By now, if you’re a sports fan, and particularly a Philadelphia sports fan, you’ve all heard about the beating of the New Jersey cop/veteran/Rangers fan outside of Geno’s after the Winter Classic on Monday night. I didn’t initially comment on the incident for a few reasons. The Jeffrey Lurie press conference that took place Tuesday afternoon put the Eagles front and center on the opening day of the blog. But more importantly, I’m tired of hearing about the same old stories about Philadelphia and its fans, and their disgusting behavior. Putting this story front and center on opening day would’ve only given the issue more credence, if not attention. After all, as any Philly fan will gladly point out to you, this behavior happens in other places all the time. Only here, whenever the fans behave poorly, the story comes along with the inevitable montage of boorish fan behavior, starting with (what else?) the snowball pelting of Santa Claus….from 1968!! I swear that ESPN keeps this video ready to go with its own button, the way an elderly person can summon 911 in the event of a fall.
However, its not the fight, or “the poor Philadelphia sports fans and their bad rap” that interests me today. And I’m not defending the actions that took place Monday night; one would think that after the beating of Bryan Stow outside Dodger Stadium that left him in a coma, that people would understand that violence iniatiated by whose logo is on whose shirt is beyond unnecessary and foolish, not to mention potentially dangerous. Instead I wanted to address a seperate issue that has arisen in the aftermath of this incident. as Philadelphia sports fans, are we PROUD of our reputations?
It seems like a silly question. Who would be happy to be associated with guys that pummel another person in the middle of the street? Or with the drunks that vomited on a little girl and her father? Or people that throw batteries at another human being? Surely no one would view those incidents and beam with pride right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and you can see what I mean just by skimming Facebook, listening to the radio, or sitting in a sport bar eavesdropping on conversations. I’ve heard and read the most absurd things associated with Monday’s assault – “what did they expect, wearing those jerseys and walking deeper into a den of wolves?”, “they put the target on their backs”, “they should’ve known better”, “that’s what they get for yapping back”, “they should’ve left town right after the game”, and on and on and on. My personal favorite is “well it’s not like they knew he was a cop/veteran”, as if somehow it would’ve been okay if they had just assaulted a plumber or construction worker. People should expect to be beaten within inches of their life for having the temerity to wear a different color jersey than you? Forgive me if I’m wrong but somewhere along the way, we’ve turned into the Bloods and the Crips, justifying violence by pointing out different colors on OUR turf.
Look, I’m no angel. I believe in a hostile environment for opposing teams, players, and yes fans (although I draw a line when children are involved). Im guilty of heckling opposing fans from my seats, joining in on the “A**h***!” chant when they parade through the stands with a Lakers or Cowboys jersey on, and booing Beyonce Knowles and Destiny’s Child. I too have a sense of pride about being a Philly sports fan and our tough reputation.Apparently, the beating the other night was started when the Flyers fans bribed a poor window washer to squirt the Rangers fans with glass cleaner, and laughed about it. I admit I thought that was funny; it was harmless yet creative harassment. While one should never have to expect violence or physical danger, there unquestionably should be an expectation that you will be toyed with and hear about your affiliation.
Some would say even that type of behavior is taking it too far. But there’s an extremely large gap between heckling and hostility, and even the hint of threatening behavior and violence. The problem is, that although the line is fairly wide, it’s continually being blurred by people who think it’s “cool” to take physical action or even threaten other people with physical violence. Well, it’s blurred by that, and alcohol mostly. And therein lies the problem – like on Monday night when some cleaner spraying and yapping escalated into a melee, people don’t know when to stop. So while these minority of tough guys are so proud of establishing their “rep”, the majority of us can’t even give a sidewards glance to a Cowboys fan or dare to verbally heckle them, even in jest. They’re creating an atmosphere in which the fans will stand and clap for their team at the scoreboard-designated times, while security watches over us, because they just can’t take the chance that simple hostility will turn into actual violence.
As for those that think it’s cool to beat up opposing fans for entering your turf, or throw batteries at other human beings – those attitudes are what spawn this type of behavior to begin with. While you may never throw a punch, glorifying these incidents is what makes the individuals involved think their behavior is acceptable, or even praiseworthy. Fights like this happen everywhere and Philadelphia shouldn’t be branded because of an occassional incident that could take place in any city. So, calm down ESPN. But to you Philadelphia sports fans out there – try to remember that these guys deserve handcuffs, not handshakes.