Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Being a Fan is a Moral Stance II

We've all experienced it. An obnoxious, usually drunken young or middle aged male dominates your section yelling invective and abuse. In any silence, his nasal alchohol inflected voice shouts out another irrelevant obscenity. He's an equal opportunity spewer attacking the home team as well as the opposition. The portrait has particular clarity with a recent episode where Matthew Clemmens  (mug shot pictured) intentionally vomited on an 11 year old girl and her father after Clemmon's companion was removed from the game for abusive behavior.


Alcohol suffuses the American sports culture; actually it seems to suffuse all the male sport cultures everywhere. It sponsors the teams; it invokes and encourages conviviality; it fuels bar profits and arguments; it amplifies and distorts the emotional engagment of fans. Sports, money, booze all contribute to degrade fans and degrade those around the imboozled fans. 

It's worse for us with kids who are trying to both enjoy the game but also teach kids how to enjoy the game, appreciate the sport and root for a team without become a boor. 

The alchohol fueled degrading of fans has its counterpoint in fan radio and sports talkshows. Taking their cue from the shock jocks of right wing politics, the sports shock jokes encourage and need outlandish rants and raves and irrational engagement. Of course alot of their shows are financed by alcohol companies and most teams have official drinks, you can even get special team bottles. These fanatics lose sight of the game; they lose sight of the humanity of the players on both sides; ultimately they lose the ability to appreciate the game, the play, and the players. Their own ego and need to win overrides respect for the athletes.

The moral core of being a fan lies in respect for the game, respect for the players and respect for the team. We can love and identify and share and participate, but the core moral value behind this is respect. When we put on team jerseys or hats, we put on a uniform and become warriors supporting a team. But warriors in sport live by rules and as fans who wear those colors and sport our identification, we should abide by them also. As I mentioned before when seeing he game, teaching the game to others and living with the game, appreciating the sport and being able to say "good play" for the other side is a critical indicator of the moral balance of a fan.

Being a fan is a moral stance, and we  have obligations to take on the boors, fanatics and abusive hooligans.  One good fan can stop the contagion of the wretches. One good fan can become a rallying point for a loud, clear and fun appreciation and support of the team and game. 

Most fans are true but need examples and support and can rally around against the rowdies who would drag us down. Just as in any other area of life a acting well and cheering and supporting well invite others to join us and provide models for others as well as giving them courage to do the same. 

We can learn from moms. Moms are really good at this at games for shaming the nutty dads; they learn it at early soccer games where they have to protect kids and keep crazy fathers in check from abusing kids while living their own lives through the kids. They know the key here is to respect the athlete and respect the discipline of the sport, which can mean failure as well as success.

They pollute the rest of us just like they pollute the airways with the encouragement of radio and alcohol.  Each individual fan who participates and influences the game should  stand up to the idiots and mean spirited. We have this obligation to protect the teams, the spirit of the game, the young kids learning how to be fans and to protect the environment of the game. We should carry this on not just at games but when we are home enjoying a raucous game with friends and when we gather around with friends. I don't mean giving up good solid yelling and arguing, but I mean respect the game and respect the folks. 

We can draw lines, clear lines at abuse that invokes racist or sexist language. We can call them out. We can draw lines at abuse that attacks character of athletes especially youngsters and collegiates. We can draw lines at attacks on family and blood and nationality. We do this in how we cheer and act and criticize and we do this by calling out the idiots.

Teams themselves can do alot about this. the first thing any team could do is ban the sale of alcohol but that won't happen. So teams and stadiums need active strategies.  A number of colleges now actively work with the student booster sections to educate them, to set rules and encourage hard but clever heckling.  Coaches meet with the groups to encourage and reward behavior.

 Strong enforcement of alchohol regulations and kicking people out quickly help. In many ways baseball, the most family friendly of sports, pushes this the farthest. The Mariners have developed a strong and tightly enforced code of conduct that not only sets boundaries but gives good fans the option to stand up or to get help knowing they will be supported by the rest of the crowd and the ushers. The MLS will try the same approach, which will be interesting given the penchant of soccer hooligans to make European soccer killing grounds for their own class and race and geographic angers.

I have reprinted the Code because I think it works and does a better job than I could of summarizing how to create a culture to encourage good fans. At the core it means be engaged, have fun, but respect and don't be cruel.

Code of Conduct
The Seattle Mariners are committed to creating a safe, clean and friendly experience for our guests at Safeco Field. Our staff will proactively intervene to support an environment where guests can enjoy the Safeco Field experience free from unacceptable behavior, including the following:
  • Foul/abusive language or obscene gestures
  • Intoxication or other signs of impairment related to alcohol consumption
  • Use of tobacco products in any form.
  • Displays of affection not appropriate in a public, family setting
  • Obscene or indecent clothing
  • Any disruption of the game or event, including throwing of objects or trespassing on the playing field or in restricted areas
  • Sitting in a location other than the guest's ticketed seat
  • Fighting, taunting, or making threatening remarks or gestures.
Any guest not adhering to the above code or behaving in an unruly manner will be removed from the ballpark. The Seattle Mariners and Safeco Field management reserve the right to determine what is unruly or unacceptable behavior, warranting removal.
The point of the game is fans matter. Fans join a team as a we. When we join a team and wear its uniform, we participate and participation means rules that we abide by, enforce and create and in creating we bear responsibility for the tone of our fandom. This imposes obligations on us to respect the sport, support the team and not be cruel. We hand on the values and stance to those who follow us. 

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