Thursday, January 19, 2006

Where's the Fan Accountability?

Alex Ovechkin's amazing goal against the Coyotes on January 16.  (Photo: AP)It's been a real busy week in the news, but as my last week of winterterm classes winds up, I haven't had much time to comment on a number of stories. Among the week's best: Nicholas Kristof on China or India? The Next Superpower, more NFL playoff action, the return of 24, the return of Osama, a showdown with Iran, Laura vs. Hillary, and phenom Alex Ovechkin's "best goal ever" (see video). An issue I do want to quickly address, however, stems from the 5-game suspension handed down to the Knicks' Antonio Davis for charging into the stands to defend his wife from a heckler last night.

Everyone has made the inevitable comparison to what happened in Detroit last year, when Ron Artest's response to fan behavior involved brawling in the bleachers. But while many have been quick to crucify Davis for acting irresponsibly--he did, and the penalty fits, but who wouldn't do the same in defense of his wife?--the disturbing trend of increased fan misbehavior goes largely unnoticed.

The Knicks' Antonio Davis.  Photo: ESPNI've been attending sporting events for over a decade now, and I may be naive in saying this, but I think sportsmanship has gone down a lot from what I remembered. Support of one's team is great, of course, but there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Razzing a fellow wearing the wrong colors is one thing, verbally and even physically assaulting him is something entirely different, and neither infraction is defensible.

Every weekend it seems there's another story about unruly fans. That was certainly weighing on my mind when I was up in Philly a few weeks ago to cheer on the Redskins on the road. While I emerged unscathed, Clinton Portis' mom had to punch out a drunk heckler who poured beer on their group. Targeting family and friends of opposing players? No class.

Let's face the facts. If you are a fan cheering for the visiting team at a contest, you know you're in for a rough ride. These are no longer family-friendly events, if, as we're led to believe, they once were. Because it's clear that increased belligerence and unsportsmanlike behavior is not just tolerated, but perhaps even encouraged under the guise of "team loyalty", home teams need to a better job with providing more security.

Furthermore, let's see real punishments for serious offenders--starting with prosecution. People make a big fuss when they see their "spoiled, multi-millionaire athletes" rumbling in the stands. Those guys are held accountable. Fans should be accountable for their behavior, because it's not their birthright to go and act as obnoxious as they want. I want to go see a baseball/ football/ basketball/ hockey game, not a soccer riot.

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