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Reclaim the metaphor

The beating of a San Francisco Giants fan last week after the Dodgers' season opener engendered much conversation about stadium security and whether Dodger fans are drunker and gangier than most, or whether it's just that so many were raised by wolves.

Bullying behavior from sports fandom's bully pulpit is nothing new. A native of Denver, I am a partisan of the Broncos, who play in the same division as the Raiders, whose fans' reputation for thuggery is unmatched in this solar system. Many years ago, when the Raiders played in Los Angeles, I was in a bar watching them on "Monday Night Football." I didn't make it to halftime, not because the game wasn't good or the beer ran out, but because I was physically threatened by people who understood neither the concept of game nor sportsmanship. Young, white, upwardly mobile, they were an out-of-control mob with which I was ashamed to share a genus.

As the Giants host the Dodgers tonight in the first of a three-game series, the brutality of last week's assault remains an open wound that invites all forms of prescriptive address.

Most opiners deplore not only the brutal behavior of a couple of parking-lot Neanderthals, but the general vulgarity of fans everywhere. Many suggest tighter controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol, and most offered suggestions for enhanced security. There were the standard-issue media-blamers, including the sticks-and-stones denier who suggested in the Daily News that sports commentators are too provocative; they should practice safe adjectives, he said, and refrain from referring to "the dreaded Giants." Uh huh, and don't forget to tip your concession server.

Then there were the singular voices, the soloists who rang out above the clamoring chorus for adult supervision, common decency and linguistic hygiene. They included the correspondent in Saturday's L.A. Times sports section who wrote that eradicating unsavory and unsafe behavior at Dodger games was a simple matter of raising ticket prices in order to "price out the losers who cause these problems. ... people who pay $100 for a ticket," he said, "don't act like common criminals."

So, you can take Eliza Doolittle to Ascot, but you can't make her elocute and--more important--you shouldn't let her. This guy thinks a sporting event is the proper domain only of the affluent, which, he implies, confers class, which, he implies, confers good manners.
Really? Consider Exhibit A: sports fan/NBA owner Mark Cuban, who, by some estimates, has been fined more than $1.6 million for criticizing referees and the league in language that will never be described as diplomatic. He has been known to boo players who once played for his team when they returned as members of the opposition roster. Cuban doesn't excuse his incivility, he just pays it forward: He told the Associated Press that he matches fine levies with charitable donations. Exhibit B: another owner-boor, L.A.'s own Donald Sterling who didn't even wait for his Clipper player to become an ex-Clipper before calling him out publicly from his courtside seat. Another affluent cretin who, instead of cleaning up his act, just pays interest on it. In March, he offered space-available Clippers tickets to underprivileged kids in honor of Black History Month. The gesture not only invited people to equate underprivileged with African American, it missed the event of record by 11 months.

Here are a couple rich guys with a whole lot of class, but all of it is low. So if you're looking to correct bad fan behavior by raising the cost of being a fan, there's something wrong with your business model. (And never mind that, in the case of the Dodgers, this approach would offer the loathsome McCourts an even greater reward for their clueless, classless, incompetent ownership of the team.)

These monied morons are offensive, but at least there's sport to be made of their sheer hubris, at least we penny-pinchers deserve our righteous sense of superiority in the character department. But for other shrill voices recently raised in unison on the topic of fan-on-fan violence, we the (average) people respond with fear and loathing. These are the exhortations of humanlike creatures who believe that what you wear is a declaration of war, the nonmetaphorical kind. Last week, a Giants fan wore his team's apparel to Dodger Stadium and paid the price of brain damage for his loyalty. L.A. Times columnist Sandy Banks reported that at the game the next day, three young adults in the stands abused a man wearing a Giants jersey with prolific profanity, including sexual slurs and references to the Holocaust. "This is why people get killed," Banks said one of them yelled. "I hope you get shot in the parking lot."

And thanks to the digital realm that turns cowards into anonymous cowards, the racist cowardly element checked in yesterday on Craigslist with suggestions for tonight's Giants-Dodgers game. One posting advocated the slaying of "a Dodger Fan, a Mexican Fan," as did another in promoting beating "to death a Mexican in Dodger gear."

A bat, a ball and mitt are the tools of people who participate in America's pastime. But a disturbing number of people who watch them come equipped with hateful hearts, criminal intent and an utter disrespect for humanity. Remember when arguments about the designated hitter concerned skilled performers on the field, not bad actors in the parking lot?


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