Herd Media
Investigation,  Sports

When does fan behavior become lunacy?

It all started with silence. At a place where you’d expect to hear a crowd.

At the start of the 2022 season, sophomore sports management major Jackson Gibree said he could hear the sound of a pin drop during the volleyball game in Allen Arena.

“How [can you have] this many people here with nobody standing up, nobody loud? Why are we not using our home-court advantage?”

After Jackson asked himself these questions, you might say he grabbed the ball and ran with it.

What started as a small GroupMe eventually grew to an Instagram account of almost 600 followers, and a new student section – the Lippy Lunatics – was born.

A student section is essential for generating excitement at our home games. As Director of Athletics Philip Hutcheson put it, “whenever you come out and there’s a big crowd you know, there’s just kind of a buzz in the air, and I definitely think it does help the team to perform at their best, and it probably intimidates the other team too.”

The energy flowing from students to athletes can play a role in the outcome of the game, as well. 

Jackson said, “It’s really hard as an athlete to provide your own energy sometimes, and when you have a ton of students giving you that energy you don’t have to provide it for yourself; your adrenaline just naturally kicks in and you perform better.” But with all this adrenaline comes intensity, and occasionally tempers flare. 

Earlier this season, the Lippy Lunatics allegedly made disparaging remarks toward the players on the opposing team.

Then there were some comments made about a specific player who was on the floor.

The exchange did not sit right with one student at the game. When she spoke out in the Lippy Lunatics Groupme, admonishing the behavior, she was removed by another student.

We can expect high emotion in an intense college-competitive environment, but where does the student-led section at Lipscomb draw the line? This is a question without an easy answer.

Avid game attendee and Lippy Lunatic RJ Trail said, “While you’re not going to please everyone, you also have to listen to everyone because everyone’s voice still matters.”

Jackson Gibree, one of the Lippy Lunatics’ founders, says it’s difficult to police an entire crowd.

“Honestly, I can’t control everybody. So some of the stuff said doesn’t come from me. But that’s just an athletics event. Like all athletic events; professional, and high school, stuff gets said that probably shouldn’t be but again, that’s just how it is,” he said.

Director of Athletics Philip Hutcheson said that respectful relationships are crucial within a student section. But there could be reasons for administrators to step in.

“If there are things that happen within that group that then become like, hey, that’s not representative of who we are or who we would want to be, I think at that point, I would step in as needed to say, hey, maybe we can back it down a little bit…”

Lipscomb University has a code of conduct for fans attending athletics events, which is intended to maintain a positive and safe environment for all attendees. The code of conduct prohibits behavior that is disruptive, abusive, or violent, and any behavior that interferes with the game or endangers the safety of others.

According to the Lipscomb University Code of Conduct for Athletics Events, “Fans may not use derogatory or discriminatory language, including but not limited to, language that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive, toward any participant, official, or fellow fan.”

So, was prohibited language used at the game early in the season? No one is sure. Who should be in control of the student section? Who has the right to step up and step out if prohibited language is used?

It’s an issue that is certainly not limited to Lipscomb.

Herd Media Assistant Editor Micah Barkley said she experienced harassment while taking photos at the Kennesaw v Lipscomb ASUN men’s basketball championship game, when Lippy Lunatics members traveled via buses to Kennesaw, Georgia, to support the men’s basketball team. 

She said she was cursed at and spit on by the Kennesaw student section. “They were saying some really nasty things like ‘F you’…”

Barkley wasn’t sure how to react. “I got up and I walked over to our student section. And, actually the reason I went over there is because I didn’t know how to handle it because it’s never happened to me before.”

When asking RJ what potential consequences for bad fan behavior could be, he said, “…theoretically, they could kick the 50 people in that section out and be like, alright, this happened from your section. Either one person owns up to it or all of y’all are gone.”