Horns down, snowflakes; commentary editor Chris Lierly covers the controversy over the University of Oklahoma’s spirit squad being told not to use the iconic hand gesture.
This week, it was reported by The OU Daily that the OU Spirit Squad was “heavily encouraged” to not use the “horns down” hand sign when the Sooner football team plays Texas, by the Spirit Coordinator Phillip O’Neil. This comes after former West Virginia quarterback Will Grier was penalized last November after he made the flipped version of the Longhorns’ iconic symbol after beating the team. Big XII conference officials stood behind the decision, inciting an uproar amongst fans across the conference, and Oklahoma fans were particularly incensed.
During the summer, Big XII officials firmly stated that the future uses of a “horns down” gesture will receive a penalty, but have also stated, “if they do it in their bench area, we’re not going to look at it.”
However, this arbitrary decision will only increase fan use of the anti-Texas hand signal, and players will likely find loopholes.
By penalizing the “horns down” gesture, Big XII refs are broadening the definition of unsportsmanlike conduct.
The NCAA rulebook states that, “No player, substitute, coach or other person subject to the rules shall use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, to game officials or to the image of the game.”
It’s hard to see the “horns down” gesture falling into the abusive, threatening or obscene categories, since those are usually reserved for imitations of violent or sexual acts, so it most likley falls under the “demeaning to an opponent” clause of the rule. If that’s how referees and Big XII officials are classifying it, then that is their prerogative, but the “horns down” sign is not some new concocted way to kick Texas while their down for almost a decade running. What it is, however, is one way that college football authorities have decided to try and control the game when no regulation is necessary.
The “Hook Em Horns” hand signal was first used in 1955 by a Texas cheerleader, but it was just eight years later, in 1953, that a Baylor fan flipped the gesture. Since then, teams from all conferences have used the gesture when playing Texas, but there’s no doubt the teams who have used it the most prolifically are the Longhorns’ rivals Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. There’s some irony in the fact that West Virginia, only a member of the Big XII conference since 2011, were the team first penalized for taunting Texas with “horns down,” but it speaks to the widespread use of the celebration.
College Football officials have made multiple attempts to curtail the amount and degree of celebrations that players can partake during and in between plays. One such attempt is outlawing high-stepping or diving into the endzone when a player with the ball is far and away from the defending players. Unlike the “horns down” ruling, the clause preventing diving into the endzone as a celebration has some grounding in protecting players since the action has caused injuries in the past.
However, by outlawing a light taunting gesture against a widely despised program, the Big XII makes it easier for fans to cast conference leadership as biased towards Texas, as some believe them to be, and for Oklahoma to make Texas out to be the villain year in and year out.