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Thursday, November 27, 2014

When does sports fan behavior go too far?

If one looks up the definition of a fan, they are most likely to find some kind of derivative of “a device capable of blowing air.” Of course, we know better: that sounds more like the definition of a politician. Exchange “blowing air” for “blowing smoke” and you’re more likely to be categorizing a number of athletes.

A fan, as those in the sports world know the term, is an ardent supporter of a team, player, or otherwise; someone willing to don a foam block of cheese on their head (or chest), a person who expresses utter disdain for hypothermia and social mores when removing their shirt in temperatures hovering around 5-below just to paint themselves an ungodly shade of red, risking life, limb, and employment in the process.

Sports fans wear their heart on their sleeve, along with the many untold stains from Super Bowl parties past. Some brand their team’s logo on their arm, an unfortunate decision should the team ever pack up and leave or decide to follow the trend of changing logos every full moon. Others brand their team’s logo on other people’s arms, flouting convention and the law while doing so.

The most select group of sports fans are normally a Stoic bunch: Stoicism in this case gravitating from cosmic determinism to the slightly more modern topic of what have you done for my fantasy team lately? Sports fans have certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the ability to forestall having to see “60 Minutes” at its regularly scheduled time slot on Sundays during the fall.

Cheering and booing are the time-honored practices of fandom, along with the various noxious gases that go along with it. Ancient scrolls seem to suggest that Moses might have been booed as a result of the amount of time it took to cross the Sinai Desert. This would be the old-school equivalent of showing displeasure with a pitcher who continues to throw over to first base to keep a runner close.

Bill Buckner thought he had it bad. How well do you think Napoleon was received after his unsuccessful journey into Russia? Hannibal trying to invade with war elephants? And Phillies fans with memories like elephants still hold a grudge against Mitch Williams …

The term “fan” is not a very flattering one — nor is sportswriter for that matter — when you consider its genesis. The word itself comes from fanatic, which usually connotes a degree of instability, not to impugn all the good-natured folks who, at some point in their lives, dressed up like Darth Vader (or is that Alice Cooper?) to attend a Raiders game.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to believe that the Tommy Lasorda bobblehead to which I prayed for a Dodgers pennant was completely rational behavior, and not the actions of a budding Ted Bundy.

However, years have seen their fair share of pummeled stucco, scores of assaults and tirades that would have send Khrushchev into a tizzy seem to suggest that maybe fans tend to go overboard in their unabashed devotion.

When does fantasy become a reality? This past Sunday, Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams was the subject of Twitter pitter-patter when he went out and gained only 6 yards on 6 carries and fumbled. Angered fans who had Williams on their fantasy teams let loose on a diatribe reminiscent of the famous line from the movie “Network” or, at the very lease, the parents’ response to my third-grade rehashing of the Gettysburg Address.

DeAngelo responded that these folks were neither very good at playing the game nor managing a make-believe team. In other words, you probably should have de-Angeloed your running back spot instead of re-Angeloing it.

Sunday also saw another example of fan behavior being called into question, when Matt Cassel was knocked out of the Ravens-Chiefs game with a head injury and replaced by Brady Quinn. With Cassel being carted off the field, and the mighty Quinn entering, the fans started to cheer reminding many of the time when Philadelphia fans booed Michael Irvin after he was carted off the Veteran’s Stadium turf in 1999, or when Santa Claus was booed off the same field for fumbling the center snap from Rudolph.

The booing was addressed by Chiefs’ offensive lineman Eric Winston who lashed out at the fans, and was visibly emotional while doing so. Cassel signed a 6-year, $62.7 million deal with the team back in 2009, and his ineptitude has been about as well received in Kansas City as a vegan cuisine while causing similar gastrointestinal distress.

Does some kind of “fan code” exist? Lasorda appears on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard between innings to remind fans of certain do’s and don’ts, but whenever I hear the PSA, I’m usually in a peanut-induced haze with a constant replay of Tommy’s thoughts on Dave Kingman, the crux of which certainly don’t jive with his insistence on clean language at the ballpark.

From those that watch the games to the folks who cover them, and the athletes themselves, we are all, to a degree, fans. We bear witness to greatness and mediocrity and react accordingly. We’ve all felt the thrill of victory, the sting of defeat and the unpleasantness of a ballpark frank.

Howard Cosell once said, “Sports is human life in microcosm.” If that’s the case, then I am consoled by the fact that most people’s existence revolves around begging UCLA’s football team to become bowl eligible.



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