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The Sports World is Seriously Ill

2013 June 12
by Skip Sauer

Last night I saw Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz pelted with water bottles and who knows what else when attempting to take a corner kick at the Azteca in Mexico City.  I thought for a moment that CONCACAF should impose a ban on future games being played there, before wondering what the consequences of such action might be.  Taking action could be futile or ill-advised, and might make things worse.

Here’s an apparent example of futility.  Two years ago the fans of Olympiakos — a perrenial power in Greece and the 2013 UEFA Champions — threw objects at the players of their arch rivals Panathinaikos in the fifth and final game of the Greek Basketball League playoffs.  As a conseqeunce, Olympiakos was dealt a penalty, being forced to play six home games “behind closed doors in the following season.”

Last night they did it again, throwing flares on the court, and refusing pleas for order.  Their team was losing 76-72 with 1:30 to play in game three of the five-game finals and their team down 2-0.  Deja vu.  The game was abandoned and Panathinaikos was awarded the Greek title (here’s an account from ekathimerini.com.)  What will it be for Olympiakos next year?  A 12 game ban?  Will the fans care?

Here’s another inexcusable insult, and an example, as in the Azteca last night, of caution and discretion in taking action.  Tonight it went public that Howard’s Rock, the centerpiece of the gametime ritual of the Clemson Tiger football team, was recently vandalized.  That is very sad news (here are pictures of the rock before and after), and as I am a Clemson partisan, it’s also infuriating.  Perhaps my feeling of fury is why news of the defacing is only surfacing two weeks after the event.  Regardless of who did the deed, until proven otherwise most Clemson fans will think that a fan of their arch rivals, the South Carolina Gamecocks, was responsible.  And South Carolina’s baseball stadium is where the Clemson team was playing in an NCAA regional on June 1, where tempers could have hit the boiling point.  Update:  this was probably not the reason for the slow release of information.  According to this story, Howard’s Rock was intact on June 2, and the incident was not reported to police until June 3, after the Tigers had been sent packing from the South Carolina regional by Liberty.

Caution and discretion, and leniency, may have helped bring us to this ugly place, however.  And that “caution and discretion” may be the prudent course of action in these cases is worrying indeed.

Just over two years ago, Alabama “fan” Harvey Updyke poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner — the focal point of Auburn football’s post-game celebrations.  The oaks were cut down six weeks ago.  Updyke was released from prison last Friday, perhaps too soon.

The sports world is seriously ill, and I have no idea how to cure it.

7 Responses
  1. Karl Z. permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Just a couple of thoughts here…not that they count for much…

    What Skip is talking about really isn’t new in terms of the types of things happening. Some of it has been franchise stupidity (disco demolition, anyone?), but others are a combination of intense emotions and a crowd mentality, “fandom events”, if you will. That’s why old Veteran’s Stadium in Philly supposedly had a courtroom in the basement to deal with miscreants right then and there (they did boo and throw snowballs at Santa Claus, after all). When you get a mob of people together, they can do unpredictable things, with the crowd itself offering some protection and anonymity. There’s also the odd idea that messing with the other guys provides some sort of hero status, like “counting coup” or something. Childish and immature, absolutely, but it’s doing something for somebody, or it would stop.

    It seems that what has changed is the frequency and intensity of these events, and the attempts to “get at” individuals and teams. “Home field” gets taken a bit too far (obviously). We’ve had soccer hooligans for decades, but now they’re showing up in other sports with depressing regularity, and outside the games themselves, too. At some point, I think that an athlete will die on the field from one of these incidents, more because we’re lucky that it hasn’t happened yet than anything else, and what we’ll get is a shrug and “these things happen”. Maybe there will be someone prosecuted, maybe not. Who knows?

    I don’t think “sport” itself causes what we’re seeing, but I don’t know what does, either. It is a misplaced emotional attachment to a team? Mental illness? Some kind of spontaneous thing in crowds? Breakdowns in public respect and morals? All of the above? None of the above? (Aliens?) And whatever it is, can something be done about it (as Skip asks)?

    Ideas? (And can we get a psych expert to comment here about this?)

  2. Doug permalink
    June 13, 2013

    Sports was once a diversion from everyday life. You read about the games in the local paper, saw highlights on the news at night, perhaps watched the “Game of the Week” on Saturday. There was a pro football game on Sunday afternoon. That was it. No sports talk radio, PTI, or 24-hour sports TV. There was not enough going on in sports to occupy one’s time without a regular life. For some fans, their sports fanaticism as become their life. It has replaced a regular life for them.

    Do I blame ESPN or Monday Night Football? No. but they are certainly part of the “sports are everything” culture with a large group of fans.

  3. June 13, 2013

    While the events described are regrettable and perhaps disgusting, I think it is premature to declare a new trend or that very bad behavior is now profligate. Keep in mind that today’s media technology allows us all to be aware of many more of these occurances than was possible in the past.

    Two more thoughts on Howard’s Rock:

    What are the chances it is a die-hard Clemson fan looking to grab an immortal piece of his team for his very own?

    I agree with some that say it can be a source of inspiration. After all, Texas’s BEVO got his name from an act of vandalism on the part of Texas A&M.

  4. Phillip permalink
    June 14, 2013

    Alcohol provides great revenue but is also part of the problem.

  5. Skip Sauer permalink*
    June 14, 2013

    Fonzy,

    The chances are not zero, but there is previous here. And if we look at the pattern across incidents (as indicated by events mentioned in the post among many others), rival fans have a habit of doing this sort of thing. Which supports the point other commenters have made, of this being more of a permanent condition than a recent infection.

  6. Victor Matheson permalink
    June 17, 2013

    During my career as an MLS referee, I was once hit by a diaper walking off the field at halftime of a Mexican league exhibition game. (The answer to the obvious question is, “Yes, it was.”)

    I also had a full beer thrown at me during a exhibition match between Celtic and the NE Revolution after the Revs scored a late goal. That was particularly embarrassing fan behavior. No true Scot would waste a full beer on a referee.

  7. Duane Rockerbie permalink
    June 22, 2013

    Victor:

    Was it a Guiness or a Bud Light?

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