I awoke yesterday morning to a text from my wife that read, “Please take a few deep breaths and a few minutes to meditate this morning, ya?”
Why on earth would she send me a text so charged with the prediction of angst before my day had even started?
Why? Because my wife knows me well. She recognizes the issues that tend to hijack my day. My brain began to race with possibilities. After I awoke to a similar text years ago from a biologist friend of mine who worked for the bear management office in Yellowstone National Park, I spent the next six hours crafting an essay entitled “Bison and Bigotry: Is Gardiner, Montana, the Selma, Alabama, of Conservation?”—which turned out to be time well spent, as the opinion piece went viral and appeared in my first book. Last spring, when I read that Bill Hoppe (a Gardiner, Montana, area rancher) had shot a bull bison in “self-defense,” (this after earlier killing a collared wolf) my activist brain took over and the day’s schedule was shelved. I crafted a fiery op-ed I am still proud of.
With a lot on my plate (just days away from the launch of my new website and three weeks from the release of my book), after getting Amanda’s text, I dreaded grabbing the local paper. As I expected, when I picked up the Bozeman Daily Chronicle I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust. But the picture on the front page wasn’t what I expected. No bison being hazed, no wolf trapped, no grizzly bear euthanized.
Instead, a headline reading: “Drinking dilemma,” and a picture showing two knuckleheads rocking “Greek Week” tank tops while downing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The photo’s caption described the students “pounding beer” while tailgating at a Montana State University football game.
So here goes. First off, the imagery (which was bush-league) glorified the students getting blitzed. The article lacked substance and, from my point of view, seemed to almost defend the disgraceful image. While exploring the dilemma surrounding students and alumni getting bombed outside the stadium, it made no mention of safety, sexual assault (one and four women are raped or sexually assaulted on college campuses), or drunken driving. Instead the emphasis seemed to be on the “lots of empty seats in the game’s third quarter,” pointing out that coaches noticed the change in their players performance.
Are you shitting me? I can’t wrap my head around taking a neutral (at best) stance on anything that could potentially increase the already staggering statistics of sexual assault and rape on college campuses.
In light of the recent expose written by Jon Krakauer, “Missoula: Rape and The Justice System in a College Town,” chronicling the rabid University of Montana fan base, the assistant district attorney (now, unbelievably, the district attorney) who left the prosecutor’s office to defend the Grizzlies’ quarterback in his rape trial, and the botched handling by local police of multiple sexual assaults related to the football program beloved by GRIZ NATION, I was blown away by my local paper’s front page.
What’s the dilemma? Why would we allow, let alone encourage, drunkenness on college campuses? We don’t tailgate before a basketball game, volleyball match, track meet or any other collegiate sporting event, so why the hell is this cultural norm accepted on campuses, not just here in Montana, but nationwide?
I’m a University of Montana grad and proud of it, but I’m not afraid to say that I find “Griz Nation” disturbing. I understand the importance of school spirit and solidarity, but I’m afraid the pull and power of the Griz Nation is a disturbing example of what goes wrong when athletic programs become bigger than life. Yesterday, when the Gold Rush flooded the streets, businesses and elementary schools—yes, elementary schools—prompting the text from my wife, I had a sense of foreboding. Since school has started and football has kicked off, the vibe in Bozeman has changed dramatically.
I love living in a college town. It brings arts, literature, sciences and a sense of vibrancy to our community. As a top-shelf institution striving to solve some of our planet’s greatest challenges, Montana State University has much to celebrate. But I dread the start of the football season. The drunken foolishness and herd mentality that accompanies the “Gold Rush” and football in college towns like Bozeman is a tradition we may want to reconsider. The season of tailgating has arrived and with it, misguided and fanatical ‘group think’ has hijacked college towns across the country.
Blindly following tradition by joining the fraternity of what “everyone else” is doing represents precarious habitat that far too often leads to toxic and destructive behavior. If you think I’m over reacting, take the time to do a little research, or read Krakauer’s book.
Now, more than ever, is the time to break out of the box of societal norms, do your own thing, and in doing so, lead authentically and from the heart. Now’s the time to reexamine some of our fall traditions in college towns like Bozeman.
Let’s get at it.