Fans Sticking It to the Man: Sports Edition

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2015

Fans Sticking It to the Man: Sports Edition

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    Protests are one way sports fans attempt to stick it to "the man," if you will. There have been many, many fan protests and boycotts over the years. Some have been more successful than others in achieving results, but hey, at least folks have tried.

    Sports fans are a passionate bunch, and when something irks them, they'll often speak up. In 2015 alone, Roma fans have protested security measures at Stadio Olimpico, Charlton fans have rallied against the team owner and New England Patriots fans have rushed to support quarterback Tom Brady through Deflategate.

    In each case, the fans were protesting something related to their team, as opposed to simply using a sporting event as a platform for another cause (like the Monday Night Football rappellers did, for instance). The "men" they attempted to stick it to each time varied from team owners, management, league officials to even umpires. 

    In addition to these three examples, here are 13 more fan protests. Some are new, and some old enough to be built into the fabric of sports history. The specific grievances vary, but the fan passion is consistent throughout. 

    Fair warning to Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego: moving an NFL franchise could result in fan unrest—and even lawsuits. Just ask Art Modell.

London's Olympic Stadium

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    London's Olympic Stadium was the source of much controversy before the 2012 Games it was built for even started. The subject of disagreement involved the use of the stadium after the Olympics.

    For instance, in 2010, football clubs West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur clamored for the rights to eventually make the stadium their home. Their fans weren't too into the idea, though.

    At the time, Tottenham fans planned a demonstration protesting a change. Later, in 2011, a West Ham season ticket holder got thousands of fans to sign a petition against a move.  

    Despite such fan displeasure, West Ham will move into a newly renovated Olympic Stadium in 2016, according to Owen Gibson of the Guardian. Fans are still up in arms, however, and Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham supporters have protested the public cost of rebuilding the stadium.

Coconut Doughnuts

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Sticking it to "the man" with undesirable doughnuts shows a sense of creativity that is worthy of recognition. Enter a disgruntled yet humorous football fan.

    In November, police removed said fan from a Wisconsin Badgers football game for attempting to sit in the wrong seat, according to Nina Mandell of For the Win

    Later, the fan sent 20 dozen coconut doughnuts to the University of Wisconsin-Madison police department. Nice, right? Not so much. Per Mandell, the fan acted in protest, explaining himself with the following tidbit: "Doughnuts are awesome, but coconut doughnuts are not so awesome." Touche.

Leeds United Pie Tax

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    Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino might want to reconsider the whole meal voucher thing. In December, it was announced south stand ticket prices would be raised by £5 to include a coupon for concessions.

    The so-called "pie tax" caused an uproar, and fans planned to walk out of a match against Hull City at the 17-minute mark.

    Per BBC Sport, organizer John Bond said, "We want to make it very clear to Cellino that he is not wanted. The way he runs the club is outrageous and we want our club back."

    Fans did uphold their promise to walk out, although, according to the Press Association (via Mail Online), the group constituted "a small number."

    Slightly more successful was a stunt by Bayern Munich fans. According to the Guardian, several hundred fans boycotted the first five minutes of an October game against Arsenal to express their displeasure with ticket prices.

Blue Jackets Fans vs. Management

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    In April, Newcastle fans planned a boycott over their displeasure with team management. 

    This type of retaliation is not unusual in sports. For instance, Columbus Blue Jackets fans came out—to the tune of 250 people—to protest those in power in 2012.

    One fan, Robert Allen, told Mike Halford of NBC Sports, "The current management team has already tried this several times over the years and the results are the same—losing. Perhaps the ones doing the tweaking are doing it wrong. … I don't think the same people tweaking in the past should be the same ones tweaking in the future." 

Bangladesh Cricket Umpiring

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    A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

    Officials are a popular target for fan discontent in sports. For instance, Detroit Lions fans used billboards to protest an October no-call that might have cost the team a win.

    In a much larger display of frustration, Bangladesh cricket fans marched in the capital city of Dhaka after the team's World Cup exit in March. 

    The gathering was meant as a way for fans to protest what they perceived to be poor umpiring. According to South African newspaper Business Day, fans chanted, "Shame, shame. No to ICC conspiracy." They even burned an effigy of one of the umpires.

Cubs Ticket Scalping

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    The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, some fans chose not to attend. According to, fans suspected some shady dealings involving ticket scalping on the part of ownership, and at least a few fans boycotted.

    Scott Ferkovich of the National Pastime Museum wrote, "Unbeknownst to the public, scalpers were getting first dibs, buying direct from Cubs management, or so the rumors went."

'Make Soap out of the Ref!'

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the U.S. men's hockey team defeated the Russian team in a shootout.

    Fans in Moscow later protested the disallowance of a Russian goal in the third period, a goal that would've likely changed the game's outcome. According to the Associated Press (via, a Kremlin party youth group organized the demonstration, which included signs that read, "Make soap out of the ref!"

    You tell 'em. 

Brandy Reed All-Star Game

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    MATT YORK/Associated Press

    Former Phoenix Mercury player Brandy Reed was the subject of a famous fan protest that actually worked. In 2000, Phoenix hosted the WNBA All-Star Game, but unfortunately, no Mercury players were selected to participate. 

    Fans were not pleased, as Reed had been having a great season (averaging 17.6 points per game at the time, per Earl Gustkey of the Los Angeles Times).

    Fans requested refunds and sent emails, according to Gustkey. Two season ticket holders started a website. Others planned to protest at the game by wearing black shirts. Then-Mercury coach Cheryl Miller backed the fans' sentiments.

    In the end, Reed was placed on the team. Fans: 1, Man: 0. 

Australian Football Boycott

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    According to Mike Ticher of the Guardian, a Sydney newspaper published the names of 198 fans banned from the Football Federation Australia's A-League games in November. Other fans took issue with how the FFA chose to handle the public smearing of those 198 people.

    Fans promised to boycott games because, according to Ticher, "Above all, they feel FFA chief executive David Gallop spent too much time reasserting the body's right to ban fans without the right of appeal (subsequently qualified), and too little defending them against the wilder accusations."

    Following a significant decline in attendance, the FFA agreed to make some changes regarding the procedure for banning fans, per Sebastian Hassett of the Sydney Morning Herald. Fans: 2, Man: 0. 

Giants Flyover

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    G. Paul Burnett/Associated Press

    Flyovers are a good way to stick it to "the man" via public embarrassment. In 2014, for example, one fan expressed a dislike for the New York Jets' general manager by flying a "Fire John Idzik" banner over a team practice.

    It wasn't the first time something like that had happened to a New York football team. In 1978, a group of New York Giants fans assembled to protest the poor performance of their team. They rented a plane and flew a banner over the stadium that read, ''15 Years of Lousy Football....We've Had Enough.''

    Organizer Morris Spielberg told Dave Anderson of the New York Times in 1981

    This was no off-the-wall group. We had doctors, lawyers, executives, all responsible people. And we didn't have any hostility toward the Maras, who owned the Giants; we just didn't agree with their idea of keeping the old Giants in the organization. He wasn't succeeding with those people, he needed people who were more computerized.

NHL Lockout

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    Just as New England Patriots fans gathered outside the NFL offices to protest Deflategate in May, hockey fans assembled near the NHL headquarters in 2012 to make their opinions heard. 

    A lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season. So needless to say, fans weren't happy when another one loomed less than a decade later.

    The lockout officially began on Sept. 15, 2012, and fans protested outside the NHL Store in Manhattan that same day. Later, fans made flier to promote another protest outside the league headquarters itself.  

    The lockout eventually ended in early 2013 after 113 days and 628 cancelled games.

The 'Aints'

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    In 1980, New Orleans Saints fans wore paper bags over their heads to protest the team's years of on-field misery. At that point, the Saints hadn't posted a winning season in franchise history.

    According to Greg Bishop of the New York Times, Saints fan and media member Buddy Diliberto started the trend. He was actually broadcasting a Saints game when he stopped to pull a bag over his head—a bag he had written "Aints" on.  

    The Saints finally won a Super Bowl in 2009, four years after Diliberto died.

    However, his paper bag tradition lives on with the Saints faithful and other disappointed sports fans. In 2014, a group of New York Knicks fans wore paper bags to protest "systemic and consistently recurring lack of responsible decision-making at Madison Square Garden," per Ian Begley of

Art Modell Moves the Browns

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    When owner Art Modell and the Cleveland Browns left Ohio in 1995, fans were not happy, and they made it known.  

    According to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, fans and the city actually filed a lawsuit and tried to block the move. In addition, fans wore orange ribbons and arm bands. They wrote letters and sent electronic correspondence to the league in droves. They planned a caravan to protest a Monday Night Football game in Pittsburgh. Then, of course, there were the "Muck Fodell" shirts.

    Don't mess with sports fans.


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