Defacing “Howard’s Rock”

One news item that came to my attention earlier this week was the defacing of “Howard’s Rock,” a Clemson athletics icon that has stood at the entrance to Memorial Stadium since the 1960s, when football coach Frank Howard reigned. Elevated in the past few years from a gift to a shrine worthy of worship by the most dedicated of fans, even going so far as to put it in a protective glass case, the transience of these icons was demonstrated when an as-yet-unknown individual or group took it upon themselves to carve a chunk out of it for themselves.

Now, there are some admissions to make before I go any further. First, I am a graduate of Clemson University, which is likely the only reason why the story came to my attention in the first place, and possibly the only reason why I am writing about it. Second, I care nothing for sports and never had an interest in their sports program, so while I know quite well what “Howard’s Rock” is and have seen it many times, it is in my mind about as interesting and important as the rock collection I kept as a child.

I don’t make a good Clemson fan for the same reason I make a bad nationalist or traditional Christian: symbols don’t mean a whole lot to me. The supposed “most exciting 25 seconds in college football” are dull, and I don’t see the thrill of having every player rub their hands on the rock as they run past it. To be honest, it sounds very unsanitary. Maybe it is supposed to evoke memories of grandeur and forge a connection to the past, but I still don’t get it. Symbols and the traditions surrounding them are not bad, I do not mean to suggest that, but when a symbol becomes something to be revered, and tradition takes on the authority of holy writ, then there are problems.

Perhaps the next Clemson fanatic, hyper-nationalist, or Catholic can explain it to me.

Neither does the rivalry make much sense. I can understand difference of opinion and even playful banter, but this division into groups always strikes me more as social conditioning to make people good, controllable citizens than anything else. It reinforces the “us versus them” approach that dishonest individuals use to advance their agenda. In the long run, does it matter if one team’s players are better at running and keeping the ball than the other team’s? It is a game, nothing more. It is not life. Why can you not simply enjoy the game as a game, without adding all the other baggage to it?

And yet, we see this rivalry turn into brutality. “Fans” of rival schools think nothing of denigrating the students or institution that is not part of their “us.” A physically old but mentally immature Alabama fan poisons very old trees held in honor by rival Auburn, for no reason than to show his irrational dislike of his concept of Auburn. A Clemson fan scribbles a rendition of the tiger paw on a South Carolina field (at least grass grows back). Someone else irreparably damages a rock symbolizing Clemson’s athletic achievements.

These are not good things. It keeps a people fragmented who ought to be together. It keeps them fighting each other when they should be identifying and fighting a common enemy. It enables stupidity to escalate, encouraging a few to descend from trivial damage, to something more noticeable, all the way to causing irreparable harm.

We should not approve of these things. We should be trying to build relationships with others, not tear them apart. If we do not, or if we only address the symptoms of the larger problem, then there is no bright future, only the guarantee of worse to come.