A football fan spat on a University of Iowa student’s father, who was wearing a UI shirt. Another fan chucked a full can of beer at an Iowa State University cheerleader’s head, and others yelled obscenities from an apartment balcony at an ISU student in Iowa City for the UI-ISU football game in September.

Those are just a few examples of sports-fan behavior that many think has plummeted to the trashiest level in years.

Alexa Probst

“Everyone can cheer on their school and boo the other team, but I think it gets too personal with fans singling people out or calling them names, something that should have nothing to do with a football game,” said Alexa Probst, a sophomore cheerleader at ISU. “I had to witness one of the cheerleaders on my squad getting a full beer can thrown at her head just because she was wearing an ISU uniform.”

Mark Weisman, a sophomore running back for the Hawkeyes, said trash talking is about equal among universities, and it happens on and off the field. “They get some alcohol in them, and they start saying whatever they want,” he said about the fans who draw attention to their rude behavior.

One more round may be on its way. The UI team will try to defend home turf at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 23, against a powerful University of Nebraska team playing for the Legends Division title.

Poor sportsmanship has caught the attention of top UI officials. As trash talking degenerated early in the football season, President Sally Mason urged students to start behaving. Don’t boo the opponents, she told the Daily Iowan newspaper the week before the Hawkeyes played Penn State University.

Some fans believe rivalry between universities has pushed trash talking to a point far worse than booing. For example, before the Oct. 20 game against Penn State, UI fans wore t-shirts mocking the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal while taking a jab at Nebraska. Written on the t-shirts was, “I’d rather shower at Penn State than cheer for the Huskers.”

Fans at Ohio State University and Louisiana State University had similar t-shirts, the Ohio State one aimed at the archrival it plays on Saturday, Nov. 24 – Michigan – and the LSU one aimed at the rival University of Alabama.

Lauri Peterson

“It crosses the line for the people who were affected by Sandusky’s actions,” Lauri Peterson, a UI sophomore, said. “It isn’t something to joke about in my opinion.”  Other examples of offensive college t-shirts include “ISU girls are ugly,” “Ann Arbor is a Whore,” and “YBSA: You bet your sweet ass I hate Ohio State.”

Although the t-shirts are unauthorized, Joshua Berka, the assistant director of event management for the UI athletic department, explains a few ways a university can control the selling and wearing of the t-shirts. Police can shut down anyone trying to sell these t-shirts on campus. Police who see fans wearing an offensive t-shirt in the stadium can ask the offenders to leave.

Aside from apparel, fans say the main trash talking occurs on the way to the football game and during tailgating.

Iowa-Iowa State game particularly intense

The Iowa-Iowa State football game builds on an intense rivalry. Photo taken at Sept. 8, 2012, game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Brian Ray photo courtesy of The Gazette-KCRG)

While fans and athletes trash talk at every game, the long history of the Hawkeye-Cyclone rivalry and the Cy-Hawk trophy probably gives trash talk at that game a harsher edge.

Indira Alic, a sophomore at ISU, visited Iowa City this year for the Iowa-Iowa State game and dealt frequent harassment from UI fans.

“I got called a dumb whore by some guys from a balcony and everyone told me to go back to ‘Lames’,” Alic said. “I’ve seen some trash talk in Ames, too, but not nearly as much as when the game is in Iowa City.”

Indira Alic

But Caitlin Johnson, a UI sophomore, said the rivalry is equally bad in both cities.

“Last year when the game was in Ames, my dad was spit on by an Iowa State fan,” Johnson said. It was unprovoked, she said. “Spitting on a 50-year-old man who has done nothing to an ISU fan is when trash talking becomes inappropriate.”

Trash talking many times can be harmless joking, but Johnson and Peterson agreed that the drinking during tailgating leads to more intense verbal offensiveness.

Weisman, the Hawkeye running back, said in a phone interview, “Every university is pretty similar when it comes to the degree of trash-talking that occurs at games.”

Kaitlyn Dornbier

Cheerleaders take abuse

One targeted group is university cheerleaders. Kaitlyn Dornbier, a junior Hawkeye cheerleader, believes simply wearing a cheerleading uniform exacerbates the trash talking from fans.

“We are one of the faces of the university and, being such, it gives people an outlet to express frustration and dislike with the institution or program as a whole,” Dornbier said. “Without it, we would just be normal fans, but a uniform proudly displays ‘I wholeheartedly support this team’ and stands as a strong argument to opposing fans.”

Jessica Carroll

Jessica Carroll, a senior UI cheerleader, said she has heard many creative comments from fans in her four years on the squad, most of the time commenting on a cheerleader’s weight or appearance.

“Usually the most trash talking happens at away games,” she said. “At home games, Iowa fans easily outnumber the other team’s fans so we really do not hear much negativity. But at basketball games, the other team’s fans are literally only a few feet away from where we stand, so the haggling doesn’t stop for the whole game.”

Carroll pointed to a UI  football game in Tucson, Ariz., against the University of Arizona in 2010. Arizona fans threw trash and plastic bottles at the team and yelled obscenities. They missed, but the cheer team was given a personal escort. “Instead of walking straight across the end zone, we were instructed to walk around the entire field to avoid walking in front of their student section, because it was unsafe.”

Carroll said that many times fans refer to them as cows, saying, “1,2,3,4. Get the cattle off the floor,” or “Hey ladies, the grass ain’t for grazing.”

In one incident at a UI-ISU basketball game in Ames, ISU fans gave male UI cheerleaders a hard time by ridiculing their outfit or megaphone, and calling them “gay” and “pansies.”

Sometimes UI fans go as far as blaming the cheerleaders for losing the games by making remarks such as “Well, I guess you girls didn’t cheer hard enough; that’s why we lost.”

Mark Weisman

Weisman said trash talking also happens on the field, between the players, mostly the linemen.

“Players get in the heat of the moment and try to get into your head,” Weisman said.

Here to stay

With trash talking occurring throughout the game, is there any way to prevent it?

Probst, Peterson, Alic, Johnson and Weisman said no. Even though they see it many times getting out of hand and say it could be taken down a notch, they do not see much the universities can do to stop it. Fans have the right to their opinions, they said. But when fans drink too much, confrontations often happen.

Nevertheless, Berka said the UI  will keep trying to reduce hostility between teams.  “We strive to always show hospitality to visiting fan by positive cheering and removal of degrading remarks,” Berka said. “On game day we, as fans, need to treat them as guests in our home.”

Members of the Hawks Nest student section yell the work “sucks” after each member or the Howard Bison basketball team is introduced Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. The UI Athletics Department has so far been unsuccessful at stopping the traditional cheer despite making suggestions for other things for the students to yell. (Brian Ray photo courtesy of The Gazette-KCRG)

The Hawk’s Nest, UI’s official student section of Hawkeye Athletics, is asked to play a role in the university’s effort to improve sportsmanship, although it yells “sucks” after the names of visiting team members when starting lineups are introduced before a basketball game.

The UI hosted the Big Ten Sportsmanship Conference in 2011 where a number of the Big Ten fan support groups and university liaisons got together to talk about sportsmanship around the Big Ten.

Berka said a summary of the codes of conduct from the conference says fans should:

  • Cheer for their own team;
  • Avoid showing disrespect to opposing teams;
  • Be respectful to other’s property.

If there is any hope for fan behavior this coming weekend it may be that Berka thinks fans usually are more hostile at the beginning of a season than at the end. “In the heart of the Big Ten season, fans stop worrying so much about the rivalry and start focusing more on our football team’s actual performance,” he said.

Michelle Ngo is a sophomore journalism major at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Big Ten Code of Sportsmanship

“BIG”  is the trademarked name of the  official code of conduct of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Conference. The University of Iowa  Conference in 2011, during whicn a number of the Big Ten fan support groups and university liaisons got together to talk about sportsmanship around the Big Ten.

Here it is: We, as students of the Big Ten, strive to create a respectful and enjoyable environment for all fans, student-athletes, coaches, staff, and officials while maintaining a competitive spirit and exhibiting positive sportsmanship.

We are Bold. We are 1. We are Great. We are the Big Ten.


old: We are loud, we are proud. We come early, we stay late. Home or away, we create an environment that promotes healthy and respectful competition.

: One conference, one goal. No matter what colors we wear, we respect the game and each other. The student-athletes we support are also our friends in the classroom.

reat: We lead, we excel. We understand and appreciate the history, traditions, and culture of all universities. We are constant representatives of our institution and our Conference.

We are the Big Ten.

As students of the Big Ten, we represent our university and conference at every event.

In order to be Bold, 1, and Great, we set the example by…

1. Treating our university and opponents with the utmost respect both on and off the field of play.

2. Promoting a welcoming environment by avoiding any hostility toward our opponents and their fans.

3. Arriving at all sporting events early and continuing to support our team until the event concludes.

4. Remaining passionate throughout the course of the event with positive cheering and without degrading our opponents.

5. Avoiding the use of vulgarity and profanity at all athletic events.

6. Encouraging healthy competition and rivalry by eliminating physical and/or verbal harassment toward any fan, student-athlete, coach, or official.

7. Respecting all facilities and every person who contributes to the production of events, refraining from throwing or leaving any objects in the stands or on the field of play.

8. Attending as many sporting events as possible at our universities.

9. Choosing to be responsible and drinking in moderation if consuming alcohol during game-day activities.

10. Creating the loudest and most exciting atmosphere possible while maintaining full support for our university.

Source: Big Ten Conference

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Join the Conversation


  1. This is not news.

    This sad essay is full of the kind of hearsay and subjective conjecture which warrants an appearance under “Letters to the Editor.” This should not be disguised as ‘news.’ …

    It is too easy to banter on the topic du jour. It’s ‘politically correct’ to fall all over one’s self to champion Sally Mason’s edict that we all play nice with one another on football Saturdays. Harrumph! …

    Am I being rude? Perhaps. But pretending this is news is far more rude than any multi-syllabic words my tiny, little malapropic brain can muster….

    The Gazette and Press Citizen should be embarrassed to have ‘cut and pasted’ this sad essay. And Iowa Watch dot org should be ashamed of itself.

  2. Wow to this hater dude above me. I hope your life isn’t as bitter as you sound man. Quit hating and maybe one day you’ll have an article in iowa watch. Until then, get a life man.

  3. If anyone ever asks why I will never, EVER, give money to the UI journalism school, I am pulling this article out.

    When the Iowa Watch, which is intended to be a non-profit, public affairs journalism body, does a hit piece on Iowa fans, I officially stop caring. Iowa Watch was born at the UI and is largely run by the UI SJMC. I know the author is only a sophomore in college but I know for a fact there are editors there who should know better than to let garbage like this through.

    I am willing to bet a pretty hefty sum of money I have been to more sporting events than this person. I am willing to also bet that Iowa is no worse (and no better) than 90% of college stadiums. Some fans choose to do stupid stuff at every stadium, not ideal but we push past it. There is no evidence in this article that Iowa is somehow worse than anywhere else and there is no suggestions for a reasonable solution to this problem. This isn’t a news article, it is a hit piece on Iowa fans promoted directly by the SJMC and the professors who run that organization. Where is the social responsibility they preach? I can honestly say this article makes me far more ashamed to be an SJMC alum than it does to be an Iowa fan.

  4. Something tells me that Joey T. might have access to a complete, unedited version of the above constructive criticism. Be assured there are many more astute observations in those parts redacted by your local media overlord(s). If this Reader’s Digest version seems like ‘hate’ to you, I grieve for all thin-skinned youngsters such as yourself.

    My hope for future generations who fight for momentous achievements in their higher education is that there be an end to cliche`, meaningless phrases such as ‘get a life,’ or ‘quit hating.’

    Maybe, just maybe, our local media can champion such concepts as meaningful exposition and unbiased facts. I still assert: this article is op-ed, not news.


  5. Personal attacks in the original post by the commenter using the name Carl Yoder and one statement that was not factually correct were edited out of that post. A different submitted comment with personal attacks against the writer using the name Carl Yoder was not posted. IowaWatch reserves the right to edit comments on its site for clarity, relevance, accuracy and civility.

  6. The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism is not part of the University of Iowa or the UI SJMC. It is an independent 501(3)(c) entity that receives no financial support from the University of Iowa or the SJMC, and which is overseen by a Board of Directors. Three UI SJMC faculty, one SJMC doctoral student and one master’s student in the UI Tippee School of Management are among the Board of Directors’ members. http://www.iowawatch.org/?page_id=3 The Center works with students and faculty from journalism programs at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and Drake University.

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