When is it OK to punch another fan at a sporting event? Um, never?
After, the 49ers–Raiders preseason game last week, Candlestick Park’s box score included a restroom beating, fights in the stands, and two people shot in the parking lot.
What? The? Hell? Folks, this is the preseason. If you have to shoot someone, at least wait ‘til your team plays a game that means something.
Actually, my theory is that the people who go to preseason games and take them seriously are recent parolees and unemployable fans who can’t afford the personal seat licenses for regular season tickets. Those tickets find their way to Craigslist for five bucks. Or they get passed to the cousin of an in-law of a guy who sold your neighbor some weed that one time.
A delightful YouTube video taken at a Ravens–Chiefs preseason game in Baltimore has made its way around the Internet. In it, watch a Chiefs fan (which feels a little like a rare bird sighting) appear to give some lip to a Ravens fan. Ravens fan shoves Chiefs fan; Chiefs fan unloads a sledgehammer of a face-punch that drops the Ravens fan; more Ravens fans descend and pummel Chiefs fan. Somebody’s girlfriend screams.
Of course, fan violence is not limited to the NFL. We all know the story of the Dodger fans who nearly killed the Giants fan last spring.
But for every parking lot shooting on the news, for every YouTubed haymaker in the upper deck, there are countless middle fingers, F-bombs, flying beers, ice cubes, filed pennies, and seat-back puke incidents that take place at North American sporting events each year.
I’d hate to stop going to games because of the lout rampage. I’d hate to concede this important territory to the Nutsacks of America. But my patience is diminishing at nearly the same rate that the condition is worsening.
It’s not new, of course. For as long as crowds have gathered to root for one side or the other, sports fans have skirted the bounds of crowd behavior.
Today’s incidents aren’t bad crowd behavior, though. They’re not riots, where crowds get out of control. Instead, they’re incidents of bad individual behavior. And the incidents are so numerous that they look like a crowd.
As Americans become more isolated, it’s easy to forget how to behave in a crowd. Your car, your Facebook page, your iPod, your credit card, your phone, your DVR, your XBox Live—they’re all designed to make you a demographic of one. There’s no one exactly like you, and every experience can be customized to your exact standards.
Crowds of real people are disorienting, overwhelming to the fan with the shaky identity.
Again, the problem’s bigger than just the NFL. But football lends itself more to extreme stupidity than other sports do. There’s a particular hype that makes football fans nuts. If you don’t buy all that crap and drink all those beers and yell at the referees and boo your kicker when he misses a field goal, then you’re not a fan. If you don’t call a talk show and excoriate your team’s defensive coordinator for playing the nickel defense on second down, what kind of fan—and, frankly, what kind of man—are you?
The people who make billions off football fans have constructed a hype that’s unmatched in an American culture that’s built on it. Beer. Gear. Boners. Trucks. Personal technology. If you’re coming up short in any of these categories, you’re incomplete.
Fans who can’t think for themselves follow the hype to its terminal end. It’s not enough to wear something that identifies this guy as a fan. He’s got to paint his face the colors of his favorite team’s uniform. Think about that for a minute. He paints his face. Dude. Come on.
Nor is it enough to have three or four beers and get a little loud. This guy’s got to get so thoroughly stewed that he stumbles around and throws up. Or attacks somebody. Or sits in the row behind you and acts like such a knucklehead that you wish you hadn’t come to the game. You asshole.
And it’s just not OK for anyone to bring their colors into your stadium, your house. Protect this house! Good God, man! I must protect my house from these Kansas City intruders! Over there! That guy! Let’s get him!
Now, that’s not to say it’s OK to show up at an away game and act like it’s a home game. That’s asking for trouble. I always wonder how many wives or girlfriends get phone calls from far-away emergency rooms following their mates’ out-of-town beat-downs.
Hell, how ’bout Gators–Vols?
If you find yourself at one of these games and you notice your blood pressure rising, your fists clenching and your language coarsening, ask yourself this question:
“Do the people playing this game care as much about its outcome as the people in the stands?”
If the answer is no*, sit down, wait for the pretzel guy to get to your section, and watch the game.
*The answer is always no.