I remember being appalled earlier this year when a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten senseless in the parking lot in Dodger Stadium after a game. Evidently his crime was being silly enough to wear the colors of the Giants in L.A. This isn’t an isolated incident, of course. Anyone who’s ever been to a Raiders game knows that doing so is an exercise in self-preservation and avoiding mayhem. And it’s not as if we have the corner on sports hooliganism. One of the few times in my life I’ve honestly feared for my safety was when I was standing on the terraces at a Manchester United-Chelsea soccer match in London. Yes, by English standards we Americans still have a ways to go to catch up. It’s the reality that we seem to be heading in that direction that has me so disturbed.
During a San Francisco-Oakland preseason NFL game (not even a game that mattered, mind you), a fan was beaten in a restroom, several brawls occurred in the stands, and two fans were shot in the parking lot at Candlestick Park. The Raiders-49ers game is an annual tradition that has the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland wondering if it’s even worth continuing. At a preseason game between Baltimore and Kansas City, a fight between supporters of each team broke out at a concession stand. So we can’t even buy a hotdog without having to deal with the threat of random violence?
Neither of these incidents are new or even particularly unique, but the increasing frequency of such incivility concerns me. We’re fighting over games, and whether or not someone wearing the colors and apparel of a rival team should be beaten into submission in order to prove the superiority of your team. Tribalism is as old as humanity, but we for the most part have managed to keep rivalries on a reasonably civil level. Now that so much of the American Dream seems to be sliding away from so many, it seems that far too many are assuming license to lash out at those who appear to be different. Except for the colors we may wear to a sporting event, we’re all still part of the same tribe. We’re all Americans, and we’re just using sports as an escape from our everyday lives. No one should have to worry about being beaten- or worse- simply because they show up at a stadium wearing the colors of the opposing team.
I grew up in Minnesota, and so I’m a HUGE Twins fan. I’ve gone to games in Houston and Seattle wearing Twins gear, and while I’ve been the target of some good-natured harrassment (and a few wadded-up popcorn bags), it’s all been in good fun. The same thing happened when I went to a Texans-Vikings game at Reliant Stadium in Houston wearing a Vikings jersey. Yeah, I got hassled, but it was all in good fun, and everybody just accepted that there was a traitor in their midst. That’s the nature of going to a sporting event. I’ve never had to consider my safety when I went to a Rockets-Trailblazers game in Houston while wearing a Trailblazers T-shirt. Now we evidently live in a world where what was once merely a fashion faux pas is now ample reason for a serious beat-down.
It seems to me that life is difficult enough as it is- what with the recession, two wars, a Third World health care delivery system, and rapidly crumbling infrastructure. How could it possibly be considered anything resembling sensible to make it yet that much more difficult by engaging in what can only be described as rampant tribalism? Hey, if someone attacks your family and/or your home, by all means resort to whatever you need to do in order to protect your little corner of the universe. If you’re a Raiders fan, and you attack someone for the unforgivable crime of wearing a 49ers jersey…well, Cowboy, there really ought to be a special place in Hell for you, and I hope your journey there will start soon.