As I sit here tonight watching Monday Night Football between the Steelers and 49ers in the comfort and safety of my own home, the Bay Area setting causes me to reflect on the brutal beating of a San Fran fan earlier this year.
San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic and father of two, was visiting Dodgers stadium for opening day of the baseball season, when he and his friends were savagely beaten in the stadium parking lot by Dodger fans who took a simple sports rivalry to an unconscionable extreme. Nine months later, Stow is still relearning basic things like walking, brushing his teeth, swallowing, and even how to speak.
For the first time since the attack, Stow has been able to speak in an interview on camera.
As a former employee of a professional sports team, I have seen my share of ugliness between fans. One night at a Spurs-Mavs playoff game at the AT&T Center, I had to break up a scuffle as an obnoxious Spurs fan began physically confronting a visiting Dallas fan sitting right in front of him (neither guy knew I was an employee until they saw my badge…and then they fell in line. Unfortunately, I had to go back to sitting in the next row over for the remaining three quarters…AWKWARD!) And while traveling with the Spurs during the 2003 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets, there was so much Sopranos-style bile spewed in our direction, I almost feared for my safety.
I can hardly fathom that the events in Los Angeles actually could happen.
As I kid playing little league baseball, I was always taught that the spirit of teamwork and competition was equal to respect for the opponent. It didn’t matter if you win or lose, it was how you play the game that mattered. That’s what the coaches would always drill into us, day after day.
But these days, John Rocker, the “Malice at the Palace,” Eagles fans throwing snowballs at Santa, and a host of other recent sports misdeeds lead me to wonder if things have somehow taken a turn for the worse. Granted there will always be an extremist element any time there’s competition, but the boundaries of civility no longer seem guaranteed.
This holiday season, we should all take a moment to reflect on what’s important about sports and life, and resolve to actively work towards a return to that place where everyone can safely enjoy a game and root, root, root for their home team.
Even if, as in my case, it happens to be the Eagles. 🙂