As a sports writer, there are certain obligations. One is to second-guess coaches at every opportunity. Since virtually no coach in the NFL or college football can manage the clock, and some basketball coaches still stubbornly refuse to foul to avoid getting beat by a 3-point shot, that one’s pretty easy.
However, there is also this expectation that you will seize all opportunities to express moral indignation because everyone knows there is no higher moral authority than a sports writer. That one’s not so easy. Or at least I can’t work up enough energy to climb on my high horse and lecture fans for bad behavior based on two recent, isolated, instances.
I agree that Braves fans should not have littered Turner Field with bottles and other debris after an umpire made a garbage call that went against Atlanta in a playoff game. I also agree that those Kansas City fans, who cheered, booed, smiled or merely felt their hearts warm at the sight of injured quarterback Matt Cassel are “sickening” and “disgusting,” to quote Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Winston.
But let’s step back from the obvious for a moment and consider this. In both cases, fans overreacted out of emotion because they want so much to win and hate so much to lose. The events in question happened late in the games, perhaps after a bit of thirst-quenching. And again, these were isolated instances.
Now, balance that truth against the fact that the fan has to put up with daily revelations about pro and big-time college athletes and coaches ending up on the wrong side of the law – players collect DUIs like Groupons – or cheating in some way (steroids, Bounty Gate, grades, accepting money from a booster, etc.).
I know, now I am starting sound morally outraged. And I guess I am to the extent that it seems like the fan is always the first to get stepped on. Some pundits, in a rush to denounce Fans Behaving Badly, have gone too far and, quite conveniently, failed to recognize the recent past. Namely, that just a few weeks ago the NFL was treating all its fans like a bunch of schmucks by continuing to use replacement officials because the league didn’t want to pay the freight to work out a deal with the real officials. Meantime, Green Bay Packers fans saw their team lose a game it shouldn’t have lost.
This self-serving act isn’t new. Baseball, which decades ago had its owners found guilty of collusion in an effort to hold down player salaries, happily turned a blind eye to steroids after a players’ strike wiped out a World Series. Home runs were bringing the game back, making turnstiles click and cash registers ring, and baseball wasn’t about to cleanse itself at the expense of record revenues.
So while the last couple of weeks haven’t offered fans at their best, we’ve seen worse. Fans in Atlanta and Kansas City did not cost their team a game or play a part in falsely breaking hallowed records.
They scraped enough quarters together to fill the seats and got caught up in the moment while buying $5 hot dogs and $9 beers.
As long as they keep doing that, they’ve earned a little grace.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the Jon & Don Show on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.