Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - National Park Service/Steve Pittleman
Fan unruliness has reached epidemic proportions at sporting events. Fans curse and scream more than ever. Many families can’t attend games with young children due to fan behavior, even if they can afford the astronomical ticket prices. Children often bond with the same teams as their parents. They certainly love to attend games when their parents go to the stadium. Many parents consider taking their children to professional athletic contests to be irresponsible, given the poisonous atmosphere. What are the causes and what should be done to allow children to enjoy games with their parents?
Social interaction these days is more negative than ever. Road rage fights are not uncommon. We all seem to be more stressed than ever. This nervous tension impacts all our social interactions. Yelling at each other has become more commonplace. If spectators are more stressed than ever before even stepping foot into a stadium, then the tension is multiplied many times over by having fifty thousand or more of us sitting elbow to elbow.
Exacerbating the added stress load of the fans in general, alcohol is added to the mix. I recall attending a Monday night football game once after tailgating for several hours. My friends and I grilled and drank beer for a couple hours before going into the stadium. I drank more beer once we were inside. Walking around the concourse at halftime, I realized that I was among the most sober of the spectators. Most of the people in the crowd were not merely buzzed, they were completely hammered. Excessive consumption of alcohol makes all of us act out. Unfortunately, professional sporting events have thousands of inebriated spectators together at once, each feeding off the other.
The infamous NBA brawl between players and fans began after a fan threw beer at Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace). This melee led to several player suspensions, yet was initiated by outrageous fan behavior. A recent Orlando Sentinel article recounts Stan Van Gundy's description of a fan screaming vulgarities behind the bench during Pat Riley's coaching return at Madison Square Garden, all while the fan is standing next to his young daughter. Fans act out in ways previously unimaginable, as if paying the price of admission allows any kind of behavior towards the opposing players and coaches. Alcohol feeds the beast of fan anger.
Another ingredient in the negative fan behavior recipe is sports betting. Many NFL fans also Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Derek Jensenbet on the games. If you’ve put significant coin on the game you’re attending and your team isn’t doing well or isn’t covering the spread, you’re likely not going to sit quietly and let it happen. You’re going to yell and scream and what you say may not be pretty.
Some sporting rivalries have become more intense as fans of each team mistreat each other. Fans of the visiting team can get verbally eviscerated by the home crowd. The fans of the other team have become true enemies instead of rivals. A San Francisco Giants fan was beaten so badly he lapsed into a coma after an assault outside of Dodger Stadium in 2011. It’s almost surprising that this was a baseball crowd, as football fans seem to be the most wound up. Thankfully, physical assaults are not keeping pace with verbal abuse, but opposing fans can’t feel entirely safe in many professional sports stadiums. We have more hooligans than ever.
Response of Teams and Leagues
A sports ticket is a license to attend an event. The team, in conjunction with the league, can set the terms under which the seat usage or the license is exercised. For instance, we are all familiar with searches of belongings before entering sports venues. While sometimes annoying and time consuming, most all of us understand the need for these types of security measures. We submit to them because we know it’s a requirement in order to attend the game.
Codes of Conduct
Each of the NBA, NFL and MLB governing bodies have adopted fan codes of conduct. The NBA code prohibits offensive language, unruly behavior, throwing things onto the basketball court and fan entry onto the court. Fans can be ejected for breaking the rules set forth in the code of conduct. Similarly, the NFL doesn’t allow illegal behavior and fans are not permitted to throw anything onto the field of play. The MLB code of conduct is very similar. Baseball clubs Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Library of Congressare also permitted to have additional, more restrictive, rules of conduct in place.
While the codes of conduct themselves may be helpful, actual enforcement is another story. After all, the fans attending the games are customers of the teams and it’s not necessarily good for business to eject paying customers. Pro sports teams have more security personnel available for games than ever, but security appears to become involved only in the most egregious of circumstances. The framework for ejecting fans is somewhat in place; however, the stomach to follow through remains somewhat lacking. Teams certainly are not going to prohibit alcohol at events, which is a major contributing factor.
As a middle ground to allow most fans to continue business as usual and to also encourage family attendance, many teams offer family seating sections. These family friendly sections don't allow alcohol. Whether a team offers this type of section depends in large part on whether or not they already achieve sell outs on a regular basis. If fans are still filling up the stadium, then the teams are less likely to offer any type of family alcohol free zone.
Having family sections widely available seems to be the best compromise to me. If most fans accept the current atmosphere, then allowing them to continue spewing obscenities isn't quite so bad if family friendly alcohol free zones are readily available. We should be able to enjoy games with our kids without fear of what they might see and hear. The sports leagues should also recognize that creating family zones is an investment in creating loyal fans from the younger generation who will continue to attend games in the years ahead.
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