Evanson: The sky is not falling, fans have always been unruly
Fans are not out of control — they're still the same emotional, exuberant, borderline-childish group of spectators that have been watching and attending games for as long as games have been played.
This past week, morons again took center stage while acting a fool at a few NBA arenas across the country.
Atlanta's Trae Young was seen being spat on by a fan in New York. Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook had popcorn dumped on him from above the tunnel while leaving the floor in Philadelphia, Memphis' Ja Morant's family was berated by fans in the stands in Utah, and the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Erving was nearly hit by a plastic water bottle hurled his direction by a Boston Celtics fan following the two teams' Game 4 playoff contest at the TD Garden arena May 30.
But while stupid, irresponsible, immature and frankly reckless, like it or not, it isn't the apocalyptic undoing of the fan experience it's being made out to be.
I realize that's now the world in which we live. Everything is the "best," "worst," "most irresponsible," "most offensive," and any other hyperbolic word or phraseology that all-too-often drips from the tongues of people who are paid far more than me to either play or talk sports for a living. But just because it's happening now doesn't mean it hasn't happened before.
Of course, it doesn't make it right, either. Chucking objects of any kind and certainly, crossing the line between heckling and verbally assaulting someone, have no place in our stadiums or arenas. Like everywhere, there's a certain level of civility that's expected of a person when they attend a basketball, baseball, football or any other contest, be it at the professional, collegiate or Little League level. That's not new. But par for the course are these "loose cannons" that always will — like it or not — get loose when emotion (and likely alcohol) is involved.
Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa was attacked by a White Sox fan and his teenage son during a game in 2002.
In 2009, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino had a beer thrown at him by a Cubs fan while chasing down a flyball to deep left-center field.
In 1976, Boston Celtics fans spilled onto the court during an NBA Finals game against the Phoenix Suns when they thought the game was over, only to be told they had to clear the court for two remaining seconds, leading to a fan assaulting a referee on the court.
In 1975, an NFL referee had his head split open by a whiskey bottle thrown from the stands following a last-second Dallas Cowboys win over the Minnesota Vikings.
In 1989, Cleveland Browns fans pelted Denver quarterback John Elway with milk-bones and batteries, forcing officials to move the action to the other end of the field.
Then there's the "Malice at the Palace" incident in 2004, the "Fan Man" fiasco in 1993, and of course, also in 1993, the Hamburg, Germany, debacle in which a tennis fan stabbed world No. 1 player Monica Seles in the back with a knife on the court during a match.
And speaking internationally, soccer matches have led to tragedies resulting in hundreds of deaths throughout the years, stemming from unruly fan behavior before, during and after the action on the pitch.
We may not like it, but it isn't new and it's likely not going anywhere.
Sports, for all of its virtues, often brings out the worst in those already prone to a less-than-proud moment or two. You're dealing with the emotion surrounding parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, in addition to history that fans of the games and teams they root for bring to the table. That by no means excuses unruly behavior like we saw last week, but it does explain it beyond the "increasingly barbaric" explanation many are leaning on as means to fan the fire.
If you're at a game, don't throw things. If you want to yell and scream at a player, coach or referee, do so with a level of respect for the person opposed to the "player." And if you aim to physically harm someone because of what they do or say on the field of play, get help. None of that has changed in my lifetime and the rules surrounding unacceptable conduct have only tightened in recent years.
So, what's changed?
Nothing. There will always be people who play by the rules and there will always be those who don't, and they should suffer consequences. But judging the whole by just a few of its immediate parts is nonsense — and I've got history to back me on that one.
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