Below you will find an article from a local Kentucky fan. The author sent it to me as a part of the ongoing dialogue volleying across the river between BBN and the BearcatNation.
In the spring, I love to wear my Reds hat to block the welcome sun from my eyes. Summertime freedom calls me to the Banks, Museum Center, and the Cincinnati Zoo with my family. My fall Sundays are spent on the couch wearing the custom Bengals jersey that my wife got me for Christmas. Goetta in the morning, coneys for lunch, and Graeter’s in the evening. I’m a Cincinnati fan. I’m a Cincinnati man.
But I’m from Kentucky…born, raised, and still on that side of the river.
As March approaches (and most days between any other season), I’m in blue. I’m a proud member of the University of Kentucky Big Blue Nation. This is not abnormal. The greater Cincinnati area dips down into northern Kentucky and everybody knows it.
Two facts corroborate this observation:
(1) All northern Kentuckians claim and enjoy Cincy delights and pro teams just like me; and (2) The rest of Ohio is quick to proclaim Cincinnati belongs to Kentucky anyway.
Most years we have a tolerable, if not harmonious, existence. We follow each other’s college teams with at least a modicum of interest. We have friends, colleagues, and family from across the muddy banks that we see and enjoy daily. There is a shared annoyance for “THE” Ohio State University and their football program (heaven forbid they’re having an up year in basketball). We both want to beat Louisville for all the right reasons.
Then, UK played UC in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The smudgy and hyphenated dividing lines of our collective sports loyalty froze solid in seconds. Cincinnati entered the YUM! Center with the underdog team that most thought wouldn’t make it that far. Their city was so proud of the scrappy, determined play that got them so far and they would’ve loved to see more. Kentucky entered the game with the college dream team. The team that wasn’t expected to lose…ever…not even once. It was the archetypal “David v. Goliath” game and everyone knew it.
The game itself was actually nice. The two teams played tough, fought hard, and employed a defensive strategy that resulted in a game that wasn’t flashy, but still exciting. “Gritty” is the word I used. As the minutes of the game went by, UC fans were proud of what their team was showing, and the UK fans were proud of their team getting a tested victory. But, then the game ended.
Keep in mind that all fanbases have a less than savory element that is embarrassing. We all have that small percentage of fans that the rest of us are like, “Yeah, don’t back me up. You’re actually weakening any cause I have.” They are the ignorant and the mean. They are also ALWAYS the most vocal (especially from the safety of social media).
Here I’ll be the first to admit that the rabble of my Big Blue Nation struck first. Our team won and, instead of being grateful for the victory and focusing on the positive achievements of our athletes, some Wildcat fans went after Cincinnati as a city, UC as a school, and (worst of all) UC players as people. It was wrong. It wasn’t justified. And, I will apologize for it.
Was there a strategy to get UK upset with a little rough play? You bet. But, that’s just what it was…strategy. And it did work to an extent. Rather than recognizing that, the ignorant UK fans got huffy and started throwing around the now-dreaded label “thug.” Way too many of the greater fan base nodded their heads, silently in agreement, too. I’ll say it simply; those young men are college students. They spend their days attending class, hanging out with friends, living in dorms, and practicing basketball. That ugly label was thrown around frivolously. Cincinnati faithful were disappointed at the loss and annoyed at the words of sore winners. But, they kept composure, focused on their team’s achievements, and mostly maintained a dignified quiet. But that did not last.
Kentucky did not win every game. They were beat out honorably by a talented and hard-working Wisconsin team that earned the victory. Then, UC fans came alive.
As I went to twitter to leave some positive comments on the accounts of my heartbroken players, I was shocked at the flood of negativity that was coming from my northern neighbors. That day, there was no such thing as a UC fan on social media; only UK haters that live in Cincinnati. There was no commentary or speculation or any other sports talk. It was pure trash talking and mud flinging. And…this mean chatter may have started from the UC unsavory, but like a shark frenzy, way too many Bearcat supporters jumped on the “kick them while their down” movement.
Mistakes were made on both sides of the fan bases. Personally, I don’t understand this brand of sports interaction. Maybe I’m just a positive person, but my love for UK doesn’t make me hate anyone else. It doesn’t make me want any other team to lose (not even Duke…Coach K is exceptional).
I have a great hope for the future of Cincinnati based on one fact…we are one. Nobody wants Sunday blackout games in the fall and it takes Kentucky butts to fill all those seats. We all want to keep our zoo and museum center gaining revenue and that takes Kentucky dollars. I mean seriously, can anyone say they don’t love the Banks and the Levee? You can’t…because they’re awesome. So, let’s work toward this: UK and UC should be a respected rivalry; an occasional battle between worthy programs that is seething hostility on the court, but honorable recognition for each outside the arena.
Go Bengals, go Reds, go Bearcats, AND go Wildcats!
Jody Blackaby is a high school English teacher at Scott High in Northern Kentucky.