Did Gov. Sam Brownback get booed because of his fashion choices or because of his politics at Sunday’s NCAA tournament game between Wichita State University and the University of Kansas?
Brownback, who was seated with his wife, Mary Brownback, was greeted with a chorus of boos when his image went up on the big screen at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha during the second half of WSU’s 78-65 victory over KU.
Many sports media outlets blamed the chilly reception on Brownback’s neutral T-shirt that featured both teams’ logos, saying it showed indecisiveness about which team to support.
“One of the great things about living in America is that people can express their opinions freely and without fear of retribution, whether it’s about which shirt someone wears or team they support,” the governor’s spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Monday in an e-mail. “The Governor will be cheering for Wichita State as they move forward in the tournament.”
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But some posts on social media targeted the governor’s policies rather than his T-shirt.
Ken Reever, a teacher from Manhattan, tweeted Sunday night: “just to be clear, no one was booing his shirt. He’s just a really bad gov.”
A lawmaker and a political staffer who attended the game also pointed to politics.
“Those shirts sold out in minutes,” said Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita. “Those shirts are popular. People like those shirts. … There’s no problem having a shirt that has a KU Jayhawk and a Wichita State Shocker.”
He blamed the boos on politics and on KU fans in particular. “There were a lot of boos, but they weren’t coming from anywhere near the Wichita State section,” he said.
Will Lawrence, a Democratic staffer, said the boos were spread throughout the arena. He said that the cameras did not zoom in on Brownback’s shirt until after the boos started.
“There were people all over the place that sat the entire game and only stood up at one point. And that’s when they were booing Sam Brownback,” Lawrence said. “At the time that they were booing him you could not see what was on his shirt.”
Despite the boos, Brownback was in high spirits about the game Monday. He began a news conference by extolling the contest as a great representation of the state’s basketball tradition.
“It was a great game. It was exciting. A lot of passion in it,” Brownback said. “And with the history of basketball around this state, kind of growing up here, I thought it was one of the great representations of college basketball taking place and something the whole state can be proud of – probably if you’re from Wichita State a little prouder than if you’re from KU.”