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PAINTER: Fan violence has no place at sporting events

• Dec 10, 2018 at 4:00 PM

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealously, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” — George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit”

Orwell wrote his essay in 1950. Turn the clock ahead and you will find that fan violence is as prevalent as ever.

Most of us sports fans don’t condone violence. We know that there is going to be a certain amount of violence in such contact sports as football and hockey. But as fans we try to control our emotions.

Fan violence is something that we all can agree has no place in sports. My son, Lee, is an avid soccer fan — he even follows South American soccer. So, my wife, Marilyn, and I joined him in watching one of the most premier sporting events in South America — the Copa Libertadores soccer championship.

This year’s championship featured Boco Juniors and River Plate, two cross-town rivals in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Boco and River have had an intense rivalry dating back for years.

This was the first time the two teams were matched for the championship. Teams play two games to determine the champion. The first game played at Boco ended in a 2-2 tie and appeared to be void of any serious incidents.

But the second game scheduled to be played at River Plate was postponed after River fans attacked the Boco team bus en route to the stadium. “Hooligans,” as they are called, smashed windows with rocks, injuring some by flying glass and tear gas. As of this writing, the second game was moved to Madrid to be played Dec. 9, but River Plate officials said they would refuse to play in Spain.

Violence at soccer matches doesn’t appear to be that uncommon in South America. We watched another match in which irate fans were ripping seats from their foundations and tossing flares.

Many soccer stadiums in South America have fences with barbed wire around the perimeter of the soccer field.

By no means is fan violence confined to South American sporting events. Justine Gubar, a producer for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and an author, believes that fan violence is on the increase. She told the Seattle Times in a 2015 article “that the internet and rising ticket prices have created fan entitlement — where violence toward opposing teams, players, media, referees and fellow fans flourish.” She also said alcohol plays a role in fan violence.

Fan violence throughout the world has been an ongoing problem for a long time. According to Wikipedia, fan violence dates back to the Roman times when fans at chariot races were involved in violence.

We’ve seen a number of fan violence incidents in the United States through the years. Just recently, a video appeared to show a Pittsburgh Steelers fan chocking a female San Diego Chargers fan.

Michigan, of course, has had its fair share of fan violence. Some of you may remember that the celebration of the Detroit Tigers winning the 1984 World Series against the San Diego Padres turned violent with fans burning a Detroit police car. Who could forget the 2004 basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in which a brawl took place between Pacer players and Piston supporters?

We see fan violence video clips surfacing on a regular basis. They show parents fighting with each other or with game officials.

I witnessed fan violence myself. When I was just out of the Navy, I went to a high school basketball game in which a former coach of mine had a son playing. His son was very good and eventually became a starter at Eastern Michigan University. Apparently angered by a hard foul, a father of the opposing team suddenly rushed the court and began swinging at my coach’s son. Officials were able to constrain the irate father.

Steps to curtail fan violence are being taken at most professional and college venues, including restricting the sale of alcohol, using video surveillance and beefing up security. But we also must do our part and not let our emotions get out of control.

I am reminded of a line in the movie, “Trouble with the Curve”: “It’s only a game.” Yes, it is. Let’s keep that in mind as a fan.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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