On the field, NFL football can be and often times is a very violent spectacle. But for the fans in the stands, it's all just good fun.
Except for the times when it's not.
As many of you are no doubt already well aware by now, Saturday's preseason tilt between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park was one of those times. Shortly after the 49ers wrapped up a 17-3 victory, two men were shot and wounded in the stadium parking lot, an ultra-serious case of fan violence that has sparked a similarly serious debate about what can be done to ensure that such a thing never happens again.
Well, according to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, the league has an idea:
In a response to the violence at Saturday’s exhibition game at Candlestick Park, a high-ranking NFL source said it is certain that the 49ers and Raiders will end their annual exhibition game against each other.
The source said that both the NFL and local police strongly support such an end to the preseason cross-bay rivalry.
That's right. Instead of risking any more unfortunate cases of fan violence, the Battle of the Bay is going to end with a whimper, which, when you think about it, is all too appropriate given the circumstances.
If you wanted to argue the point, you could also say that ending the Battle of the Bay is also all too appropriate. Sure, it's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction at this point, but this is a perfect scenario of a time in which the best idea is to err on the side of caution. Instead of taking it for granted that these shootings represent an isolated incident, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Besides, for this particular game, these shootings were not an isolated incident. Per the Associated Press, there was a situation during the game in which a 26-year-old man was violently attacked in one of Candlestick's bathrooms. He was knocked unconscious and had to be hospitalized. A little while later, the shootings occurred.
Given the extent of the violence, there's clearly a kind of overarching problem here, right? For these fans, it's clearly not just a game, so the only way to solve the problem is to take the game away.
Maybe so. But personally, I think that taking the game away is a little too extreme.
Listen, as much as some of us may want to deny that we're not talking about cases of fan-on-fan violence, it would appear that that's exactly what went on at Candlestick over the weekend. There's really no other explanation for the bathroom beating, and one thing that has gotten a lot of press is the fact that one of the shooting victims was wearing a shirt that said "F--- the Niners" on it. We don't know the whole story, but the usual symptoms of fan-on-fan violence are there.
However, the one thing we have to keep in mind is that we are talking about (likely) a single shooter and at most, a small handful of attackers in the bathroom incident. This is out of thousands of people. While there may be an elevated amount of tension between the two fanbases, it's not very fair to either side to take the actions of a few to be indicative of just how bad things really are.
Indeed, we are not talking about a war brewing between Raiders and Niners fans. What we are talking about is a fierce rivalry that unfortunately, has been painted to be much fiercer thanks to the actions of a couple of severely misguided individuals.
Punish them. Don't punish the rest of the fans by taking the game away.
Yes, changes need to be made, and a message definitely needs to be sent. As far as changes go, increased security is a must, and it would also be worth it in this case to crack down on a) alcohol sales and b) drunks. Easier said than done, obviously, but that doesn't mean all efforts will be wasted efforts.
As far as sending a message goes, discontinuing the game is a pretty loud message that such violence will not be tolerated. But at the same time, I think there is something we can learn from the Bryan Stow incident. After Stow, a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, was severely beaten outside Dodger Stadium on Opening Day earlier this year, nobody called for an immediate end to the Giants/Dodgers rivalry. Instead, measures were taken, investigations were launched and fans of both teams rallied around Stow's cause.
Why can't the same thing happen here? Instead of punishing both Raiders and Niners fans for their violence, maybe the best idea is to let this entire situation serve as its own wake-up call.
Sure, the obvious counterpoint here is that the game doesn't mean anything in the first place. And to be honest, I can't argue that. The game is meaningless.
But that doesn't mean it won't be missed. Because the Raiders and Niners don't meet in the regular season every year, the Battle of the Bay means more than your garden-variety preseason game. It may seem silly, but bragging rights for the coming season are on the line.
So when the NFL takes the game away, it will be dealing a huge blow to what is a very good rivalry. The message is "this rivalry is bad," but it could also be taken as "all rivalries are bad."
That's not a message the NFL wants to send. On the contrary, rivalries are a good thing, and the NFL wouldn't be nearly as much fun without them. Safer maybe, but not as much fun.
Given what we know about the "No Fun League," that's a risk the NFL is willing to take. Then it will wash its hands of the matter, and walk away.
When all of this becomes official, the NFL will think that it has rid itself of something dangerous. But for many, the NFL will have just rid itself of something special.
For an alternate take on what should be done with the Battle of the Bay, Bleacher Report's Ryan Rudnansky argues that the NFL made the right call in putting an end to the preseason rivalry.