Fans Gone Wild: The Dilemma of Fans Getting Out of Hand

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer ISeptember 24, 2008

It happens in every sport.

From little leagues to high school to professional sports. You've probably watched it on TV and then repeatedly on SportsCenter or witnessed it in person. I have on many occasions.

It's when sports fans find a way to inject themselves into the game and the result is never pretty. Charges are filed, suspensions handed out, and tickets even revoked, all because someone couldn't handle their emotions.

Then there's the battle scars: a broken nose from a flying chair at the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's game. The lingering pain from the brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

Before the game there's tailgating, booze, and trash-talking. That's not saying booze is always a factor or that alcohol drinkers are the main offenders, but it definitely plays a role. By the time the event actually begins, any given fan is a walking volcano ready to erupt.

It might be streakers looking for their 15 minutes of fame or something bigger and badder: someone throwing objects or throwing fists.

For as long as sports have been played, there have been highly publicized incidents of the fan who used his burst of energy to express his hatred with a player or team.

How many of you have sat in a seat at any sporting event and heard another fan scream any amount of obscenities at someone they don't even know and someone who can't hear them? All because that person did something to affect their hero and team.

Have you ever been in the stands and been hit by an object that was thrown by another fan?

What have sporting events come to that it now seems like any given weekend is another episode of "Fans Gone Wild," rather than a game where friends and parents and children can bond.

And I don't mean bonding like a father and son bonded on Sept. 29, 2002 when the two jumped over the railing and attacked Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. They were both charged with assault.

Then a year later, when Steve Bartman interfered during a Cubs NLCS game, fellow Cubs fans poured beer on him and then chanted "Kill him."

Baseball has had its share of problems.

In 2005, as Gary Sheffield attempted to catch a ball in right field, a fan struck him on the head. After the play was completed, Sheffield went back for a confrontation and later two fans would be charged with misdemeanors. And we aren't even going to mention all the incidents of fan interference.

It's not just baseball. Even soccer has its problems. Yes, soccer.

In 2005 20 flares were thrown on the field during a game between AC Milan and Internazionale. One flair hit the Milan goalkeeper in the shoulder. The result was a halted game and firefighters being called.

And it seems everyone knows of the reputation the Jet's fans have in the NFL, making the 11 o'clock news for half-time antics.

There were snowball incidents in 1995 and again in 1999. The first attack occurred at Giants' Stadium two days before Christmas when players on the sidelines were pelted with snowballs. More than 75 season tickets were revoked and two hundred fans ejected.

But no one learned, as five years later Raiders players were pelted with snowballs that had been stuffed with batteries. Even in protective gear, that's a deadly combination.

The simple days of holding loving signs, children painting their faces, and cheering until they couldn't talk are over.

Don't get me wrong, they're not completely gone. But, it's not that simple anymore. Currently, there's millions of dollars being spent on merchandise of any kind and tickets are not getting any cheaper. Do fans go to events expecting something more and feel justifiable when interfering?

Many ask and wonder why and how fans and upstanding citizens can sink so low and act so violently?

There doesn't seem to be a universal answer or explanation for good fans going bad. Although I will say, do not tell sports fans that it's just a game. We fans are very serious and passionate about the things and people we've come to love.

That is exactly why NASCAR faithful are the perfect example of fans gone bad. When something happens in the NASCAR world, we race fans, myself included, want our voices and signs heard.

In 2001 after the death of NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt, death threats were sent to driver Sterling Marlin and his family. Some fans felt Marlin was responsible for Earnhardt's death.

When it became known that Jeff Gordon won and beat Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Talladega in 2004, he was pelted with all throw-able objects. This year, the torch was passed to Kyle Busch.

And it needs to be said that the offenders are not always all of Jr. Nation. The first people who always seem to get the blame are "the Jr. fans," which seems unfair when objects are thrown on the track when the race ends under caution.

Either way it's classless and dangerous.

As fans and parents, we look at athletes as role models for ourselves and children. Yet, we're the ones with obnoxious/rude signs and hand gestures.

Look at the opportunities that sports fans have. We're privileged enough to be able up close and personal to our favorite teams and players. Sometimes, we're only separated by a rope or fence.

Morris Reid, a director of a Washington D.C. public policy think tank, says "There's a point where (restraint) should be required, absolutely. That comes when they are in there as a participant and not a spectator."

"We're seeing a trend where it continues, we're not going to be able to enjoy sports as we have done in the past. It could get to where things have to be done to protect the player, with cages and moats and barbed wire and the like."

Tom Gamboa had this to say: "Where are we headed? Just because you buy a ticket does not give you carte blanche to do whatever you want."

If sporting events turned into watching the game being played behind Plexiglas, we would no longer be able to get close to our idols or autographs, and would be screaming "it's not fan friendly."

To keep that from happening, let's all practice and teach self-control. Leave the anger and nastiness to the athletes to make for a better game.