A discussion about fan violence in the sport; but which sport?

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Behavior of that minority of knucklehead and chuckleheaded fans is topical. That’s why we hear statements like this one, from Sunday’s excellent Outside the Lines on ESPN:

The violence in the stands is one of the main reasons why I won’t allow my family to travel to away games. Because I just wouldn’t be comfortable knowing they are up there and there is nothing I can do if anything might happen to them.”

Or this one:

It might be safer on the field than in the stands.”

Here’s the rub: Those words are not from a shin-guarded soccer man. The first statement is from linebacker Aaron Curry of the NFL’s Raiders. The second is from former NFL man Tony Coats.

So, why is ProSoccerTalk writing about this? Three reasons:

First, as we know, this will continue to be a point of emphasis in MLS, where the fantastic Pacific Northwest rivalries have added so much to the league – but where one awful incident could alter an otherwise sunny landscape as contingents of visiting fans interact.

Second, this is a problem where NFL can certainly learn from professional soccer. I heard Colin Cowherd talking about this last week. His solution is centered around raising ticket prices, which he likes to cite as the chief element in the critical reduction in violence that took place in England starting about 20 years ago.

But that’s not exactly correct. A comprehensive approach, which included modern policing tactics, identification of known troublemaker, calculated seating policies and more, is what helped retake English soccer from the hooligans, not just “raising ticket prices.”

Third: hopefully, attention to roguish fan behavior in NFL (and at baseball games in Atlanta, apparently) puts to bed once and for all this notion that, somehow, soccer as a sport is the root of violence. That was always, and continues to be, a completely ignorant notion.

Back in the late 1990s and into the next decade, I worked dutifully to educate my business, the newspaper business. Validating and amplifying cultural clichés was and continues to be one of the worst practices of legacy media.

Every single time my newspaper dipped into the big bag of media cliché stories, publishing a headline about the latest violence in a soccer ground somewhere in the world – never mind that our newspaper would never, ever, ever otherwise care about some of the leagues involved –  I would go to editors with my standard checklist:

  • Should we really be running cliché stories?
  • Are we going to run the latest arrest report from Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where fans are arrested each week?
  • Is this really a sports story? (Because I often heard that “arrests at an NFL game is a ‘news story,’ not a sports story” … which makes no freakin’ sense, of course, if you run stories of fan violence in soccer from obscure spots around the world in the sports page. But, details, details.)
  • Regarding that latest stabbing at a match in Africa, or multiple-arrest incident somewhere in Europe, etc., are we going to run a story about that league’s champion, or about the star player, etc? (The answer, of course, was usually “no.”)

So, the next time some dim bulb floats the tired old saw about soccer violence, you might point to the latest person left in the hospital by drunken goons at an NFL game.

This is society’s issue to attack, not just soccer’s issue or American football’s. It always was.