Mitchell: On Civility
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Posted Jan 10, 2011

CFN's Russ Mitchell steps back to address how the gradual decline of civility is present even in the world of college football

As I sit here in Phoenix, Arizona, on the eve of our sport's championship day, I should be relishing in the minutia of dissecting one team's secondary for the umpteenth time.

However, I find my attention focused instead on the tragic events 120 miles south in the city of Tucson. A moment of sheer madness, where a 22 year old man, fueled by rage, allegedly killed six people and wounded 14.

We learned Sunday that federal authorities charged the man they believe responsible, Jared Lee Loughner, with the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, along with multiple counts of murder.

In the aftermath, our collective focus will naturally be drawn to the ever worsening climate of political discourse in America.

However, I fear it's much worse than that.

There are those that will try to narrow the gravity of this moment to politics. As a nation, we have always had moments where intense passion inflamed political rhetoric, even to the point of violence.

Be it any of the insults hurled between our founding fathers, to Hamilton & Burr, Brooks & Sumner, Lincoln & Douglas, and of course the Civil War, right up through Prohibition, Suffrage and Civil Rights.

Yet in many of these instances, social decorum and civility still held court; the anger rose, peaked and settled, and reasonable discourse once again became the norm.

However, somewhere in the past twenty years it has become socially acceptable to yell over people, and in the new world of attention seeking / 24 hour media, with each generation of yelling the stakes are raised ever higher.

It's important to isolate this distinction – this social acceptance to yelling – as yelling serves to inflame, and this behavior now permeates many aspects of American life far beyond politics.

As part of my job, I regularly participate on sports radio shows throughout our great nation – all the way to the warm beaches of Hawaii (and the talented voice of one Josh Pacheco). Occasionally, callers are encouraged to participate with questions.

This past decade I have noticed with growing alarm that even in the relatively trivial world of college football, it is becoming increasingly commonplace to have callers quite literally yell over guests.

I have asked several media consultants about this phenomenon. They claim that even though it's impossible to make sense of either participant when one is attempting to yell down another, the conflict in fact creates "excitement", which leads to higher ratings.

Bad for communication. Good for the purse strings.

College football is a brilliant sport, full of passion, tradition and glory. It encompasses many of the tenets that make our country great – tenacity, courage, strength, intelligence, loyalty and hard work.

But it is a sport. Even in my beloved South, it is a sport. It may indeed be big business, and I more than most eat, live and breathe in it. But it is not religion (although a few of my friends might disagree). It is not war. It is not hunger.

And it saddens me that we have reached a point where it appears to be now socially acceptable to regularly shout each other down over something as inconsequential as a sport. I'm not measuring the one-off moment where fan A hurls insults at fan B, but rather this systematic cheapening of discourse in our nation to the point where even college football discussions are fraught with rudeness.

I realize this column will soon be lost in the wash of news, commentary and analysis generated from the BCS National Championship. And that these words are far from the usual light fare I offer.

But I still trust in the goodness and civility of Americans, and I hope it's time to reset the bar.

Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for Please follow him on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at