Fan behavior mirrors society—are you surprised?

Unless you live in a cave or you ignored all media coverage and the debates, you may have noticed the recent presidential campaign featured two candidates and vociferous supporters who set aside professional decorum and civility. Not surprisingly, sports fans often do the same.

During the recent baseball playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays apologized to the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball after a fan at Rogers Centre threw a beer can that narrowly missed the head of Balti­more outfielder Hyun Soo Kim in the American League wild-card game.

The Blue Jays released a statement saying: “On the heels of one of the most competitive and exhilarating baseball games in our club’s history, it is extremely unfortunate that the irresponsible actions of one individual would detract from the game on the field and tarnish an otherwise memorable night.”

The team said it will “enact heightened security measures and alcohol policies that will ensure the fan experience and safety of everybody involved.”

The statement appears to be straightforward, but what exactly does it mean? How can you possibly guarantee or ensure you can keep all 50,000-plus fans from doing something stupid?

In the 40 years I officiated basketball and/or soccer, I saw some poor fan behavior up close and personal. I can’t say that I ever felt my life was threatened, but I’ll confess to being uncomfortable on several occasions.

Trying to keep the peace with 1,000-2,000 fans can be as difficult for high schools and small colleges as much larger crowds are for professional teams, because spectators are usually closer to the playing field or court, and often there’s less security.

Probably 20 or more years ago, a very good official and colleague of mine was punched in the stomach by a fan as he left the court to go downstairs to the officials’ locker room at Tabor College. Friends University lost the hard-fought game that night, and a fan from Friends apparently took exception to the officiating.

I’m quite certain that security at home games is better now, because you can’t take anything for granted. Getting off the court at Tabor can be a bit problematic for officials because of the proximity of the fans as the officials run off the floor.

It only takes one person to turn a situation ugly.

The week after that incident in Hillsboro, I was one of the officials in Wichita to ref a game at Friends Uni­ver­sity. Let’s just say Friends made it clear that they would not tolerate further incidents between fans and officials. The school assigned a big football player as our personal escort to and from the court. Their message was obvious: “Don’t even think about coming near the officials.”

Years ago, I received a police escort from the Bethany College gym to my car in the parking lot. Emotions after the game were relatively tame as I recall, but this was their standard approach. They were going to ensure the public left the officials alone.

I also remember walking to my car in the Kansas Expocentre in a parking lot after working the boys’ 5A state championship basketball game in Topeka. As I neared my car, I noticed a couple of adults standing outside their car. Keep in mind this is probably 30 minutes or more after the game, and most people were long since gone.

Since I was carrying a duffle bag, it was fairly obvious that I was one of the officials that night. As I passed by on the way to my car, one man said, “You officiated the game tonight, didn’t you?”

I wanted to say, “Who me?”—but I acknowledged that indeed I had.

Then he said, “Well, you’re not the reason why we lost the game.” Whew!

While there appears to be a growing lack of respect for those in authority, it’s all the more reason to appreciate those who have learned how to respond civilly.

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.