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IU Sucks - Hero or Menace?

Does IU in fact suck? I asked former Paint Crew exec board members for their take on the current fracas

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NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Indiana
G rated newspaper from the most recent Purdue vs. IU game
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You might have seen online that quite a bit of ink (does it still count as ink if it’s online only?) has been spilled about the IU Sucks cheer at the end of Hail Fire and why it’s the worst thing any students at any sporting event have ever done! WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN! The Indy Star reporter, who misquoted me and used barely anything we talked about, think its either “quirky or tacky”, Matt Painter has gone on record of late saying that he doesn’t think Purdue fans can go after the (EXPLICIT LANGUAGE COMING) “Fuck You Haarms” chant that IU did because Purdue has to take care of themselves first. To be fair to our great coach, who I vehemently disagree with here, I’m going to provide his entire quote from the linked article.

“It’s an easy answer for me, because that was something that happened during the course of a game and it goes towards an individual and it shouldn’t have happened and it does. But we do something towards them and a chant that’s inappropriate too, so how can we be mad? You know what I mean? How can we get upset at them? We’ve got to clean up our own backyard before we can point a finger. We’ve tried to do that with our student section and explain that to them and get off of that and we haven’t been able to do that. That speaks for itself. Purdue needs to worry about itself. I am not an ‘IU’ sucks fan. It’s just something that, when I’m 20 years old, I probably would be. When you get older and you grow through things and you’re coaching a team and you’re trying to set an example, it’s not something you want to be said during a game, especially when you have recruits in and you have families in and you try to sell what a classy place Purdue is. When you do that, it’s hard.”

For those of you that don’t know the entire history of the chant I’ll provide a brief TL;DR backstory. I was the VP of The Paint Crew during the 2007-2008 season. This was the first year of general admission and so a lot of things were changing. The other members of the executive board and I, whom I am still in touch with to this day, wanted The Paint Crew to gain a reputation of an intense, loud, and intimidating student section. We wanted to better coordinate not just with ourselves but with the band as well. As such we were invited to a practice with the Boiler Brass to discuss different cheers and chants to accompany songs. It seemed a great idea. The entire board hated the “dance” with Hail Fire and we did what we could to kill it but nothing worked. It hadn’t caught on entirely but the band director, Max Jones if I recall correctly, seemed to love the song and wanted the dance moves to take over the arena. We disagreed. Being the annoying 20-22 year olds we were we decided to kill the song. By throwing IU sucks at the end of the song we were sure we could get the band/higher ups to kill the song much like they had down with that Gary Glitter arena rock classic Rock and Roll Part 2. So we spread the word, but unfortunately, and talk about your all time backfires, the IU sucks cheer after Hail Fire made the song more popular which made the dance more popular, which meant the band never even attempted to kill the song. To this day a handful of us who were around that time will still simply put up one finger during the dancing portion to signify our disapproval. College is weird.

With that out of the way I wanted to check in with my fellow former executive board members not only of my year but of subsequent years to get their take. To get this story together I DM’d with numerous former members of The Paint Crew exec board. I’ll try to include their twitter handles when they are quoted so that you can give them a follow if you’re into that sort of thing.

One of the things that hit me about all the anger about the IU sucks chant is that it comes from people who know little to nothing of the tradition and are well past their time of being in college. I’ll just say it, it comes from who we would call “The olds” while we were in charge. We needed them to be rowdy and loud but far too often they wore strange colored sweaters and sat on their hands. As a 21 year old I just couldn’t understand this, they could literally make your ears ring if they got involved but they just often chose not to. “In the end It really just comes down to an age divide in those who love it and those who think it’s classless,” said former exec board member @johnnysalt. Former Paint Crew President Michael Wood (@bigwoodmike) echoed a similar sentiment when he told me that during the post-season parties with the team the consensus among players was that IU Sucks was their favorite cheer/chant. The players noted that it “gets the team re-energized” and after all isn’t that why the home crowd matters? Why are we there if not to try and help out our home team and give them a much needed boost. Further, according to Wood, people behind the scenes in both the athletic department and in the basketball offices are fans of the chant but for various P.R. reasons have to poo poo it in public. That’s fine and I understand that. Names were named but for the protection of the innocent we won’t name them here. Joe Berghoff, Paint Crew President during 2009-2010, notes that despite being told by behind the scenes folks to tamp down other cheers they “never heard about the IU sucks (cheer) in any official capacity.” To me, that speaks volumes. The administration wants and needs the energy The Paint Crew brings and apparently this issue wasn’t deemed a problem at the time of the creation. Trust me, if the administration desperately wanted this gone they could do it, they’ve killed plenty of things The Paint Crew did throughout my time.

There does seem to be some truth to the reports that higher ups at Purdue, and not just in athletics, want the cheer gone. There were meetings of student section leaders with Purdue President Mitch Daniels in both 2016 and 2017 in which the leaders were encouraged to end this cheer because President Daniels was receiving “mountains of emails” complaining about it. I’m skeptical of the mountains comment but as some other members chimed in to note when you put someone behind a keyboard their boundaries go away.

I’ve always been bothered by the comparison of some, including Coach Painter above, of the IU Sucks cheer to other, much more vulgar, cheers like Fuck You Haarms from the IU students. Perhaps it’s the fact that Purdue students get that one moment to yell at IU and get out their anger is the reason we don’t see more derogatory chants. At least, that’s the argument of former Paint Crew Vice President Danielle (@dmmetzcus). She argues that keeping the IU Sucks contained to one moment is good otherwise you’d allow “rowdy students to have creative control and make it worse.” Sort of an interesting Purge-type argument there but there’s a certain amount of sense to it. Plus, to compare the vulgarity that we saw from IU students to Purdue students, and the rest of the arena I might add, saying IU sucks seems disingenuous at best.

We were all dumb in some sense in college. We all said stupid things or did stupid things. Especially at sporting events. Just ask former Paint Crew President Matt Lake (@boilerlaker) who first told me that, “As a 22 year old college student I screamed a lot of things I shouldn’t have - at officials, at players, and yes at the team down south,” and as someone who sat by him every game for 3 years at least I can confirm the accuracy of this statement. Is Lake proud of the impact he had in creating this phenomenon? That’s a more difficult question to answer. “Listen, the chant isn’t the classiest thing in the world. It isn’t my proudest achievement. It is, however a low-key way to express our displeasure with the other school in our state. When we took a Paint Crew trip to Bloomington, we were yelled at with profanities, spit at, and flipped the middle finger. When the Paint Crew greeted the other team’s bus, we sang Hail Purdue at them, and they whined about that. That, coupled with the chants from the game in 2019 should tell you everything you need to know about which school has class.”

So where does Lake come down on the IU Sucks chant now, at age 33 with two children? “To be honest, I lean a little to the side of the chant is silly, but I’m still far far from thinking the chant is classless or vulgar or needs to stop. It’s college kids rebelling in a very tiny way. As a parent, I believe I will take on more difficult tasks than explaining to my child what sucks means and that they can’t say it even though they heard it.”

We often read hot takes on the internet that The Paint Crew should just come up with something more clever and less vulgar. Wood has a response to that argument as well, “It has to come after Hail Fire, it’s impossible to come up with something for each team we host...”clever” is extremely limited when you can’t even flirt with crudeness.”

Possibly the most passionate fan I ever met was the Secretary of The Paint Crew in ‘07-’08. Her twitter handle is private so I’ll just say her name is Kelsey and leave it at that. Kelsey was in charge of digging up dirt on all opposing players during this season. During the nascent days of Facebook this was easy. Random girl from another school requests to be your friend in that day and age you just naturally accept. I’m sure this urge was even worse for young basketball players. Kelsey was then able to view everything about these players and I mean EVERYTHING, “I wrote scathing dirt gossip reports for basketball opponents that did everything from publish opposing players’ private intimate pictures with their girlfriends to share out their personal phone numbers for PC members or do with whatever they’d like.” This practice was stopped as players got smarty and administration pushed hard to stop the targeting of specific players. With all that in mind Kelsey looks back now if not in embarrassment by her conduct she certainly sees the contradictions, “The personal side of me loves seeing all our students (and a healthy selection of alumni) coming together in that pinnacle moment of Hail Fire. But I also cringe every time, particularly when we are playing anyone other than Indiana, because we’re allowing our attention and energy to meander down to Bloomington. And why?” Maybe in college she felt differently because after all she was the girl that “loved Touchdown Penis and the wave-starting Purdue Jesus. I was also the girl yelling, “Get the corpses off the field!” when an opposing player got hurt,” but life is truly full of contradictions. Kelsey is a deep thinker about not only the impact of the cheer but also how she feels as she looks back at the origins, “A conversation I’m constantly having with my high school students is that of intent versus impact. I love love love the origin story for “IU sucks” after Hail Fire! It’s the cheer that, meaning to be squandered, accidentally became a sensation. The original intent was pure and somewhat innocent. The impact, though, is the reason we’re having this discussion. And maybe that’s the question we really need to be asking: What is the impact of this cheer? And is that the reputation Purdue students want to have?”

Those are truly important questions but honestly it’s where Kelsey and I part ways. It is certainly an important question but I believe that we are placing too much emphasis on this one cheer. I find it hard to believe that this cheer is going to warp one innocent mind. A former Paint Crew Executive Board member who preferred not to be named due to continuing relationships with the Purdue Athletics Department, agrees, noting that, “There are specific racist things yelled from old people that far outweigh IU sucks. I don’t understand why Mitch makes this a big deal.” I agree. This is low down on my list of things any of us should worry about but for some reason it continuously bubbles up.

So what should we do? Should we continue to fight for the cheer that most of us seem to still love or at least consider it a guilty pleasure? Should we listen to Coach Painter and try to tamp it down or end it? If we wanted to do that would it even be possible? Berghoff errs on the side of Coach Painter, “my opinion is, that while I don’t see the issue with it, if he feels strongly about it, we ought to listen to him.” Coach Painter has been good to The Paint Crew more than most people know. He helped fight to allow The Paint Crew to camp, he fought for general admission, he paid for pizza parties, watch parties, helped immensely with road trips etc.. So what do we owe Coach in this situation? Dylan Reynolds (@dreynolds15), Paint Crew President from 2008-2009, finds himself hedging a bit on what the future of the cheer should be, “You can make a valid argument either way about whether we should do it, but can’t deny it’s a special, and relatively harmless, moment of EVERY home game we have. For better or worse it is tradition now and that’s ok.” Tradition matters and even though this is a young tradition, going on season 11 now, the fact that it started organically means a lot. Forced traditions, The Furnace anyone?, never seem to take. We’ve got to allow students to have fun and allow them to decide what will survive as a tradition for years. Ultimately, I’ll give the final word to Kelsey “the only people who can alter what students say... is students. So any plea for change must be directed at and play to the needs of that specific audience. The rest is absolutely feudal alumni banter... the kind we all despised as 20-year-olds freezing our asses off sleeping in a tent on the Mackey concrete waiting for a front row spot at a basketball game.”