NFL stadiums need to clean up the act

The+start+of+the+violent+Tennessee+fan+fight+on+Aug.+5.+
The start of the violent Tennessee fan fight on Aug. 5.

The start of the violent Tennessee fan fight on Aug. 5.

Courtesy of Youtube

Courtesy of Youtube

The start of the violent Tennessee fan fight on Aug. 5.

Jacob Novack, Writing Editor

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One of my earliest memories as a Browns fan is going to a home game with my dad when I was no more than eight years old, and a woman suddenly covering my ears.

When this happened, I was definitely startled. After letting go, the woman, who was sitting behind us, gestured to a gentleman in our section and explained that she didn’t want me to hear his “expansive” vocabulary after the Browns committed a turnover.

Unfortunately, this unruly rant isn’t the only example of fan misconduct I’ve experienced at a Browns game. I can recall a fan next to me passed out drunk during the 2012 Browns home opener, and more recently, two rowdy Steelers fans in our section during the home opener on Sep. 10. Throughout the game, these fans were intent on making the game as miserable as possible for every Browns fan around them, my father and I included. These guys brought the whole package: profanity, drunkenness and middle-finger salutes were all put on display. At one point, the Steelers fan seated next to my dad proceeded to hit him with a twirl of his Terrible Towel in his beer-infused excitement. I totally get that Browns-Steelers games are rivalry games where fans are supposed to be spirited, yet I don’t think there’s a viable excuse for having your back turned to the field only to cuss out fans who are trying to watch the game.  

Senior Jared Rosner, who regularly attends Browns games, said that he can also recall many examples of unruly fans at games.

“In my experience, I have witnessed multiple examples of fan misconduct,” Rosner said. “From constant cursing to shirtless guys having to be evacuated from the stadium by law enforcement for fighting, I’d say I’ve seen my fair share of misconduct.”

However, fan violence is not limited to Cleveland. Senior Justin Helfman has family in the Buffalo area of New York State, and has attended numerous Buffalo Bills games. He said that like Rosner, he has also witnessed numerous examples of fan misconduct, including “extremely drunk people and verbal harassment of foreign fans.”

This bad behavior unfortunately reflects a larger trend for the National Football League. Fan misconduct and violence are prevalent at NFL stadiums around the country, and are souring the stadium experience. Because of this, I believe that the NFL needs to issue sweeping security measures to ensure a positive fan experience.

One potential cause of this widespread fan mayhem is that each NFL stadium has its own set of rules and regulations regarding alcohol. For example, FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland (where the Browns play) doesn’t allow alcohol purchases after the third quarter of a game, while Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts (home of the Patriots) only reserves the right to cut off alcohol sales, but doesn’t guarantee to do so. Although the NFL has released a universal fan code of conduct, it is extremely broad and does not dictate specific measures stadiums should take to ensure fan well-being. Since copious amounts of alcohol consumption usually don’t bode well for a stadium packed with roughly 60,000 passionate fans of opposing teams, the NFL must put a universal cap on the amount of alcohol purchases a fan may make during the course of a game, regardless of the stadium. Although it would be difficult at first to keep track of each individual fan’s alcohol purchases, creating a system for fans to “log in” and register their alcohol purchases would go a long way to protect the well-being of others.

However, some fans feel that there is only so much the NFL can do to control alcohol consumption. Senior Cyrus Young, another regular Browns game attendee, said that he feels that the NFL can’t fully protect its stadiums from intoxication since outside sources of alcohol are ever-present before games.

“I have witnessed many fights at games, and it’s hit a point where the drunkenness no longer phases me,” Young said. “The NFL can do little to prevent this, as the [downtown municipal] lots are open at 7 a.m. and many fans are drinking from that time until they are in the stadium.”

Young is definitely right in saying that the NFL cannot control how much fans drink in tailgating lots, but that doesn’t mean that intoxicated fans should be allowed into the stadium. Although some venues like FirstEnergy Stadium claim that they do not allow visibly inebriated fans to attend a game, I have never seen a fan who has been turned away for drunkenness in my ten-plus years of going to games. To be fair, my experiences at one gate of FirstEnergy Stadium for a select number of games can’t possibly reflect the tendencies of the entire venue. But if I could actually see that gate officials had breathalyzers or other security measures at the ready, it would definitely be reassuring.  Yes, it would take more time to get into the stadium, but if that means that drunk fans won’t be staggering around the concourses, I’m all for it.

Another threat to NFL fan security is the potential for fan-on-fan fighting. This violence is exemplified by a confrontation  between two fans at a Tennessee Titans game on Aug. 5 which left one man bloodied–next to a man carrying an infant a few seats over (please be advised that the link directs to footage of the fight, which is violent and graphic.) Now, this is an extreme display of aggression, but it definitely is not the first example of fighting at an NFL game. One quick YouTube search pulls up a twenty-minute-long compilation of fans fighting at games–not exactly the best look for a sports league with enough questions about violence on the field, not off of it.

However, the violence in the aforementioned video didn’t go unnoticed by security personnel. An official apprehended one of the brawlers, but the fan who threw the first punch wasn’t even pulled aside. As a football fan, things like this scare me. Although stadiums have put productive measures in place, like phone numbers for fans to anonymously report fan misconduct, I still fear that a spontaneous melee like the one at the Titans game won’t be properly contained.

In my experience at a typical Browns game, there are usually only one or two officials presiding over an entire section. Incidents like the Tennessee fight can happen so suddenly, and can affect many people in the fight’s vicinity. As a fan, I hope that stadiums across the country begin to increase the presence of law enforcement and other security officials at games, because if a fan-on-fan fight gets bad enough, one or two security guards might not be able to properly control the situation.

When witnessing these disgusting displays of alcohol-induced chauvinism and violence, I keep thinking back to the kind woman who covered my ears when I was little. What if, instead of some cursing, a fight took place in my section? What if I was caught in the middle of it? Would I ever go back to a football game?

The answer to that last question is a resounding “no.”

 

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