Aaron Gordon wonders why stadiums would ever want to be family friendly.
Casually leaning against his locker, Tom Brady was asked if he had a message for the fans attending Sunday’s home opener. Expecting the standard, politically correct response, the reporter actually heard something not very Brady-like: “Yeah, start drinking early. Get nice and rowdy. 4:15 game, lot of time to get lubed up. Come out here, and cheer for the home team.”
Considering the NFL’s blitzkrieg on intoxicated fans, the comment could not have been received well by Goodell’s minions. The Patriots were quick to provide an Onion-like clarification (“He meant stay hydrated, drink a lot of water.”), but the message was already broadcast from Maine to Connecticut and Quincy to Cambridge.
There was a significant message within Brady’s off-the-cuff remark. The value of the stadium experience only exceeds the ticket price when the stadium offers something different—or better—than what you get on your couch. Your couch is family-friendly, so maybe the stadium ought to provide a different experience. That doesn’t mean fans need to be drunk, or that drunken fans are necessarily dangerous; they become dangerous when people turn sports into an excuse to let their inner violence escape under the veil of social conformity.
There’s a special dose of irony in Brady’s encouragement of kidney lubrication, considering Gillette Stadium has developed a reputation as perhaps the most passive environment in professional sports. In the past few years, fans at Gillette Stadium have resembled a Jersey Shore cast member with erectile dysfunction: they talk a big game, but when it’s time to put up, you wonder where all that raw passion and energy went. (Back when Bill Simmons wrote about sports he was one of the first to notice the demise of home-field advantage in the NFL due to modern stadium design.)
In particular, the Kraft family has made Gillette particularly dull with an “eject first, ask questions later” policy. Most notably—despite it being the MLS—several of the most fervent New England Revolution supporters were removed without warning from a match after leading a traditional “You suck, asshole” chant. (Bear in mind, the leader of the chant didn’t curse; the supporters inserted the “asshole” part on their own. Nevertheless, the leader was tossed and arrested.)
This is in line with some of my recent ballpark experiences in the Northeast. In the lower deck of Yankee Stadium, a man wearing designer jeans and a v-neck shirt with slicked back hair yelled at David Price, “The price is wrong!” for approximately half an inning before my companion kindly suggested, “Shut up, Elvis!” The Elvis-lookalike then informed the usher that we were being rude, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, that if we spoke to Elvis again, we would be removed from the park. In Boston, our seat-neighbors complained that my friend and I were talking too loudly…at a baseball game…in Fenway Park.
Perhaps these were simply isolated incidents. Maybe I’m a much bigger asshole than my self-perception reveals. Or, maybe there’s a movement afoot that’s poisoning the stadium experience.
When you pay more, you expect more. This is a simple economic fact. When I go to the movies, I’m much more irritated by talkers if I paid $15 versus $5. The same concept holds for sporting events. The more people pay for tickets, the more they expect from their ideal game day environment, even if everyone’s ideals might come in conflict.
Not all patrons who pay top dollar for tickets expect the same tranquil stadium experience. However, there seems to be some correlation between fans who can afford a thousand-dollar family outing to the ballpark and those who demand a more peaceful environment. Of course, leagues would also prefer to minimize negative publicity and maximize the enjoyment of the wealthiest fans, hoping for their repeated patronage. These factors have led to The Great Sterilization of the sporting world.
Let me be clear, I’m not endorsing violence or profanity. But, neither was Tom Brady. He only asked fans of the notoriously quiet Gillette Stadium to be more vocal than usual, to be rowdy. Yet, the Patriots organization felt the need to superimpose a new message that was as transparent as it was indicative of the current state of sports. He didn’t mean that, don’t get drunk at a football game, please.
At some point, the general consensus became that drunken people do bad things. This logic puzzles me. Think about when you get drunk. Do you invariably diminish others’ enjoyment? Aren’t “socially lubricated” fans central to your best or funniest stadium stories? As far as violence goes, people commit a lot of violence outside of ballparks and stadiums. Why have sporting events been targeted as the concentration of sin?
Cynics will quickly point to the events at Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park as evidence that stadiums are dangerous, violent places. This logic is as flawed as the events were tragic. For starters, the authorities haven’t offered motives for either crime. They might have been completely unrelated to sports (and considering the shootings at Candlestick were during a preseason game, I find it hard to believe sports played a significant role).
Even if the violence was motivated by sports, are we to assume these individuals are otherwise peaceful, loving beings that were driven to extreme violence by a sporting event? I would wager if the culprits weren’t committing violence at an early-season baseball game or a preseason football game, it was only a matter of time until they were bringing violence to another location. That is, these were violent people, not violent circumstances.
Another common argument is that sporting events are no longer family-friendly, and the sanctity of the child-like enjoyment of sports must be restored. (This sounds way too much like the oft-hysterical Mrs. Lovejoy: “Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?”) I’m relatively young, but judging from my dad’s stories, I don’t think sporting events were ever family friendly. I think parents either exercised greater control over what their children were exposed to, or children weren’t regarded as delicate flowers that couldn’t have their virgin ears violated before they turned 16. I find it laughable that, in the Internet age—and considering PG-13 movies are allowed to say “the f-word”—parents are concerned what children might see or hear at sporting events.
Vulgarity aside, how are ticket prices well past $100 for baseball and $250 for football considered “family friendly?” By definition, that’s the opposite of family friendly. If your kid is so young they can’t be exposed to vulgarity, why waste that money on a game they probably won’t remember? Why must this family-friendly moniker be forced upon sporting events?
Brady never told fans to start beating each other or scream profanities in front of children. He simply wants fans to be loud, and being drunk never hurt that cause.
—Photo Muhammad غفّاري/Flickr