This N’ That With Tony Mack: Fan Violence: America’s Newest National Pastime?

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 21, 2004

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Way back in 1974 while hosting his sports magazine show “Sportsbeat” for ABC, Howard Cosell did a investigative piece on the prevaling rise in fan violence.

“Fan violence is slowly becoming a growing problem in our society”, Cosell said. “And if not rectified soon, could become a national disaster in waiting.” After watching the scary scenes following the Pacers-Pistons brawl Friday night, it appears that Howard was “telling it like it is” way before his time.
The melee at Auburn Hills is just one of way too many ugly incidents that have become commonplace in American sports over the last few years. We used to make fun of the “soccer hooligans” overseas when we’d see these incidents broadcast over the news.
But after seeing what happened in the Oakland A’s bullpen earlier this year, two separate incidents in Comiskey Park when fans rushed the field (including an attack on ex-Royals’ coach Tom Gamboa), and the “celebrations” by fans after teams win a championship, I cant tell if I’m watching a sporting event or a Jerry Springer show.
Some have tried to make it a race issue by saying this adds to the growing discontent that some white fans may have with the NBA. If these incidents were strictly isolated to the NBA, maybe they’d have a point.
But we’ve seen this kind of stuff creep into all college and professional sports. Witness the brawl by football players after the Clemson-South Carolina game less that 12 hours following the Palace brawl.
And please, let me state that in no way am I trying to condone the actions of the Indiana players on Friday night. Ron Artest (oh, no….not him again!!), Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, and all the other participants need to be harshly punished for their actions.
However, there is a growing contigent of sports fans in society who feel the need to make themselves the show. Become part of the action so to speak. “These guys make x amount of dollars, so they should be able to take the heat and not cross that line with the fans”, was a common theme on sports talk radio this past weekend following the incident.
But what happens when the fan crosses the line and common sense is gone and liquid courage takes over? That person is not only a threat to the athletes, but to his or her fellow fans as well.
For the most part, folks come to the game to see the players and hangout with fellow sports fans like themselves. It’s only a small majority that come to games looking to “break somebody’s stones”.
Now lest you think I’m being too Pollyanna about this, I’m smart enough to know that any good natured heckling is always going to be a part of college and pro sports. But what happened at Auburn Hills, Oakland, Chicago, and all the previous cities is dangerous no matter what side you sit on.
We’re not trying to tell you to stay away from sporting events, but sadly there are and will be folks that will prey on society’s fears and paranoia. It’s just unfortunate that the folks we have to fear, may be sitting right next to us.