Opinion: Rude Chants at HS Games Must Be Stopped

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The Philadelphia Inquirer


I don't have children yet, but I do have an athletic teenage niece whom I love dearly.

And if she was ever subjected to the chants I heard the evening of Dec. 3 during St. Joseph's Prep's PIAA 6A football semifinal victory over North Penn at Northeast High, I hope someone - anyone - would put an end to such reprehensible behavior, which included body-shaming and a reference to a sexual act.

The first chant came after North Penn's second touchdown, which occurred with five minutes left in the third quarter as the Knights' junior kicker, Kelly Macnamara, went onto the field for the extra point.

You may remember Macnamara from philly.com and from ESPN, CNN, and other national news outlets after an October video of her making a tackle during a kick return went viral. On this night, however, she was greeted with an ugly chant.

"Kelly's pregnant! Kelly's pregnant!" was chanted by enough people in what was clearly the St. Joseph's Prep student section that I heard it while standing on the Prep sideline. Though I won't venture a guess at the number of people involved, this was certainly more than three or four rogue voices. But it was also not the entire section.

Each utterance was followed by rhythmic clapping from some in the section, which was situated behind the Hawks sideline on the same end of the field at which Macnamara made the extra point.

The second chant began with 22 seconds left in the third quarter as Macnamara prepared to kick a 28-yard field goal.

"Kelly's fat!" was preceded and followed by more rhythmic clapping.

The second volley of "Kelly's fat!" seemed to trail off after an audible gasp of disapproval seemed to come from some people around - and possibly within - the student section.

This, however, only momentarily stopped the chants.

From ABDeveloping a Universal Code of Conduct for HS Sports Fans

A timeout was called before the kick was attempted, so there was at least a 60-second lull in the action before Macnamara went out to kick again. Undeterred by the delay, a few fans chanted again as Macnamara got back into position.

This time, the chant used Kelly's name in relation to a sexual act. Judging by the chant's somewhat diminished volume, at least some of those who previously chanted did not participate in this one.

At least one spectator, standing to my left on the Prep sideline - which consisted of double-digit members of the mostly, if not exclusively, male press pool; alumni of the school; and other Prep supporters - appeared embarrassed.

"Oh my God," a man to my far left uttered loud enough to be heard only by those in the immediate vicinity.Anyone speak up?

Several things trouble me greatly about this entire experience. Most important is that there are young men who harbor such sentiments and feel comfortable spewing them in public. Also troubling is that it didn't appear that anyone admonished the group in a meaningful way, if at all, after the initial or subsequent chants.

The tenor of the first chant definitely primed me to anticipate that more was to come.

I hope I am wrong. I hope someone did say something. Then again, if someone addressed this group after the first chant, that would mean that these young men ignored that repudiation. I don't think that's what happened here.

Nor do I think this is a situation in which people, mostly if not all men, in positions of authority heard the chants and chose to ignore them.

I spoke to District 12 chairman Michael Hawkins, who was at the game but said he did not hear the chants. He said he wished someone had alerted him so he could have addressed it. I've witnessed Hawkins, the former longtime football coach at now-closed Germantown High, shut down unruly crowd behavior at basketball games. So I have no doubt he would have acted swiftly.

I spoke to Ken Geiser, the athletic director at George Washington who also oversees football for the Public League as the host school, Northeast High, is a member of the league. Geiser said he was at the game and also did not hear the chants and was also disappointed that nothing was reported.

In an open-air football stadium on a chilly, windy night in December, I'm not surprised they didn't hear the chants. Those two men in particular typically don't stand in one place during games because of game-related duties.

I spoke to Kelly's father, Ray, who said neither he nor his wife, Jane, heard the chants from across the field. Ray declined to comment on the chants. He said Kelly hadn't mentioned the chants.

I also spoke to North Penn coach Dick Beck. He said that he didn't hear the chants on Dec. 3 and that nothing like that had happened all season.

It is impossible, however, that I am the only person who heard these chants. Still, I spoke to a representative at the Prep on Dec. 5 who said my voicemail and email that afternoon were the first the school had heard about the incident.Say something

My words aren't meant to cast aspersions on St. Joseph's Prep, its fans, students, teachers, players, or coaches. In fact, this has nothing to do with the Prep football team at all. And, I've spoken to coach Gabe Infante enough times to know he is truly invested in developing great young men on and off the field and wouldn't want such chants done in his team's name.

So, in the future, if you see something, say something, or go find someone with authority.

At the very least, send an email after the fact.

Because even if a reporter isn't there next time and doesn't follow up, this behavior needs to be stamped out so no one feels comfortable spewing these words in public - or at all.

I don't have a choice. It's my job as a journalist, brother, uncle - and as a man.


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December 16, 2016


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