The Ongoing Problem of Stadium Violence

By Jeremy Sickel and Geoff Ratliff

Stadium violence has been an issue in sports for years, and in light of the recent incidents that occurred earlier this year at Candlestick Park, site of the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders preseason match up, and the beating of  a fan at Dodgers Stadium that led to the hospitalization and slow recovery of San Francisco Giants fan Brian Stow, the NFL and MLB are scrambling to come up with answers and ways to ensure this type of thing does not happen again.

The 49ers announced they will discontinue the pre-season series with the Raiders until further notice and many stadiums have taken steps to beef up security in an attempt to prevent such occurrences from happening at their venues. But with tens of thousands of fans in the stands, and with beer being consumed in copious amounts, will that be enough?

Other fans cannot be asked to self-police these situations, as that will most likely just escalate the violence even further, making the incident even more difficult to control. The violators are usually caught and prosecuted to the full extent that the law allows, and a majority of these incidents are not nearly as brutal as the aforementioned examples. This results in the acts being easily forgotten or considered an isolated case of an ignorant few, but we should not treat these cases so lightly.

Most of these instances occur without any logical build up, other than a lack of self-control or pure ignorance on the part of a belligerent drunk or two. They typically start out as trash talking and quickly escalate into a huge ordeal with some level of physical interaction involved. Both the San Francisco and Los Aneles cases involved fans of teams that are natural and long-time rivals, but the world of sports is built around the rivalry concept, so it can’t realistically be expected that fans of opposing teams can no longer travel and follow their favorite team while wearing the team’s apparel without the serious threat of violence occurring can it? Take rivalries out of sports and the the interest level becomes severely diminished.

All of this was definitely on Geoff’s mind as he embarked on enemy territory last night to cheer on his hometown St. Louis Cardinals as they faced the Philadelphia Phillies during game 2 of the National League Division Series. When it comes to sports and fan’s behavior, the “City of Brotherly Love” has traditionally been anything but – this is the same city that booed Santa Claus by the way – so his concerns about how a rival fan might be treated, especially in an intense playoff atmosphere, were very real. The Philly fans were great by the way, but most of that was likely due to the fact that there isn’t a long natural history between these two teams to constitute a true rivalry.

What was interesting is that when Geoff mentioned to a Phillies fan that he was  using this as a test run to see how attending a Cowboys vs. Eagles game – as a Cowboys fan – might feel, the guy admitted that it might not be such a great idea. While this was said in jest, the fact that he was only partially joking is problematic, and frankly something that no fan should have to think about when cheering on their favorite team in a rival’s stadium.

There are small steps that can and should be taken by the leagues and individual organizations to reduce the frequency of aggressive behavior, but frankly the brunt of the responsibility falls on us as fans. We need to stop viewing fans of rival teams as representatives of a hated team logo and start treating each other like human beings. That guy that you’re cursing at or throwing beer on is someone’s father, brother, husband, or son, maybe all of the above. Besides the fact that it’s a terrible way to treat each other, it sets a poor example for the children in attendance, especially when good sportsmanship is one of the primary lessons that we attempt to instill in them when they are first introduced to sports.

At the end of the day, it’s still just a game, and since most of us have no personal stake in the outcome (we’ll address the issue of sports gambling in a later column), let’s all just relax, remember that sports are meant to entertain us, and let everyone that paid their hard-earned money enjoy the experience.

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