A couple of days ago as I was driving into town, I heard the guy on the radio talking about some sort of tragedy in Los Angeles. Given the sensationalization of the news, my attention wasn’t immediately tuned into what was happening. As the reporter expanded upon the story, I was appalled. The reporter proceeded to tell the listeners that one, Bryan Stow, 42-year old and San Francisco Giants’ fan, is showing signs of brain damage after having been severely beaten by, Los Angeles Dodgers fans.
The history of violence involving fans is well documented, and typically, violence in spectator sports is more closely associated with football (or soccer for those folks in the US and Canada). The last incident of “fan violence” in baseball was in August of 2009, when a fan threw a beer cup at and hit, Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder, Shane Victorino. The outfielder had some beer land on him, which is unacceptable of course, but other than that, nothing too serious.
Some of the more recent incidents of violence include a riot before and during a Euro 2012 qualifying match between Italy and Serbia in October of 2010. The start of the game was delayed over half an hour. Once the game got underway, before they were ten minutes into the 1st half, a flare was thrown onto the field causing more rioting. The game was called and one team was later awarded the victory based on the fans that were causing trouble. In March of 2010 during a KHL game, a drunk fan of one team climbed over the glass, into the bench of the opposing team, and proceeded to strike one of the goalies over the head several times with a stick. The goalie had to leave the bench area, as blood was running down his face, and he was later diagnosed with a concussion. If you’re interested, there’s a YouTube clip of the assault.
On the face of these myriad incidents of violence by fans in sports, I can’t help but think of the true meaning of the word fan. The word fan, comes from the word fanatic, which means, “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal. . .” In my opinion, these fans are definitely exhibiting “extreme enthusiasm” in support of their team. In the definition I provided, I left out five words that appear after the word zeal. These five words: “as in religion or politics.”
When I hear about these horrendous acts of violence committed in the “name of one’s team,” I can’t help but make the connection to another brand of fanaticism — religious fanaticism. After the events of September 11th, the world was led to believe that these attacks were committed by religious fanatics (and that may well be the case, but I don’t think anyone can be absolutely certain of any of the explanations for what happened). Since then, opening up the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal to find an article about someone killing in the name of religion has become somewhat normalized because of how often it happens. Is there really a big difference between religious fanaticism and sports fanaticism?
If there is, to me, the difference is negligible, and I for one, think this is awful. Fans identify with their teams so much so that they feel compelled to harm another human being! I was an athlete and I can tell you, after the game is over, life still goes on. You go on and eat your meals, sleep, read books, and do all of the other things that people do. To some fans, when the game ends, their life, in a way, ends. I think this kind of attachment to sports is unhealthy. Similarly, I think the attachment to religion that is displayed by those who believe they are doing right by their religion by killing in the name of their deity is also a little bit too far. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thinking that goes into their decision and prosper in the afterlife, but it is my opinion, that there is never a valid reason to kill another human being, (or one’s self for that matter).
As a post-script to this post, I wanted to make it clear that I am not equating the magnitude of religious extremism to the magnitude of fan violence in spectator sports. The violence and repercussions of religious fanaticism, I think, is far more severe than that of the violence and repercussions of fans in spectator sports. I do, however, think that parallels between the behavior can be drawn.
With Love and Gratitude,
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