The phrase “Clemson culture” is one I hear quite often. It is often used when describing why Clemson, particularly the football program, is so different from most other places/programs. When people discuss the transfer portal, they point to Clemson culture as the reason why the Tigers don’t often take transfers. When it comes to coaches staying at Clemson longer than coaches stay at other schools, or why it is difficult for coaches to leave, they often refer to the culture.

There are some strong arguments to be made that the way Clemson’s football program handles their business is a bit different from most other programs. Clemson’s football program has also been quite successful over the past decade. The link between the two is usually referred to as ‘culture’. When Clemson had no opt-outs for the Cheez-It Bowl, Clemson fans pointed to that as an example of Clemson culture, which in turn suggests that programs that do have opt-outs lack strong culture.

First Friday Parade at Clemson

What exactly is Clemson culture? If you ask fans, most of them come back with a quick & confident answer, but when you compare what one fan says to another, and another, you quickly realize that different Clemson fans perceive Clemson culture in different ways. Further, is the way a fan perceives culture close to the way the Clemson coaching staff defines their culture? Is that close to the way football players define culture? Or the university as a whole?

When you crawl down this rabbit hole called “culture”, you can quickly end up with more questions than answers. I decided to put thought towards the concept of Clemson culture and decided to do a few experiments on social media to see if they could help me understand the varying perspectives of fans.

The first question is obvious: What is culture? Merriam-Webster says the essential definition of culture can be described in three ways:

1: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

2: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

3: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Each of those definitions can work, depending on your perspective. I think the first two apply well to the culture of a fanbase or a student population. I think the third definition applies well to the culture within the program, and I think this is a differentiation that is important. As fans, we have a certain perception of Clemson culture, but few of us are privy to the inner workings of the football team. We see and hear a lot of what is said publicly by the coaches and players, but we aren’t often privileged to see and hear what happens behind closed doors.

How does Clemson define the culture of the university, the athletic program, and the football team? If you ask Professor Google, he will point you to this website from the athletic department. The title of the page is “Clemson Culture & Clemson Family”. Family is one of the first things many fans associate with Clemson culture. The first video shows scenes of Clemson students having a reunion. There is food being cooked on grills, several outdoor games being played, lots of happy faces, fun music, kids running around – the kind of scenes you might see when you go to Clemson in the fall for a football game when fans are tailgating. It’s already making me look forward to fall!

Next video includes a speech by Coach Swinney, talking about how the game of football brings people from different places, ethnicities, political persuasions, and ways of life together in fellowship to cheer for the Tigers, with the phrase “Football Unifies”. Alright, as a fan, I am getting pretty fired up and thinking “Maybe my bank account can handle that IPTAY donation, season tickets for five and parking passes for the season after all!” Culture starts at the top, and Coach Swinney has been a major influence. His sayings like “BYOG: bring your own guts”, “The ROY bus” and others have been critical to shaping the program’s direction and culture.

The next video shows some behind the scenes video with Aamir Simms, Will Swinney and other athletes at a banquet they call the Clemmies, where they hand out awards in several categories. It’s an example of one of those things inside the athletic department that fans aren’t necessarily able to witness firsthand (but also not the nitty gritty – no locker rooms, private meetings or coaches’ offices – everyone dresses real nice and presentable).

Next is video about the university, showing several scenes of the campus and the surrounding area. There are still several shots of the Tiger mascots, the marching band, and athletic events. It demonstrates how important Clemson athletics is to the overall Clemson experience, which is unique compared to several other universities where academics and athletics often clash. The final video shows clips of as many Clemson athletic teams as they could find, reminding us that the athletic department isn’t just a football team.

Like I said, I’m pretty fired up after seeing that. Which is the point – these weren’t five videos someone shot on their phone or a personal drone during a game. They are five well produced professional videos that serve multiple purposes. They are designed to be informative, but they also market the athletic department to the fanbase. I’m not saying they aren’t fair representations of the programs, but I am saying there isn’t a single thing in those videos that the higher ups at Clemson don’t want you to see. Those videos are as much about selling you on Clemson’s athletic department as they are about educating you, so when we see “Family” featured prominently in the title of the page, is Clemson telling you their culture is about family, or are they selling you on Clemson by appealing to your pre-conceived belief that family is a pillar of Clemson culture?

One or the other? Both? There is no single correct answer, which is why this one concept of culture is something that blew up from what I thought would be one fun article to write to something that can fill up several pages.

I decided to start with some research: How does Clemson Nation perceive the culture of Clemson? What are the key points? How does this compare to other programs? Is Clemson’s culture really all that different from other Power Five universities? Or do we just perceive that Clemson culture as unique? Do fans of other programs perceive their culture to be equally unique? Do we, as fans, naturally perceive our rivals and opponents to have weaker cultures because they are “the enemy”?

In the coming days and weeks, I will examine Clemson’s culture from the perspective of the fans and compare it to the way other fanbases perceive their own cultures. Then I will look at the perception of the fans and compare it to what can be gleaned from statements made by administrators, coaches, and players about the culture inside the program. Lastly, we will examine if “Clemson culture” has benefited the program and university as much as is generally accepted, and if it has indeed given Clemson an advantage.

Step 1: Ask the fans how they define Clemson culture. The fans gave me answers. Stay tuned.

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