March 17, 2012
The Texas football team studied a new playbook as they substituted their X’s and O’s
for knives and forks in a chalk talk about etiquette. The freshmen and newcomers met at a local fine dining establishment with the Longhorn coaches and their wives for a lesson in proper manners and behavior over a formal meal.
“It was really good just getting all the freshmen and newcomers together,” sophomore RB Joe Bergeron said. “We bonded together and learned how to eat properly. We are all growing, and this gives us something else to put in our back pocket and take with us.”
Head coach Mack Brown has always advocated building his players on and off the field and finds this to be an important lesson in that process. He teamed up with Academic/Life Skills Counselor Jean Bryant to create the evening.
“We think it is important that they feel comfortable when they are in any setting,” Bryant said. “A lot of the events that they attend are over meals. We don’t ever want them to feel uncomfortable or be more focused on if they are making a mistake or picking up the right fork or spoon and miss the program.
“This started the first year we got here in 1998. We did the entire team over at the Texas Exes Center and it went off relatively smoothly considering we had about 60 people in each group. After that, we just do the freshmen in the spring, and it has become more intimate.”
The Longhorns have been fortunate enough to hire the same speaker for all 14 years; former UT Director of Special Services Mary Ellen Oliver.
“It is a real special treat for me [to be here], and I love doing it,” Oliver said. “I think this is such a worthwhile and enjoyable thing for me, because I feel like I am helping them learn something that will help them now and later in life. I think so often families are not able to sit down together at the table anymore because both parents are working. That is where you learn manners.”
The players received several useful tips during the meal including the uses of the plates, utensils and glasses and which food to order and how to properly eat it. They also learned how to signal when you are finished eating and how to interact with the other members of the table.
Oliver was very helpful in addressing these points and taking the time to answer any questions the team may have had; no matter how unorthodox the question seemed.
“There are sometimes unusual questions,” Oliver cited. “One was, ‘what are some things I could eat with a spoon?’ I always want to be careful because I think it is great when people ask questions. So I said, ‘what types of things were you thinking about eating with a spoon?’ The answer was either corn or peas. I told them that I agree that it is the easiest way to eat those things, but you have to use a fork.”
With countless behavioral customs in place at formal meals, each player was able to brush up on their table manners as well as learn a new lesson.
“I didn’t know that there were so many different ways of putting your fork on the plate,” Bergeron said. “I usually just set it on my plate and go about my business.”
“She taught us how to eat soup and how to treat a lady at the table,” offensive lineman Josh Cochran said. “It is a good thing to know, even outside of football, when you are on a date or eating with your girlfriend’s parents.”
This particular lesson, in fact, caught the attention of many in attendance at a Rose Bowl banquet several years ago when a group of Longhorns stood up as a woman was arriving and leaving their table.
“When we went to the Rose Bowl, our guys knew that when a lady comes to the table, you stand up,” Bryant said. “The other team sat down and just kind of looked at our guys [when that happened], but our guys knew that you were supposed to do that. We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from people.”
The student-athletes are all very appreciative of having this event every year and realize what a special opportunity it is.
“It is really great that Coach Brown does this,” Bergeron said. “This is a great thing to understand especially with the amount of exposure we get here.”
“There aren’t many colleges in America that would do this,” Cochran added. “I am from a small town in East Texas where I learned manners, but didn’t get a chance to do much with etiquette. This shows that UT is trying to make you a better person and not just a better football player.”