GREEN BAY, Wis, -- Apparently, if Aaron Rodgers were the ringleader of the student sections of Bayport, Ashwaubenon or De Pere high schools, he’d be in for a trip to the principal’s office.
After reading about the uproar the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association created recently by reminding schools of the chants it deems derogatory toward opponents -- including “air ball!” “score-board!” and “fun-da-men-tals!” -- the Green Bay Packers quarterback confessed Wednesday that he’d have been in trouble had such rules been enforced back in Chico, California, at Pleasant Valley High School basketball games.
“I led the chants when I wasn’t playing, and we said a lot worse stuff than that,” Rodgers said, shaking his head. Although he played basketball throughout his childhood, Rodgers gave it up to concentrate on football later in his high school career.
“I think we’re, as a society, dying a little bit each day if we’re not only dumbing down our masses but we’re also limiting the things that we can say. ‘Air ball’ and ‘scoreboard,’ from a chant standpoint, in 2001 when I was in the stands watching my high school basketball team, that’s like the ground floor of stuff we would say.
“Think about the fans at other stadiums we play at or at Lambeau Field. I don’t think that [high school competition] warrants censorship. What are we telling our kids, that freedom of speech doesn’t exist? And any type of negative comment, you’re going to get somebody in trouble for? I just don’t agree with that.
“I don’t agree with any type of racist or homophobic language, any of that type of stuff from the crowd to the people on the field. But ‘scoreboard’ and ‘air ball’ and ‘fundamentals,’ which is a great chant?”
Rodgers then chanted, “fun-da-men-tals” while sitting in his locker, complete with on-time claps.
While the WIAA might have had its heart in the right place when it emailed its 500 member schools to remind them of the various chants the administration believes are unsportsmanlike, it became a national punchline after some of the seemingly more benign chants made it onto social media and mainstream news.
ESPN college basketball analyst and former Duke basketball player Jay Bilas posted a series of humorously acceptable chants on his Twitter feed, and the backlash led the WIAA to issue a statement Wednesday emphasizing that its suggestions for positive cheering were already on the books and nothing new.
To be clear... there has been NO new directives, NO new rules, NO new mandates, NO new enforcement expectations. pic.twitter.com/44skwAwR5G— WIAA (@wiaawi) January 13, 2016
The story gained national attention after April Gehl, a three-sport athlete and honors student who is a senior at Hilbert High School, was suspended from the basketball team for five games for posting a Tweet that included an expletive about the WIAA’s guidelines. Hilbert is about 30 miles south of Lambeau Field.
In protest, students at Ashwaubenon -- just a mile down Ridge Road from the stadium -- duct taped their mouths shut and wore black at their game Tuesday night against De Pere.
Rodgers recalled being a student when Pleasant Valley faced Oakland Tech, led by Leon Powe, a future NBA player who became Rodgers’ classmate at the University of California.
“You don’t say a whole lot to Leon Powe because you don’t want to tick him off. Because he’s the best player on the court,” Rodgers said. “You don’t want to get him mad, because then he’s going to dominate the game -- which he did.”
And as someone who has long been motivated by slights and detractors, that was Rodgers’ point: Chanting “air ball!” at a shooter should serve as motivation for that player to come down the floor on the next possession and bury a 3-pointer to shut everyone up.
“Obviously great players can be fueled by that,” Rodgers said. “It’s that chip on the shoulder, that negative comment or that trash talk, that is a part of our sports.”