Originally created 05/19/00

U.S. fans are out of control



News Flash: Unruly soccer fans of rival European teams engage in a pre-game riot that results in 26 arrests, five serious injuries, ankles broken, abdomens stabbed, bottles thrown, tear gas fired and one ear partially severed.

Our reaction seems mundane. This is not news, and it's certainly not a flash. Those hooligans don't understand the first rules of civility, we think. They don't know how to sustain a sporting interest without the need to attack a dissenter.

Cross the pond for the latest news flash: A drunken lout steals an opponent's hat, which sets off a punch-throwing, beer-spraying melee between fans and players. This continues a disturbing downward trend toward the elimination of stadium decorum.

Unfortunately, the news comes not from a square in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nor can it be claimed on Glasgow's or Paris' streets.

The latest brouhaha occurred in Chicago's Wrigley Field, America's baseball mecca. A fan punched Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Chad Krueter in the head, then stole his hat. Several Dodgers, including bullpen coach Rick Dempsey and outfielder Gary Sheffield, retaliated by going into the stands in what turned into an ugly blight to lead off SportsCenter.

These scenarios are no longer isolated blips on a radar screen. The unruliness of American fans seems to be at an all-time high, the bad apples ruining the party for all of us.

In Milwaukee, a fan sprinted out of the stands and tackled Houston's Bill Spiers in right field. In New York, fans threw beer, batteries and other assorted goodies at the Braves during the National League Championship Series. John Rocker claimed he was hit in the head with a bottle. Braves wives were spat on.

And it's not all involving baseball. Hockey fans in Philadelphia hit Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff in the face with a cup. At the Ryder Cup in Boston, obnoxious fans called Colin Montgomerie every derogatory name possible. At the PGA in Chicago, even growing icon Tiger Woods heard from the unruly, then blamed them on being overserved. In Phoenix, high-profile golfers like David Duval are threatening to boycott the tournament unless organizers do more to control out-of-control fans.

How did it get to this point? Certainly, fans are bolder. There's a growing feeling that when you buy a $5 ticket to a GreenJackets game, or pay $25 to watch the Braves, you think you're entitled to act and speak without repercussions.

The financial gulf between players and fans grows with each season, and that leads to more resentment, more jealousy and higher expectations from fans.

The anonymity of being in a group might make the reserved fan feel able to act more wild. College basketball fans at South Carolina call an assistant coach at Kentucky an alcoholic; Duke fans chant about a player's criminal record; Colorado-Colorado State fans swarm to storm Mile High Stadium; Cubs fans within the fight's vicinity start chucking cups of beer knowing that not everyone will be singled out.

Then there's alcohol, which seems to be a root problem in many facets of life. Teams need beer sales to help increase revenue, and nights like the GreenJackets' Thirsty Thursday promotions are staples around the country.

But too much alcohol, as it seems to be the problem, turns the intrepid fan into loose cannon, capable of firing at any moment.

Sadly, we're moving closer toward Europe's hooliganism rather than distancing ourselves from it. So what needs to be done? More security, sure, but let's hope we don't sink to a level where we need the presence of riot guards with face shields and automatic weapons patrolling the aisles.

Teaching respect to both spectator and athlete, absolutely. There needs to be less tolerance for some of this tomfoolery.

A cap on alcohol sales, definitely. Stadiums and arenas are not night clubs, they're not fraternity houses. It's time to stop acting like they are.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.