The UK/UL rivalry is at a tipping point. What, at one time was a friendly, perhaps good natured rivalry has begun to morph into something that’s becoming uglier and uglier. As you look around America, and even the world, it seems as if we’re a more divided people with everyone demanding that we live in the black and white world, totally forsaking the gray. You’re either Democrat or Republican, pro choice or pro life, true American or terrorist sympathizer with nothing in between. And so, the rivalry between the Wildcats and the Cardinals has taken on a darker hue as well, thanks in large part to social media.
I’m not saying that Blue and Red fans have ever been chummy, but there was a point in time when there was at least the ability to be civil. I can tell you that as a Kentucky fan in the city of Louisville, those days seem like several lifetimes ago. When life is viewed through blue or red glasses, everything and I do mean every little thing takes on different meanings. Slights on the job or a car cutting you off in traffic becomes a plot by the sinister forces on the other side which are conspiring against you and your fellow fans.
I grew up as a Cardinal fan. My parents both graduated from the University of Louisville as did almost every other college graduate in my immediate and extended family. I grew up on Milt Wagner, Darrel Griffith and Pervis Ellison. One of the greatest memories of my childhood was staying up late to watch the 1986 NCAA championship game, where Louisville defeated Duke to win the title. I was almost 7 years old when the first dream game was played in the 83 NCAA Tournament and there was a lot of talk on both sides leading up to the game, but nothing like we see today. The game was the game, but life moved on. Now, we’ve collectively moved to some very dark places and are at the point where we’re going to go over the edge. If UK and UL played in the tourney today, any available NCAA Tournament tickets would be priced through the roof.
The hate speech and viritrol on both sides has reached levels where it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens. In the lead up to the 2012 Final Four matchup, we all chuckled at the brawl that broke out at the dialysis center between a Card and a Cat fan. What’s not funny is when the rivalry spills over into violence or crosses common courtesy and decency. Nothing has happened like the crazed Alabama fan that poisoned the famed Toomer’s Corner trees at Auburn and I hope that nothing ever will, but if we continue to ratchet up the hate speech on both sides, it’s only a matter of time. At some point, someone will cross that line and take what should be an athletic rivalry to a deep, dark place.
As we all become too preoccupied with the other team and what they’re doing or not doing, it’s time to stop and focus on our own respective teams. Dressing a child up as Bobby Petrino is crossing the line. Using a recruit’s sexual assault case to make a joke at a rival’s expense is crossing the line. As Kentucky head men’s basketball coach John Calipari so often says, “Coach your team.” Going forward, I’m only going to worry about what the Wildcats are doing and who they’re playing. I’m not going to worry about whose coaches were found guilty of lying to the NCAA or whose players skip court dates or whose players’ twitter accounts get hacked or whose rings get stolen or whose coaches are alleged abusive bullies or even whose coaches get involved in extortion cases. Going forward, I’m only worried about one team, the one in Blue.