Monday, April 30, 2012

Good News, Everyone: The NFL Wants to Help Fix Fan Interactions

Next season, a fan who gets kicked out of an NFL stadium will have to take a class on proper stadium behavior- and generally pass a test- before they're allowed back in. The class and test is going to include things like this:

"One true-or-false question: “Every fan has a right to like any team they wish. Using abusive language towards fans who support teams you don’t like will not be tolerated.”

When we're getting into things like that- vague language like "abusive language" and policing, in a very general way, the way fans interact with each, the inside of my skull starts to itch. Obviously, I have no problem with the NFL trying to rein in violent patrons. I think the league OWES that to us. But questions like that aren't just preventing violence, they're trying to define the "right way" to be a football fan. And that's not the league's place. The NFL should handle running the best games possible, and trust its fans to understand their role.

(And yes, this blog often talks about the proper role of the fan, but that's my point- I'm just a fan, too. We can police our own as far as etiquette. Just send someone with arrest powers for the violent stuff.)

My concerns may be much ado about nothing; it may be that only violent folks have to go to these things. But I'm still not satisfied. The security guards who are supposed to spot the offenders are going to have needles-in-haystacks problems out the wazoo- assuming the offenders even ever intended to see another game in the first place. So good luck enforcing this rule in any meaningful way.

More importantly, I doubt that the violence stems from fan ignorance. Even the violent ones, in the cold light of day- or, say, the harsh florescent light of a classroom- know not to pick a fight. But the stadium is a heightened emotional environment- thousands of fans, yelling and screaming, booze is flowing like water, etc. That has a tendency to make you lose perspective, and it's going to do that even if you've sat through a lecture and pop quiz.

Unless the NFL is willing to change that environment, little classes aren't going to have any appreciable effect. And the NFL has no interest in changing that environment, just as I have no interest in telling it to do so; the heightened emotions are why we go to the stadiums in the first place. If we wanted to be cold and rational about it, we'd just crunch the stats on Monday morning.

The NFL needs to focus more on security in the stands, on actually having people who can recognize bad situations early and stepping in before they turn outright ugly. And I'm sure toning down on the culture of violence around the game can only help, too. but it needs to get out of the business of lecturing fans on their behavior right away. Let the fans decide how to be fans.

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