We Can All Learn From the Brian Stow Incident

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As I’ve never traveled much to watch my teams play, I can’t really speak about being abused (either physically or verbally) by the home team’s fans. And for whatever reason, I never cared about someone coming to a Tigers game wearing an Indians jersey or showing up to a Wings game wearing Blackhawks gear. But something about the Lions and the Silverdome (a place notorious for rowdy fans and fights) made the worst in me come out.

I never reached the point of physically attacking an opposing fan. But I’ve argued with them, yelled at them and cussed them out while encouraging those around me to do the same. I’ve also laughed and applauded when people in my section would throw things at them, harass them and threaten them.

Looking back at the way I acted makes me cringe. I’m not even sure exactly why I did it. Maybe I was young and needed to mature. Perhaps I felt like someone wearing the opposing team’s colors made them an enemy. It could have been the violence of the game, or the hours of tailgating and drinking…or maybe I was just a jerk. Thankfully, I grew out of this stage before I crossed that next line and hurt someone, or got hurt myself.

When I go to games now, I actually find it fun to talk to the other team’s fans. Many have great stories about how they became a fan of that team (lived there, father rooted for them, met a player, etc.). It can also be interesting to get an opposing fan’s perspective of your team and how they are doing. Most are just like you and me, rooting for their favorite team and players and hoping for a win.

If you are planning on going to a sporting game anytime soon (either as a home team or visiting team fan), here are some guidelines to help you avoid confrontations:

  • Know your audience – Playful banter with opposing fans can be fun, but start slow. You might think there’s no harm in saying that Pam Anderson is a better QB than Derek Anderson, but you have no idea how a Cardinal fan will react to that. Maybe they agree and are angry about it. Maybe they remember the four great games he had against horrible defenses back in ’07 and think he still has it in him. Or maybe they are a member of his family. The point is, start with general statements (“Boy, Anderson sure has struggled this year”) and test the waters before jumping in.
  • Never get personal – This one can be tough, especially depending on what is happening in the game. It’s real easy to transition from “your team sucks” to “you suck”. Don’t cross that line. Be respectful of the other person.
  • Actions speak just as loud as words – Maybe you don’t say a word to Cowboys fan behind you when Vick hits Desean Jackson for a 23-yard gain. Instead, you stand up and make extra noise…and keep standing to block his view. Or you do an exaggerated clap after a three yard run up the middle. Don’t be this guy. Cheer for your team and root them on but behave.
  • Don’t take their team choice personally – This used to be a problem for me. I used to feel that people who wore Green Bay gear or rooted for the Packers were personally attacking me, like the team I chose to root for wasn’t good enough (watching the Lions constantly getting their tail kicked will do that to a person). Relax. I’m pretty sure that no Packer fan is out there rooting for them just to get back at me.
  • Don’t be afraid to use security – Sometimes things just get out of hand. Before they escalate too far, get security involved. Every stadium has staff on hand at or behind every section just for instances like this. Most stadiums even have a number you can text and report problems to without even getting out of your seat.
  • Never, ever let it get physical – Seriously. There is no reason to ever fight or (especially) attack another fan.

Sporting events are supposed to be fun for everyone who attends, not just the home team’s fans. I hope everyone uses some common sense and common courtesy to make sure that is the case.