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Griz vs Eastern

A Montana fan holds up a sign and celebrates during a recent game when Grizzlies coach Travis DeCuire was coaching for his 100th win. 

Here’s a trend that needs to stop immediately: sports fans in western Montana showing up to games wearing shirts or holding signs with three initials on them, the first two being F and T.

The F stands for — you guessed it — the F word. The T stands for “the” and the third initial is changed to target whatever group or team is being opposed. At a recent basketball game between the University of Montana and Montana State University, for instance, Griz fans wore shirts reading “FTC,” with the C presumably standing for “cats,” short for Bobcats.

This dumb, lazy, immature message represents sports fanaticism at its worst. It does nothing to show support for a particular team or player; instead, it is aimed solely at expressing dislike for an opponent. It’s hurtful. And it holds strong potential for misunderstanding.

A Columbia Falls parent found this out the hard way last month after he held up a sign at a school basketball game reading “FTI.” That’s it: just FTI. The Feb. 23 Class A Western Division championship game was played between the Columbia Falls Wildcats and Browning Indians, and many in the crowd assumed the I stood for “Indians.”

The parent later posted on Instagram that the initials were actually meant to convey “For Ty and Indy,” with Ty being a close family friend and Indy the family’s puppy. “I am not a racist as I have many native friends from Montana and all over the United States and Canada,” the parent wrote.

Seems a stretch. In any case, Columbia Falls Principal Scott Gaiser responded with a clearly worded, no-nonsense message to the public that deserves to be shared far and wide.

In a Facebook post, Gaiser wrote: “No matter the intention of the sign, in no way do we at Columbia Falls HS condone this type of behavior but rather strive to uphold our core values of character, focus, honor and strength. It is our expectation that students demonstrate these core values in all they do and we ask for the same from our fans and parents. We are saddened that this incident would negatively impact our relationship with the students and staff at Browning High School as we have enjoyed many years of great competition, mutual respect and sportsmanship.”

His post went on to conclude: “The students and staff at Columbia Falls High School, in the strongest terms possible, state that we honor Browning High School students, staff and community. We wish the Browning Indians the very best at the Class A state basketball tournament.”

Fans and parents throughout western Montana should heed this important message. Moreover, everyone should stop displaying these three-letter messages of disparagement at games, and show some real sportsmanship instead.

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