Back in November of 2004, after the horrific brawl in the stands of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons game at their home arena (in “New Fallujah”, as Rush Limbaugh dubbed the city after watching the incident), I compared it to footage of sporting events from what seems like centuries ago–the mid-1960s:
A few years ago, when NFL Films began running its Inside The Vault series on ESPN, I was struck by how conservative and dignified most mid-’60s fans looked. There was little or no team merchandise available, so fans arrived to stadiums on Sunday looking like they had just come from church (which many no doubt had), rather than wearing rainbow-colored wigs, Darth Vader Helmets, or cheeseheads. No doubt, the games had their share of hecklers, but I’ll bet that in general, fans of the past were much more subdued than today’s members of Raiders Nation, the Philadelphia Eagles’ crazed fans, or…the courtside fans of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.
This isn’t meant to exclude the players’ guilt in Friday’s incident: compare atheletes of the past with today’s every-millionare-for-himself attitude. (Indiana’s Ron Artest, the player who was banned for the rest of the season for being the pointman in the fight, actually asked for time off before the fight–to promote a rap album he was releasing on his recording label!)
But somehow, and without really thinking consciously about it, society has created the notion that sports arenas are a place for fans to go almost literally insane, rather than merely observe the hometown team in person and cheer for them. But the Pistons/Pacers rumble gives sports–and the public that watches them in person–a chance to hit the control/alt/delete keys and reset.
In “The Death of Sportsmanship“, Brent Bozell writes that based on the crowds’ constant F-bombing of the Navy’s football team at a Rutgers home game, that reset button is nowhere to be found.