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An ugly and unhealthy thing

It might come as a shock to some that football players at Auburn and Alabama, Georgia and Florida and Tennessee and LSU like and respect each other.

On gameday, they play as of their very lives depended on it. Then they hug each other's necks and move on. They talk to each other on the telephone about shared experiences. They get together during the offseason. Only they understand what they go through, the fearsome price they to play college football.

They are the guts of the game that millions follow so closely. It's too bad that so many of those millions don't follow their lead.

I got a telephone call on Monday asking me to be on a Huntsville radio show with former Auburn center Cole Cubelic and former Alabama center Wes Neighbors, two guys I covered in my newspaper days an two I guys I like and respect. They had heard that I had written that bad news was coming for Auburn in the form of an ESPN story. It turned out that one short blurb I wrote on our message board had set off a storm on some message boards and beyond.

What I wrote was that, though I didn't know, I heard that a story of some sort was coming and it didn't sound good. The word was that there was a story coming on Auburn and Memphis and the NCAA. That didn't sound good. No such story sounds good. I also said I didn't know if a story was coming and didn't know what would be in it.

Perhaps, no, obviously, my words, meant for AuburnUndercover.com subscribers, should have been clearer. But that's really not the point. The point is that the very thought of Auburn being in trouble with the NCAA set off a frenzy of not only interest, but near celebration.

To be clear, to be very clear, no school has a corner on fans who would celebrate a rival school being brought down. Auburn has them. Alabama has them. Every big-time program has them. I believe they are a distinct minority, but they scream the loudest.

They openly hope for bad things to happen not only to rival programs, but to the players who play for those rival programs. They are spurred on by what I guess could be called the new journalism. Context and truth are happily sacrificed for web site hits.

And they take much of the fun out of an enterprise that, if it's not fun, really isn't worth much.

Being a fan of one school or another is not a question of character. Any Auburn fan could choose to become an Alabama fan tomorrow. An Alabama fan could become an Auburn fan, a Florida fan could become a Georgia fan, a Michigan fan could become an Ohio State fan. No one has to qualify to be a fan of any school.

Yet, somehow, there are those whose very sense of self-esteem is tied up in how the group of young men they have chosen to support plays on the football field. How strange that is.

Passion for one's team is a great thing. It is what has made college football so massively popular. Tradition and pageantry set the college game apart from the NFL game.

The hatred for anyone and anything associated with a rival school, on display in our state on a near daily basis, is ugly and unhealthy. If it isn't brought under control, it will one day be the undoing of college football as we know it.

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