AApril came to an end, the Cleveland Guardians outfielders had to face several unusual problems during their team’s visit to the Yankees Stadium. But it wasn’t the dummies that were blown away over the Bronx, and it wasn’t the power of the slackers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge that bothered them. But their fans threw garbage. Cleveland’s right-field defender Oscar Mercado’s most significant catch in the game was the interception of a beer can thrown at his head. The situation became so bad that at one point Judge and Stanton had to run to reassure their fans.
“Tough,” Guardians outfielder Miles Straw said after the game. “The worst fan base on the planet.”
Straw’s anger is understandable, but the behavior of Yankee fans (and there were more ugly scenes in New York this weekend) is far from aberration. In the NBA, stars such as Luca Doncic, Draymand Green, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul have been involved in verbal arguments with fans during this year’s playoffs. And several animal rights protesters stormed the court during several games when the Minnesota Timberwolves faced the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the postseason. In the NHL, threats made this weekend to the Colorado Avalanche Center by Nazem Kadri were considered serious enough by police to conduct an investigation.
The problem is also not limited to the US. In the UK, Sheffield United’s Billy Sharpe remained bloodied after a fan hit him in the head during an invasion of Nottingham Forest. The fan has been arrested and will serve 24 weeks in prison. Accusations of a similar incident surfaced during the celebration of the Premier League title in Manchester City on Sunday.
“If you look at the level of security that is in a professional sports game, it’s ridiculous compared to what the crowd could do if it decided to become naughty,” says Mark Aoyagi, a sports psychologist and professor at the University of Denver.
Of course, in the US clashes between fans and players have always been a part of the sport, but lately they seem to have become more frequent. Aoyagi says the main reason they have not escalated into mass fights, such as the infamous rage at the palace in 2004, is the restraint of the players.
“What the players are exposed to would be criminal in any other setting,” Aoyagi says. “At least there is [verbal] attack any game for any player. Although it would be illegal and provoked a reaction in any other setting, players almost never respond to this kind of attack. Players will react only when the fan crosses the unwritten border. This may include involving the player’s family in a verbal attack or pronouncing words that are prohibited. Again, the fact is that these violations go beyond what is already a criminal level of attack. “
The NBA says it is serious about such failures. “This is a concern every time someone involved in the game has a negative interaction with a fan or if our fans have a bad experience,” a NBA spokesman told the Guardian. “We have zero tolerance for destructive or uncontrollable behavior in our arenas, and every time a person violates our NBA Fan Code of Conduct, he is quickly reviewed by the arena security service and local law enforcement if necessary.”
Interruptions with fans may shed light on a larger issue that has affected society since the start of the 2020 pandemic. For months, fans were not allowed to attend sporting events as Covid spread. As soon as the crowd returned, the bad behavior of the fans became more common. A fan in Boston threw Irving a bottle of water; Tre Young was spat at in New York; In Philadelphia, Russell Westbrook was thrown into his popcorn. Westbrook said the incident was far from unique.
“It’s just nonsense to throw food at me,” he said after the May 2021 game. – Fortunately, I could not get to the stands. I just don’t take it easy. For me, this happens many times. Obviously, I’ve learned to look the other way, but to some extent you can’t just look the other way. There should be some fines or something so that the fans can’t just come to the game and do and say whatever they want because they wouldn’t do that shit elsewhere – in any other setting. And I’m tired of it, to be honest. “
Aoyagi says the increased level of misbehavior by supporters could be a byproduct of a pandemic that has been linked to unrest in other environments, such as airplanes.
“There is no definitive reason why this is happening, but the prevailing view is that with the rules [such as mask wearing and quarantines] introduced during the pandemic, leaving people feeling less independent, the answer for some was over-indexing choice and autonomy when the opportunity arose, “says Aoyagi.” The pandemic led to a mental health crisis. The only real question is what caused it. or just worsened what was already ripe. “
Unfortunately, not only the players became the target of fans. During the NBA playoffs between the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns on Mother’s Day, fans allegedly repeatedly touched Chris Paul’s mother and pushed his wife. Maurice later said that two “rebellious fans” were banned from their arena until the end of 2023, but the incident drew attention to the need to better protect the families of players.
“Such behavior will not be allowed and, as was the case in Dallas, will be immediately considered by the security services and our law enforcement partners,” – said the NBA spokesman. “Fans involved in this incident have been banned until the end of 2023, that is 19 months. We take active steps to protect the families of players in the arenas and, without discussing specific actions, we teach players and their families how to avoid conflicts with fans, especially if they are away from their home arenas.
Sport has always served as a way for fans to escape from the little things of everyday life and connect with the franchise, the community or the city. However, professional leagues are at a critical juncture when the fun and safety of the sport is tainted by disastrous fans.
“Leagues, teams and, yes, fans want the sport to be this wonderful holiday, to say it’s all fun and the usual part of supporting your team,” Aoyagi says. “There’s definitely a way to support your team and try to distract another team or otherwise feel like you’re helping your team in a way that doesn’t involve attack.”