[Ed.'s Note: Last week, Rick Reilly wrote about the recent ban on signs in the stands at University of Virginia sporting events. This report, from UVA senior Zach Rowen—part of The Mag.com's student-journalist brigade—details the student body's creative protest of the new regulation at the Cavaliers home game against Richmond last Saturday.]
At the five- and ten-minute marks in the first and second quarters of Virginia's 16-0 win over Richmond this Saturday, nearly five-thousand students held up 11'' x 17'' sheets of blank, white paper in hopes of sending a message to the UVA Athletics Department: lift the newly-instated sign ban.
The protest came in the wake of an email from the Athletics Department, which went out to all students, stating that signs were no longer permitted in the stands of any UVA athletic event. The email did not state a reason for the change in policy.
In response, a small group of UVA seniors sent out thousands of messages of their own leading up to Saturday's game, informing students as to how they could take part in the protest. Upon arrival at predetermined pick-up locations, students were given instructions on when to hold up their sheets of paper—not signs per se, thus exploiting a loophole in the university's policy—as well as a little inspiration from Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University:
" … A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing … " read the instruction sheet, quoting Jefferson in a letter to James Madison.
"The message was clear," senior Alex Mackay—a participant in the protest—said. "The students demonstrated nearly unanimous disapproval of the 'no sign' policy."
Whether on not the Athletics Department will listen is another matter. To that end, Student Council president Matt Schrimper, as well as the leaders of the protest, are hoping to meet with Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage to discuss the possibility of lifting the sign ban before Virginia's next home game on October 4th.
At the very least, Virginia supporters would like for the Athletics Department to explain its reasoning for banning all signs. Fans speculate it is part of the Athletics Department's push to create what they see as a "positive game-day environment," but many students, including athletes, suggest that a ban on signs has the opposite effect.
"If I see a fan who is into my sport enough to make a sign, that means something to me," says Andrew Carraway, a senior pitcher on the school's baseball team. "University of Virginia fans are energetic, creative and passionate about our school and about our sports. By making a sign, our fans are able to effectively express that creative energy in support of our student-athletes."
Carraway, Mackay, Schrimper and the rest of the student body will have to wait and see if the protest will lead to any changes.
If none are forthcoming, there is still one thing students can hang their hats on: Jefferson would have been proud.