Out of Bounds: Recent incidents raise questions on fan behavior

Professional sports are a multibillion-dollar industry, and the life force is the consumer.

According to WR Hambrecht & Co., a sports financial group, Americans spent over $22 billion on professional sporting events and merchandise in 2011.

Because these fans are spending small fortunes – $76.47 for the average NFL ticket in 2010 – to see their favorite athletes compete, they expect to receive the highest quality product.

Witnessing an official make a blatant error or seeing an overpaid athlete underperform gives fans a reason to be upset, but there is a fine line between upset fan behavior and indecent human behavior. In the last few weeks, fans have breached this line several times, shining a spotlight on what may be a larger problem in professional sports.

On Friday Oct. 5 the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves faced off in a single-elimination MLB playoff game. The game, held in Atlanta, Ga., took an ugly turn in the eighth inning when left-field umpire Sam Holbrook signaled Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons out due to the infield fly rule.

The rule requires an umpire to make a quick judgment call and it appeared Holbrook used poor judgment, driving the home fans into a frenzy. Fans tossed cans and bottles onto the field, endangering the players and umpires and creating a mess that took over 19 minutes to clean up.

Whenever an official makes a poor call, it is expected that fans will boo and shout profanities, but throwing objects onto the field instantly crosses a line. The hard metal or glass could seriously injury anyone on the field or a spectator in a lower row.

While a fan may not agree with a call, reactions such as these reflect poorly on the fan base and spoil the event for other consumers who do not wish to take part in such violent behavior. Between the danger of being struck by an object and the near 20-minute delay, violent fans tainted the game for obedient fans far beyond a simple blown call.

Two days later, on Sunday Oct. 7, Kansas City Chiefs fans displayed a different side of indecent behavior. In the fourth quarter of the football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel was hit hard and remained on the ground following a play. The quarterback remained on the ground for several minutes while medics tested for a concussion. The Chiefs fans cheered for this injury.

Cassel had been struggling through the first five weeks of the NFL season, throwing just five touchdowns compared to eight interceptions, prompting the fans’ disgusting cheers. While most sports fans possess a “What have you done for me lately?” mentality in regards to their favorite team’s players, expressing happiness over an injury is never excusable.

In response to this incident, Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Winston went on a tirade in a postgame interview.

“It's 100 percent sickening … Hey, if he's not the best quarterback, he's not the best quarterback, and that's OK, but he's a person, and he got knocked out in a game, and we've got 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out,” he said.

This event makes the Kansas City fan base look apathetic toward player safety and insensitive toward other humans. Although it is understandable that fans want to see their team win, they must understand that at the end of the day, it’s only a game.

Cassel has since been diagnosed with a concussion, causing him to miss Sunday Oct. 14th's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, something much bigger than the game itself. Concussions can have lasting effects on a person’s life and have been directly linked to depression.

So while Cassel may not be the best quarterback on the field, Chiefs fans showed the dark side of fandom by reacting positively to another human’s injury.

Fans must consider the example they are setting for future generations of fans. It is easy to slip into group mentality at a stadium and act unruly, but fans need to be aware of their actions.

By throwing things onto the field, cheering injuries, yelling profanities at players and officials, getting into fights and promoting other inappropriate behavior, fans are not only making themselves look foolish but also encouraging younger fans to follow suit and perpetuate the cycle. It is time for fans to get a grip and understand what attending a sporting event is really about: enjoying the game.