August 29, 2014 2 Comments
By Mark Yost
When I sat down to write this piece, I was going to make the bold suggestion that the NFL ban alcohol at all games. Colleges, too.
I’d just been to a pre-season NFL game in Nashville. The Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans. In essence, a game that meant absolutely nothing.
It was a miserable night. A torrential downpour started about a half hour before kickoff and didn’t let up until almost halftime. When I sat down in my seat five rows behind the end zone, it was raining so hard that the water puddling at the bottom of the concourse covered the first row of seats. But this being August in Tennessee, and it being the start of another NFL season, more than a few fans were happy to stand in the deluge in the $8 ponchos (made in China for 3 cents) that the Titans shop was selling by the pallet that night.
Like most games, fans stood for the national anthem, the kickoff, and the first few plays of the opening drive by the Packers. But after a few plays that moved the action further downfield, most everyone sat down.
Except for that guy.
You know who he is. He shows up at every sporting event, in almost every section. The fan in the jersey and cap who initially seems a bit rabid but sane, and then proceeds to makes it clear that he hasn’t come here so much to have a good time and enjoy the game, but to make sure that everyone else’s experience is as miserable as possible. Add in generous amounts of alcohol, a common ingredient at both NFL and college games, and this guy’s really fun to be around.
He was there on that Saturday night in Nashville. Along with three college-age girls who were equally annoying. They were sitting in front of most everyone else in our section. Or, I should say, standing a few rows in front of all of us. Despite scattered calls for “down in front,” they didn’t budge the entire first half, their defiant postures the full-body equivalent of giving the middle finger to the rest of us.
When the rain let up briefly in the second quarter and a 30something guy sat down with his young son, he politely asked the girls to please sit down so that his son could see the game. Their response can’t be printed in this newspaper.
The NFL (and other major sports) has long had a problem with fan behavior. I wrote a famous piece for The Wall Street Journal in October 2007 about the crowd at a Monday night game in Buffalo that made the Roman coliseum look like a Sunday afternoon church social. A few years before that, I wrote a piece for the Journal about the coarsening culture at college games titled “Dis, Boom, Bah.”
The Buffalo piece created a bit of a groundswell. Local papers (including this one) followed up with stories of their own fans’ outlandish behavior. Bryant Gumble did an HBO “Real Sports” segment on the subject. It all led to the NFL instituting its first-ever, league-wide Fan Behavior Policy. But as my experience in Tennessee demonstrated, the league – and its fans – still has a long way to go. And frankly, I’m not sure what they can do about it.
Again, my kneejerk reaction was to write a piece suggesting that we ban alcohol at all college and pro games. Then I thought it through. How are you going to police the tailgate and other pre-game drinking? How drunk is too drunk? Eventually, I realized that alcohol isn’t the problem. Common courtesy is.
I know it’s a quaint notion in the age of Twitter and the Kardashians, but when did it become OK to be a jerk? More importantly, when did the outcome of a sporting event become so personal and all-important?
Think about it: Whether your team wins or loses, it will have absolutely no impact on your job, your marriage, your kids, or anything else in your life that should matter more than the final score of some meaningless game. Yet, far too many people act like it does. What I experienced in Nashville is not an isolated incident. Ugly confrontations, some of which lead to fist fights and even death, will no doubt unfold more times than we care to contemplate over the next four months.
So as we begin another football season, let’s try and remember one simple thing: It’s just a game, folks.
Mr. Yost is the author of “Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics.”