The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines fan as: 1) an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator; 2): an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit).
As with anything, definitions can often be broadened. The boundaries of this definition just seemingly shouldn’t stretch to home fans cheering when their quarterback crumbles to the ground with a concussion. Or throwing bottles and garbage on a baseball field, endangering other fans and players, in protest of an umpire’s call. Or egging and toilet-papering a home known to be rented by five college players out of disgust, merely because the team lost a football game. Or effectively challenging one student-athlete to a fight on Twitter.
Yes. One “fan” actually did that last week to Georgia’s Christian Robinson.
“There were all these people saying stuff about me on Twitter, it got personal,” Robinson, a senior linebacker, said about the aftermath of last week’s loss at South Carolina. “I had to start blocking people Sunday. I think I blocked about 30. One guy really started coming at me. I’m like, ‘Why are you talking to me like?’ Then he started giving me an address, saying, ‘Yeah, come meet me,’ and I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’”
So this is what it has come to?
That there is a lunatic fringe in sports fandom is not a revelation. In ancient times, a chariot race at Hippodrome in the year 532 CE, organized to raise support for overthrowing the emperor, ignited a riot that led to the deaths of 10,000 to 30,000 fans. But at least there was the backdrop of political and social issues.
Lost perspective has reached moronic proportions. Kansas City Chiefs fans cheered last week when Matt Cassel was concussed because their team stinks, and they wanted Brady Quinn in the game. Chiefs linemen Eric Winston responded appropriately, saying, “We are not gladiators” and called it “sickening. It’s 100 percent sickening. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life to play football.”
Hundreds of Braves fans threw bottles and garbage after an umpire botched an infield fly rule call in the Wild Card playoff game
against St. Louis. The next day, when Chipper Jones was asked why he didn’t respond to a plea by fans for a curtain call following the final game of his career, he said he wasn’t aware they wanted him out there, then joked, “I thought they were still throwing bottles.”
Then there is what happened in Athens. A house rented by five Georgia players was egged and toilet-papered following the Bulldogs’ 35-7 loss at South Carolina. The masses vented on social media, particularly Twitter, some taking personal attacks on players.
As if perspective hadn’t already been lost, the idiocy became magnified when it was learned that the father of quarterback Aaron Murray — one of the home’s tenants, with Robinson — had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was about to undergo surgery.
“People can hide behind [fake screen names], especially when alcohol is involved,” Robinson said. “I understand people get emotionally involved. But you hope they realize that there are bigger deals in life than Georgia football, especially when you see something like what happened to Aaron’s father.”
The Athens police department will begin making frequent checks of players’ homes during road games. It’s sad that it has come to this, especially on a college campus.
Sports sociologist Jay Coakley, author of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies,” believes a number of factors have combined to embolden sports fans more than ever, including: a growing belief that they can affect the outcomes of games with crowd noise, increased ticket prices that grow their sense of involvement; and the growing platforms for their opinions, including message boards, blog commenting and sports talk radio.
“There is a sense of entitlement, but it goes beyond that,” Coakley said from his home in Colorado Springs. “It’s also a sense that you can get away with it. I don’t want to blame it all on talk radio, but those narratives have become pretty extreme. The boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not have been pushed, even to the point of egging the home of your own quarterback.”
When asked for a solution, Coakley said it would help if athletes, particularly on college campuses, were less sheltered from the public and allowed to make an off-the-field connection with fans. He added, “It also would be nice if somebody in the stands stood up and said, ‘This is is not acceptable.’ Point people out. Maybe the message would start to get across.”
The Athens eggers have not been caught. Robinson laughed when asked what he would like to see happen to them if they ever were brought to justice.
“I think if they ever get caught, just the public knowing who did that would be worse punishment than anything else,” he said. “They would be complete social outcasts. That would be enough.”
By Jeff Schultz
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