Monday, May 8, 2017

On Deck Circle 5/8/17: Sports and Fan Behavior

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

By now, everyone has heard of what happened at Fenway Park a few days ago. During a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said that he had racial slurs and peanuts thrown at him during the game by fans. This has become a hot topic ever since, between fans going too far and the problems the city of Boston still has with racism and many other conversations that all stem from what happened.
This is not just an isolated incident either, Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia said that it’s commonly known by black players to expect racial slurs whenever they play at Fenway park. And it’s not an isolated incident in the broad spectrum of sports either, this doesn’t happen just in Boston and just in baseball, it’s a fan problem across all sports with some places being worse than others.

What I found so interesting, or confusing really, is whenever there is an incident of fans going too far, there’s a good amount of fans that come to their defense. They have certain cliché responses to deflect the severity of the situation, making it seem almost ok that this occurred. Take this instance in Boston for example, there were way too many people pointing the finger elsewhere or saying “I don’t condone what happened, but…” followed by some excuse as to why this might’ve happened. It’s become somewhat of a defense mechanism, deflect the problem at hand and talk about the surroundings of it instead, place blame elsewhere even.

Fans sometimes cross the line, and when that happens, full blame should go to the responsible party with no add-on’s to diminish what occurred. It gets to a point where people seem more upset that fans are being called out than they are upset about what the fans said or did, which is completely backwards. There is no “but” or “well” when dealing with racism, throwing things at players, hurling deep personal insults at them or even running onto the field/court, once it gets to that point it’s not about anything other than what the fans did.

But again, there’s always those excuses. So let’s go ahead and talk about those here and discuss why these excuses really have no validity. From blaming the players to blaming alcohol to bringing up our constitution, we’ll run down the major excuses and debunk them all.

1. “They bought a ticket to the game” – This is the oldest one in the book, fans thinking that purchasing a ticket gives them free reign to do whatever they want. Buying a ticket guarantees one thing and one thing only, that the seat they are assigned to will be available to them. That’s it, there’s no fine print that says “drink as much as you want, swear as much as you want, throw things, yell profanities, and get in fights”, none of that is offered with a ticket. I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t cheer or boo or have any sort of fun, but when it crosses the line, that ticket isn’t a free card to use in order to excuse all behavior. At the beginning of the game, there is always an announcement and sign up on the jumbotron about what is deemed as inexcusable behavior and that can result in being escorted off the premises. Follow those rules and there will be no issues, do not follow them and there’s a problem that “but I bought a ticket” won’t save anyone from.

2. “Look at what the players did” – Classic example of “victim blaming” going on here whenever the players become an at fault party. Players, in the eyes of some fans, should be held to a higher standard. They are the ones that need to have the cooler heads, they are the ones that shouldn’t provoke it, they are the ones that should turn the other cheek, and the ever popular “without us, they wouldn’t be making millions of dollars to play a game” line that fans feel they deserve ultimate respect over. Some fans think of players in the gladiator mindset, where their sole purpose is merely to entertain us. But these players are human with real emotions, and sometimes when fans go too far, they let those emotions take over and we always need to remember that their actions are the effect and not the cause.
Throw a beer and Ron Artest might come into the stands to choke the guy out, call Marcus Smart the N word and he might shove the fan for it, and many other examples of players that reacted to a fan or group of fans that crossed a boundary. Blaming the players for their involvement in these occurrences is like questioning a sexual assault victim on what they could have done differently to prevent it. "If Adam Jones wasn't showboating..." is not an acceptable reason for shouting racial slurs at him, because there is no acceptable reason for that. So let's stop trying to place blame on the victim here and focus on what the fans did instead.

3. "We have the 1st amendment though, so they are allowed to say it" - Bringing up the constitution is a very cliche statement whenever there's an issue with verbal abuse, so I will use a cliche here as well and say "freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences." The 1st amendment grants us a right to speak freely without it being a crime, words (non-threatening) are not a punishable offense and no one will be handcuffed and tossed in the slammer for simply talking. So while the 1st amendment protects people from oppression, it doesn't protect anyone from the potential punishment elsewhere. People have lost their jobs over saying the wrong thing, people have been banned from places for saying the wrong thing, people have lost relationships over the saying the wrong thing, so there's plenty of things that could still happen despite having the freedom of speech. So fans deserve the blame and the judgment from others for saying the wrong thing regardless if they are allowed to say it, because being allowed to say it doesn't mean it should be said.

4. "All fanbases have these fans" - While true, this statement makes it seem like there's no real problem since it happens everywhere, minimizing the severity of the situation. Just because it happens elsewhere doesn't mean it's something to just blow off or think it's acceptable, this is a problem and all places need to cut that behavior out. So if focus is on fanbase for a certain incident, it's not an excuse to say "well, other places do the same!", instead it's about accepting that what happened was a problem and it's about being better than the other places and not stooping down there. Fan behavior across the board needs to be better, but when a certain incident gains national attention then it needs to be the main focus without getting defensive or brushing it off as "just thing that fans do." The defensive part is what really gets me, where fans seem to get more upset that these issues are being brought up and discussed rather than being upset that it took place to begin with. Just remember that whenever these incidents are brought up that it's a good thing and continuing dialogue to help put an end to these ugly incidents are what should be everyone's main goal.

5. "It's because they were drinking" - The age old "just blame it on the alcohol" excuse here. Alcohol definitely has a tendency to bring out characteristics in people that are very unlike their normal personality, and sometimes these fans behave in such a way due to the amount of alcohol that they've consumed. So while "this person would never shout those things at a player" and "they would never get so upset that they'd throw things" may be true and it was the alcohol, let's remember that it's a choice to drink. The majority of fans seem to have no problem with either not drinking or knowing their limits and only having a few while watching the game, there should be no passes given to those that go overboard and end up doing something ridiculously dumb. Fans that choose to indulge a little too much put themselves in that position, and they have to take blame and face whatever they have coming for the choice to drink excessively. No sympathy or validity should be given to fans that act horribly at games just because they decided to have too much to drink, that cop out shouldn't fly in these situations.

6. "I've been to tons of games, never heard or saw these actions" - This is basically saying "Since I didn't see it then it didn't happen", like the players were lying about the things that have been said to them. Put it this way, a person is in a section in a very loud stadium, there's no possible way that anyone can hear the entire stadium and what everyone else is shouting. Just because it's not heard by everyone or someone didn't hear it, doesn't mean that it didn't happen. Again, we're back to fans being defensive over the incidents and using "well I didn't hear it" is just a way to deflect from the situation at hand. When situations like the one in Boston occurs, it's best to either side with the players in this case or at least let it play out, immediately going to "well I've never heard anything like that" is just discrediting what happened.

These are the few main excuses that some people will give whenever fans go overboard and they look for reasons to excuse the fans' behavior. As you can see though, each of those excuses really doesn't have much validity overall and it's mainly a way to just get away from the actual problem. In future, let's go to what needs to be done to really stop these incidents with fans first and make necessary changes instead of immediately going to the fans' defense and maybe we will have less and less of these incidents going forward.

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