While most of us see college athletics as a form of entertainment, many universities seem to take them a little too seriously. Stony Brook University (also known as SUNY-Stony Brook) in New York appears to be among that group. It seems the Seawolves’ athletic department didn’t think it was very funny when a campus publication, The Stony Brook Press, decided to tweet about the homecoming football game against Colgate in a humorous and/or satirical way. Tweets from September 12’s game included: "The batters have teed off!", "Homerun! 15-Love, Stony Brook!", and "One man passed the rubber object to another man and people clapped."
Now, I am not what you would call a football expert (when I was an undergraduate at Duke, we won a total of 9 games IN FOUR YEARS), but reading these tweets, even I would have realized that football lacks batters, tees, and scores called "love." Yet apparently Stony Brook’s athletic department was not amused. During the game, it tweeted at the Press, "@sbpress Please use the correct sports reference when tweeting please" and ultimately threatened to revoke the publication’s press credentials for the rest of the year.
It’s hard to know what university administrators are thinking when they make decisions like this. There was no real risk that a reasonable person would think that Stony Brook’s football team was illegally using equipment and scoring regimes from other sports, and from reading the tweets, it’s clear that the paper wasn’t even mocking Stony Brook’s football team. As the Press wrote, "In no way did we intend to anger or offend the Athletics Department, nor mock the football team itself. If anything, we were poking fun at our lack of knowledge when it comes to sports." And even if they did mock the football team, the speech would have been protected anyway.
So what was the problem? The only problem seems to be that the Press was making jokes. There’s a long history of college administrators’ hostility towards jokes, perhaps best illustrated by sexual harassment codes like Davidson‘s, which bans "Circulating or displaying written or pictorial material that is offensive or belittling (pictures, jokes, cartoons, posters, or reading material)," or the overturned speech code at Stony Brook’s fellow state school SUNY-Brockport, which banned "jokes making fun of any protected group."
It’s true that most people don’t like being the butt of a joke. But it’s time that universities realized that students have a sense of humor even if administrators don’t. Let’s hope that Stony Brook’s athletic department learns to lighten up a bit. Otherwise those football players will never stick the landing.