hurt.

Any amateur can yell and curse at opposing players, making foul gestures that distract the audience members more than the participants of the event. The true goal of the heckler must be to get into a player's head enough to make him actually change his style of play. Only a true master can attract this high level of psychological diversion, but I'd like to give a few pointers to those brave enough to try.

First, find a position where the players can actually hear you. This task may be more difficult at Madison Square Garden than at the Ratner Center, but it is obviously essential that the hecklee be able to capture every annoying word of the heckler. Just admire the courtside positioning of Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson, both seasoned hecklers.

Second, zone in on one or two players. Attempting to annoy an entire team may be too ambitious even for the most talented hecklers. Pick out a mediocre opponent—both the best and worst players are more used to being heckled—and then make his life a living hell. One technique, to which a friend introduced me at basketball games, is to scream loudly every time one particular player touches the ball. Otherwise, watch to see who is playing especially poorly and make sure he or she knows about it.

Third, pick something intensely personal about that player that has nothing to do with sports. Does he have a funny name? Is he balding? Is he too short? Too fat? Does he look like Clay Aiken? Speculate about what his mother may do for a living, or what drugs she took during her pregnancy. Adopt a policy of tasteful tastelessness: try to walk a thin line between things that would upset people and things that are outrageously offensive. And most importantly, never curse; it isn't very distracting and will only get you thrown out of the game. Remember the first rule—you can't heckle very well from outside the gym.

Fourth, spare no one. Heckle the coach. Heckle the towel boys. Heckle the other team's crowd and their dogs. Sometimes people have very strong self-defense mechanisms, but become incredibly angry when those they are close to become the targets of insult. This strategy can have the most impact on a game. For example, sometimes a coach won't take a player out of a game simply because a heckler continually makes fun of both the coach and the player. In a foolish attempt to salvage some pride, the coach may end up costing his team several points.

Lastly, and mostly importantly, be ruthless. Once you have a player hooked, don't give up until the final buzzer. If he looks at you menacingly or, even better, yells at you while on the court or field, then you can sleep well at night knowing that you've done your duty as a fan. If he threatens to physically assault you after the game, then you deserve a medal and a place on the roster. And in the unlikely event that a player does kick your ass, be content to know he will never play sports again and you will have a great story for your grandchildren.

It is no secret that attendance at University sporting events is, at times, a little sparse. Instead of jumping, screaming, face-painted fanatics like those at Cameron Indoor Stadium, we have a few parents and a handful of students with books in their laps, probably forced to attend for Allen Sanderson's Economics of Sports class. But that's no reason not to have a little fun. Division III athletes are more susceptible to heckling than Division I or professional athletes because, instead of trained machines, they are mostly just normal kids with a little more talent than your average Joe.

Come down to your favorite University contest and give these tips a try. I know there are some major pricks out there; I've seen you in my hum class. If you can't play, you might as well heckle.