In less than a month, the Penn State football team will take the field for the first time since the NCAA imposed sanctions on the school for the conduct of Athletic Department employees in connection with the Sandusky child sexual assault scandal. One of the factors which led me to take the position that Penn State should take the year off from football, rather than continue to play, is a concern about what kinds of signs we'll see and chants we'll hear from the stands.
Howard has written in this blog about fan speech, and the challenges in regulating it, in this blog on a number of occasions: here, here, here and here, for instance.
We have two reasons to be concerned about fan speech here. First, we may see signs at home games which are overly supportive of key Penn State figures now besmirched by the scandal. In spite of the mountain of evidence indicating a colossal breakdown in morality and leadership, some fans may stubbornly cling to rosy images of football heroes.
More likely, though, when Penn State travels to play away games in Iowa City and Lincoln -- never easy places to visit -- we'll see some fans who use the scandal to taunt the current players (players having nothing to do with the matter). No doubt the Big Ten or the NCAA will urge fans to keep their cheers civil, but we've already seen the emergence of (grammatically challenged) fan speech in connection with the scandal and I think it's fair to expect more.
Here, players may be more likely, than in the case of the kind of racist fan speech that usually raises concerns, to be able to brush of these insults. Yet by dragging the matter into the light of national TV, potentially offensive fan speech has the potential to continue to cause hurt to the real victims of this scandal: Sandusky's targets. Unfortunately, there's not much that the NCAA or the Big 10 can do about it.