It's the nature of the best rivalries in sports to bring a more intense, competitive feeling to the game.
Whether it be the New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics, San Francisco Giants vs Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Redskins vs Dallas Cowboys, or Michigan vs Ohio State; our country is filled with intense sporting matches that play out every single year.
Let's face it, these games draw more attention than say a middle of the season Kansas City Royals vs Seattle Mariners game. There is more emotion. There is usually more at stake. Simply put, rivalries are fun, or at least they should be.
The problem is when the fans lose perspective on the fact that at the end of the day it is still just a game. A game that ultimately is only played for entertainment purposes, with no actual impact on society at all. Win or lose, the only impact the event that has just played out in front of us was meant for entertainment only.
Every season, in every sport, a story will inevitably emerge of fan-on-fan violence in the stands or parking lots. Maybe he/she was wearing the rival teams colors, maybe there was some trash talking that got out of hand. Does it really matter though? Is there ever any justification for attacking another person over their loyalty to a team that happens to be different than your own?
This past weekend Major League Baseball kicked off their regular season. There were plenty of stories that should have dominated the headlines. The Texas Rangers swept the Boston Red Sox behind a powerful offensive display of power; Felix Hernandez threw a complete game to earn the win as he defends his AL Cy Young award.
Instead, the story that dominated the press was the senseless beating of a San Francisco Giants fan in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium following the Dodger's opening night defeat of San Francisco.
By now everyone knows the story: Brian Stow, 42, of Santa Cruz county in Northern California, was attacked by a pair of Dodger fans. He fell backwards and hit his head, and while he lay on the ground, his assailants continued to beat him and kick him. They attacked his friends who tried to come to his aide before eventually driving off, yet to be apprehended.
Stow remains in a medically induced coma with brain injuries, having to have a portion of his skull removed to relieve pressure on his brain due to swelling.
As tragic as this story is, it is just one of many stories of violence in sports, and there are many more that never receive any coverage.
Just looking back at prior match-ups between the Giants and Dodgers tells a story of deadly violence. In 2003, a Dodger fan shot and killed a Giants fan in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, and in 2009 a Dodger fan stabbed a Giants fan on the Dodger's opening night.
Last season a Philadelphia Phillies fan dominated the headlines when he intentionally vomited on the daughter of an off-duty cop during a game.
John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times described fan brutality following the 2008 World Series between the Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays:
"Children were cursed at, and one 9-year-old boy had beer poured on him. A Rays family member stayed locked in a bathroom stall because, he said, Phillies fans were banging on the walls and threatening him."
The violence instigated by team loyalty is not isolated to the stadiums and their parking lots either. Last October a stabbing in a Connecticut bar was attributed to a dispute over Yankee and Red Sox loyalty.
And let's not forget the Auburn tree murderer who struck this season after Auburn won the National Championship. Harvey Almorn Updyke, an Alabama fan, didn't technically commit any physical harm to any individual Auburn fan, but does anyone want to argue with me that he took his fandom to an unacceptable level? We know it was criminal: Updyke was charged with first-degree criminal mischief.
What's the solution?
Fox Sport's Jon Morosi believes the fans need to help police themselves. Morosi believes that fans need to instantly report other fans when they become unruly, perhaps preventing incidents from ever happening:
"I doubt the two suspects sat quietly for nine innings, not drinking a drop, before morphing into criminals when they found themselves side-by-side with someone with the nerve to root for the other team. The time to stop this tragedy was long before it started."
I don't disagree with Morosi at all on this point. I have sat through plenty of games at the Oakland Coliseum, home of the A's and Raiders, where I have witnessed security come and talk with fans who seem to be getting out of control. Of course I've also seen fans overreact to some harmless heckling that was not threatening anyone.
The point is to recognize individuals that appear to be intoxicated or displaying violent tendencies and bring their presence to the attention of security who can help control their behavior.
It is a sad commentary on society as a whole that we need to think twice about wearing our favorite team's apparel in a visiting ballpark because of a few thugs that may have ill-intentions.
The idea has been floated around the internet that perhaps it is time to consider seat assignments for visiting fans to ensure their safety.
Turnstylenews.com's Alejandra De La Cruz explains, using European soccer as an example, why seat assignments may be the answer:
"For visiting fans at British soccer stadiums, their security has become priority number one. In a report published at The Sports Journal, British soccer stadiums usually employ a tactic of “fan placement and ticketing strategies to divide opposing fans.” It’s a logical solution; keep opposing fans apart to ensure a friendlier atmosphere, or face severe consequences. At an FC Barcelona game we attended at the Camp Nou in 2004, opposing fans rooting for visiting Zaragoza were seated in a lower-level section, together, corralled by menacing looking security while being taunted by the home team’s contingent. The security force, consisting of around three dozen uniformed guards for around 300 people, kept their eyes locked not on the visitor’s side, but the home contingent. It was a stunning sight. From what we could tell, insults were hurling, but distance kept the peace."
I don't believe the situation calls for this extreme of a reaction, especially since our major sports do not experience the same level of violence that European soccer has a reputation of inciting amongst its supporters.
We definitely seem headed for an era of tighter security at stadiums. Taking another look at Morosi's article for Fox Sports, he suggests that if we fans do not help with some preventative action, we may be headed to a day where this is a reality:
"If we, as fans, stay silent, then we, as fans, will suffer – not physically, necessarily, but our overall experience at the ballpark won’t be the same. Do we want chaperones at the end of every row, like yardstick-wielding hall monitors? Are we heading toward a time when there will be metal detectors at every gate in every stadium?"
Keep it Civil
Following the horrific incidents of last Thursday's opening day game between the Giants and the Dodgers, the two teams, city mayors and police chiefs issued a joint statement that sums it all up perfectly:
"Baseball is a family sport that has unified our country after times of crisis and tragedy. This senseless act of violence has no place in our society and certainly not in our national pastime... This is a great rivalry between teams competing on the field of play. That's where it must stay... We call on our respective citizens to stand together in honor of that rivalry as you have done throughout the years. Root hard for your teams, and do so with civility and common decency."
It bears repeating, "Root hard for your teams, and do so with civility and common decency."
Brandon McClintock covers Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @BMcClintock_BR.