Fan. Short for fanatic. When you think about it, the level of dedication and love that people hold for their favorite sports franchises borders on insanity.
Sometimes, the rivalries bring actual hate between the fans of different teams. Cowboys vs. Redskins. Lakers vs. Celtics. Just wearing the jersey of a visiting team in the home arena of another can get drinks poured on you or can lead to fighting, stabbing — sometimes even death.
This fanatical behavior is causing one California assemblyman to take action. Over the past year, violence has erupted in both Los Angeles and San Francisco because fans were wearing the wrong jerseys. Baseball fan Bryan Stow was severely beaten, leaving him with brain damage, because he wore a San Francisco Giants jersey on opening day to Dodger Stadium back in March. Two men have been arrested for the beating, but in reality, it should have never gotten that far.
This past weekend, the violence shifted to football fans, as two people were shot in the parking lot and another beaten unconscious in the Candlestick Park bathroom during a preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco Giants.
The violence was so bad that the two NFL franchises have decided to discontinue their preseason games in the future to avoid another bloody outcome. NFL Chief of Security Jeff Miller, who created Commissioner Roger Goodell’s fan code of conduct, does a weekly audit of the fan conduct of all 32 teams and assigns a grade. The 49ers’ grades have indicated that more attention is necessary.
Basketball fans are not immune either, as we all remember the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons that spilled into the stands, with players (namely Ron Artest, now known as Meta World Peace) fighting with the fans. As the players exited the court, fans threw drinks, cups and anything else they could get their hands on. The ugly scene resulted in numerous suspensions and criminal charges.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has seen enough. He hopes to introduce legislation to deter violence at sporting events. “There are many things worth fighting for,” Gatto said in a statement. “The fact that someone wore a rival sports franchise’s jersey to a game isn’t one of them.”
How do you deter violence at sporting events? A lot of times, alcohol is the main cause of the boisterous behavior. Some arenas have banned the sale of alcohol after the third quarter, but fans knowing this may load up and try to get as drunk as possible. When the game ends and fans spill into the parking lot, you have a deadly combination with supporters of the winning and losing teams leaving through the same exits.
It’ll be interesting to see the legislation Assemblyman Gatto introduces. It may include making it a felony for any behavior meant to intimidate another fans. Increased security may also help in deterring fanatical behavior, especially during so-called “rivalry” games.
No matter what is done, no one should be afraid to attend a sporting event solely because of the team they cheer for. Sports are meant to be family-friendly, not life-threatening.
Can something be done to bring the joy back to the game? Legislation may not be the solution, but Gatto wants to give it a try.