Thursday, February 13, 2014

Behave Yourselves, People

On occasion, El Hombre has the chance to throw off his burden of defending truth and justice in the world of sports to become a fan. He loves cheering on the Oxford eight during The Boat Race on the Thames, and delights when the Blues dump those barbarians from Cambridge. He cherishes the opportunity to take in a few chukkas during The Season in Palm Beach. In the past few years, he has become enamored of curling and hopes that some day a team of custodians is assembled to take advantage of their inherent ability to train while working.

Ah, yes, the sporting life.

There are even times when El Hombre gets a little consumed in the proceedings, like the time he was nearly removed from the cricket grounds during the England-West Indies test match a few years back. That, however, was due to a bartender’s heavy hand with the Pimm’s. And the “Wimbledon Incident” had more to do with curdled cream on his order of strawberries than anything else.

The point is, that even the best of us can get carried away at times. Of course, that doesn’t mean bad behavior is acceptable. After last Saturday’s incident in Lubbock, it’s time to revisit the standards by which fans are allowed to behave and what steps must be taken to make sure air traffic controllers from Waco aren’t free to blather whatever they want at opposing players. The official line that has come out of the Jeff Orr/Marcus Smart dustup is that “superfan” Orr called Smart a “piece of crap.” According to a tweet from CBS’s Doug Gottlieb, Orr texted a friend of Gottlieb’s and said that what he said “wasn’t vulgar or the N word”. If calling a college player “a piece of crap” isn’t vulgar, then our standards have changed considerably in the last several years.

(By the way, it’s not guaranteed that he didn’t use the N-word. Smart maintains Orr did say it.)

What has also changed is that fans now believe that they can say or do just about anything at games without fear of retribution. Fans aren’t tossed for screaming obscenities during games. (El Hombre remembers hearing the Penn student section chanting “F--- Princeton!” during a game at the Palestra. No effort was made to stop the profanity.) They don’t get in any trouble for getting into the faces of players and howling. Were some of this behavior repeated on the streets, the offending party might have his face flattened. Particularly unruly fans maintain that purchasing tickets entitles them to do and say pretty much whatever they want. Some boundaries remain. For instance, throwing things onto the field or court still brings an ejection. And cheering for the Milwaukee Yucks is cause for institutionalization.

Granted, the slide to increased vulgarity has been a societal issue for years. El Hombre can remember the threat of a soapy snack as punishment for using the word “suck” as a substitute for “stink” or other malodorous circumstance. Now, it’s part of the vernacular and can be heard emanating from student sections throughout games. Times have changed indeed. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for decorum, particularly at college games, and it’s up to the NC2A to take a stand for civility. Asking that organization to have principles about anything other than sticking it to athletes and engorging the bottom line for its member schools is risky, but in this case we must have hope.

What the NC2A must do is mandate that schools post strict guidelines regarding fan content throughout arenas and stadiums. They belong on the backs of tickets and on any material sent to season ticketholders. They should be part of the orientation process for students. And it’s a zero tolerance policy. You make an obscene gesture, and you’re gone. Take a menacing stance toward an opposing player or fan, and it’s the gate. Those ejected are placed on a list. Misbehave twice, and it’s a season ban. Three times, and you’re gone for life.

Fans should make as much noise as possible. They should jump up and down and wear silly costumes. Spend thousands at Kinko’s on those gigantic head printouts. Boo the refs when they mess up. Blow the roof off the place when an opponent is shooting a free throw. Be creative. Be persistent. But it’s time to end the practice of directing profanity and verbal abuse at the players. If schools have to hire extra personnel to enforce the code, so be it. Players shouldn’t have to worry about some bloated “super fan’s” freedom to say whatever he wants, just because he holds a ticket.

Going to a college game should be fun. And the homecourt/field advantage is important to protect. There is a difference between supporting a team and acting maliciously. Somewhere, the idea of being a good fan took an ugly turn and no longer was based on support and enthusiasm. It developed a darker side and a nasty edge. Fans who believe it is appropriate to call a college athlete a “piece of crap” (at best) to his face have lost perspective. If the NC2A has any guts, it will work to restore it.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Fantex, a San Francisco-based company, is offering fans the chance to invest in athletes’ future earnings, with a chance to profit when they surpass a certain level of income. The first equity position available is 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who has been paid $4 million up front, in exchange for 10% of his money down the road. Shares are $10 each. Next up, the entire Jacksonville Jaguars roster, which is available in the penny stock sector…Great news for all of those pesky human-rights proponents who are upset that a reported 185 Nepalese migrant workers died last year while preparing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup/Bribe-a-thon. Qatar has released a workers’ rights charter designed to make sure that only 100 workers die in 2014. Included are provisions for a 95-hour workweek, one serving of gruel (with a chunk of meat-like product included) per day and a bathroom break every 17-hour shift…Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has announced that he is retiring after the ’14 season, or however much of it his creaking body allows him to complete. New York management has already started planning his gala retirement ceremony, which will include gift bags for all female fans and a commemorative poster for men that includes photos of all the members of Maxim’s Hot 100 he has dated. Oh, yeah, there will be some baseball stuff, too…In other Yankees’ news, Alex Rodriguez has decided to drop all of his protests, lawsuits and petitions to the United Nations regarding his 162-game suspension for P.E.D. use. He does, however, plan on being the same clutch performer as always in 2015 and is seeking to negotiate a contract extension that will pay him $500 million through the end of time…Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett had some interesting things to say about his upcoming contract negotiations with the team. When asked whether he might offer the team a hometown discount, he told NFL Network, “There is no such thing as a discount. This isn’t Costco. This isn’t Walmart. This is real life.” In a related story, the Browns will now be sponsored by The Dollar Store.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? The Phillies made big news Wednesday, on the eve of pitchers and catchers’ reporting officially to Clearwater. Ace lefty Cole Hamels revealed that biceps tendinitis discovered last November caused him to abbreviate his off-season throwing schedule. As a result, he won’t be able to start Opening Day. Hamels downplayed the injury and insisted he will be able to pitch in April. Given the Phillies’ history of low-balling their players’ ailments, it isn’t unrealistic to think he meant April, 2015. For now, we’ll choose to believe Hamels and hope that his troubles aren’t the beginning of a 162-game ride to the infirmary for the residents of Citizens Bank Manor. Meanwhile, the arrival of A.J. Burnett gives the Phils a proven innings eater who has started at least 30 games in each of the last five seasons. Burnett is expected to fit right in with the team, thanks to his recent success in Pittsburgh and the fact that he is 37, which will come in handy when the players head out to watch Nirvana tribute bands and argue which of the “Police Academy” sequels was the best.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Putinfest is rolling along nicely in Sochi, where dissidents have been quiet (or shackled in Krasnoyarsk), and any mistakes have been edited out or simply denied. The main casualty of the Olympic Games has been Bob Costas’ left eye, which has somehow escaped the protection accorded the ageless studio host by the decaying portrait he keeps in his attic. Due to Costas’ infection, viewers have been subjected to extra doses of Matt Lauer’s brand of milquetoast, which frankly fits in well with NBC’s homogenized prime-time coverage of the Games. That features drama first and competition second – unless, of course, there is figure skating to be shown. (Has anybody else spent considerable time looking for the bolts in Russian pairs skater Maxim Trankov’s neck?) The other stars of the Games so far have been the Norwegian curlers’ pants and the beautiful Caucasus Mountains, which look positively verdant in the high-40s temperatures that have characterized these “Winter” Games. Upcoming: the Closing Ceremonies, during which Putin will personally execute 10 protesters and strip to the waist to wrestle a bear.


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