Fans are nuts.
I say that with the utmost respect, knowing that fans help pay my salary. I say it knowing I'm a fan, too, and that on occasion my behavior has disgusted me. More than once, before I started writing about sports for a living, I'd be at a game and say or do something so stupidly inappropriate, I'd look back on it and say, "Are you some kind of lunatic?''
Just because I might have tossed a full beer on a Dallas Cowboy exiting the tunnel at the old RFK Stadium doesn't make me certifiable. At least not any more.
Being a rabid sports fan can involve temporary insanity. This isn't hype. A $20 bleacher seat, a big game and a six-pack of courage can turn a fine human being into a mouth-foaming Cro-Magnon man. If you're skeptical, make a stop in a Heinz Field men's room during the next Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game. Wear your Ray Lewis jersey.
And we think English football fans are whack.
Not only are fans nuts, they think it's OK. Entitlement comes with the ticket. Fans believe they're part of the action. Fans are entitled to storm basketball courts and football fields. They were entitled to tear down goal posts, until a few fans died from tearing down goal posts. Now they just hang from them. Like nuts. Fans are entitled to run roughshod over whoever is in their way, be it news photographers, ushers or other fans.
I once saw a fan smash several hundred dollars worth of camera equipment, on his way to a celebratory flesh pile in the middle of a basketball court. That was after he hopped the press table and sideswiped my laptop with his heel. Xavier had upset Cincinnati. The fan was happy. He had a right to break things that didn't belong to him.
So why wouldn't he be entitled to yell?
He would be. He yells all the time. Only now, it's gone from acceptable booing and gentle razzing of misplays, to profane and personal taunts. I covered a baseball game in Cincinnati in 2002, when the San Francisco Giants were in town. I sat in the first row of seats in leftfield. I wanted to hear what the fans said to Barry Bonds, the target of fanly venom everywhere but San Francisco. I wasn't disappointed.
Fans made references to Bonds' mother. Did she know her son was a juicer? They wondered if Barry drank as much alcohol as his father, Bobby, had. This, along with the usual catalog of crass insults and sour language straight out of the The Hangover movies.
When the Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah responded to a fan's persistent heckle with an F-bomb and a homophobic slur, he couldn't have been more wrong. "Sometimes, fans say things that are a little bit overboard, but still it's on us not to react,'' Noah said Tuesday, and he was right.
Buying a ticket doesn't give you the right to degrade another human being. It doesn't come with a pass to say whatever you want. It'd be nice if ushers and security cops were as vigilant with fans as the NBA is with its players. They're not.
Noah's teammate Taj Gibson said Tuesday the fan was "throwing the whole book at Joakim. He was intoxicated. He kept going and going. Normally, a fan may say a couple things and sit down. He kept going.''
The league fined Noah $50,000. Noah issued a public apology. The league ran a public service announcement denouncing the slurring of gays and lesbians.
Great and great.
What about the fan? Noah paid a price. Literally. What are the fan's consequences?
One Chicago newspaper writer decided Noah's reaction was yet another "example of athletes' disconnect.''
No, it wasn't. It was an example of a fat-cat fan sitting in a very expensive seat, who believed that entitled him to shoot his mouth off with abandon. Unless you believe Noah went after the guy for kicks.
Pro jocks don't inhabit the same reality orbit as you and I. And because we still expect some sort of heightened morality from them, we're continually disappointed in their behavior. Athletes generally are not role models. They need role models.
But put this in a normal setting. You're in your office cubicle, tapping on your computer, and someone emerges from the next cubicle to harass you verbally. He doesn't let up.
In most civil workplaces, the guy eventually would be escorted from the premises. What if he wasn't? What if he were allowed for a few hours to do what the fan did to Noah? How might you react to that sort of hammering?
It's not about how much money someone makes, or how much someone throws down for a ticket. It's about being a decent human being. If we're going to compare fan and athlete behavior in the arena, the athlete wins, every time.
The only people in any sports arena with a good understanding of Noah's predicament are the officials. Fans have no problem maligning them either.
Fans are nuts.
That same Chicago scribe wrote, "Here we are in 2011, talking about one player's ugly reaction to a fan.''
True. Why aren't we talking about the fan's actions that provoked it?