Haywood events affect fans’ morale

By Amy Friedenberger

Ask students how they feel about the current state of Pitt football and many will give you the… Ask students how they feel about the current state of Pitt football and many will give you the same response: they hang their heads low, shaking them back and forth before reluctantly talking about it. It hurts for students.

“I think that most boys, and increasingly girls, use sports as a way to tell a story about who they are,” said Robert Ruck, a Pitt senior lecturer whose fields include sports history and Pittsburgh history.

Although Pitt students aren’t on the football roster, Ruck said that students also experience the pain and frustration that the football team is experiencing at this time, to a certain degree.

Pitt hired Miami University of Ohio head coach Michael Haywood to replace Dave Wannstedt in early December. About two weeks later, it fired the coach after he was arrested on a domestic battery charge, to which he later pleaded not guilty.

Ruck said the incident can be particularly painful for students because people, regardless of whether they’re athletes, tend to use sports to shape their identity.

He described two ways that people use sports to describe who they are. They create a sense of identity internally to feel good about themselves and they create an identity to build social status.

“Sport creates a sense of community that transcends class, race, religion, gender, nationality, at least temporarily,” Ruck said. “That’s more the case in Pittsburgh. I don’t think there is any other city that is more invested in a sport than Pittsburgh.”

Ruck said the Pittsburgh community is the best example of a group of individuals who have developed an identity around sports.

Pittsburgh went from a city known for its steel to a city known for its sports. When the steel industry collapsed and tough economic times ensued in the 1970s and 80s, the city’s sports teams continued to thrive.

The Pittsburgh Pirates won two World Series, the Pittsburgh Steelers won six Super Bowls and the Pittsburgh Panthers won a football National Championship in the 1970s. The success lead to the popular nickname “City of Champions.”

Ruck said that society is moving toward an era where people spend more time alone. But sports is a way to bring back a sense of bonding.

“Think about the bonding and camaraderie,” Ruck said. “The best way to do that, I think, is when you are on a team and you are the participant. The second best thing is when you are rooting for a team of people you know and care about.”

He said this is why he prefers college sports to professional sports.

Gallup Poll, a global research company, found football consistently reigning as America’s favorite sport since 1972. When the group started polling Americans about their interests a decade ago, it also found that a majority identified themselves as sports fans.

Many of Pittsburgh’s biggest icons are from Western Pennsylvania, Dan Marino, Art Rooney and Honus Wagner for example. Ruck said that Pitt has demonstrated a commitment to the local area — for instance, it hired Baldwin native Dave Wannstedt as a head football coach.

“We place such an emphasis on sport here, so I think that’s why we all take [the coaching issue] so seriously here,” Ruck said.

Sophomore Brandon Sprecher expressed shock when he first heard about Pitt firing Haywood so quickly.

“It’s just embarrassing for the school, especially because Pederson said that [Haywood] was a man of integrity,” Sprecher said.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson described Haywood as a “man of integrity, a man of character,” when introducing him as the new coach on Dec. 16.

Ruck wasn’t sure if the high pedestal that society places coaches and athletes on is appropriate.

“Unfortunately, they live in a fishbowl,” Ruck said. “They lost their anonymity and everything they do is scrutinized in a way that everything others do is not.”

Freshman Anne Faust said that it’s important for coaches to uphold high standards in their position.

“The coach has to set an example for the players,” Faust said.

Mike Mayrosh, a sophomore who sat in the basement of the William Pitt Union Thursday, said he hoped the incident won’t give Pitt a bad name.

Even in light of the coaching fiasco, students like junior Kristine Gulla said that they would still attend the games next season.

Pitt spokesman E. J. Borghetti believes many students share that attitude.

“Students have been turning out for Pitt sporting events in record numbers over the past several years. Heinz Field and the Petersen Events Center have become the place to be for our student body and that won’t change,” he said in an e-mail. “Pitt Pride is a very strong and enduring thing, and the events of the past week will not change that.”

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