By Ned Hickson
Like many of you, I watched the Pacers-Pistons debacle in utter disbelief. How could any self-respecting sports fan allow themselves to be seen on national television, in front of millions of viewers, wasting a seven-dollar beer?
Somewhere along the way we've forgotten that sporting events are supposed to inspire the best in us - an ideal that professional athletes remind us can only be achieved through hard work, sacrifice, and the purchase of sneakers so expensive they require short-term financing.
It's hard to know why angry sports fans have gotten out of control, but in the words of Italian soccer star Fabio Perfecto, "I hope it never happens in my country."
What is most disturbing, say sociologists, is that this type of behavior is now spreading to sports no one even cares about. For example, the recent World Ping-Pong Championships in Seattle, where the only spectator at the event suddenly leaped from the stands and, without warning, began hurling ping-pong balls at the visiting Chinese team. The situation intensified when the Chinese, brandishing their paddles, relentlessly backhanded enough balls into the assailant to render him unconscious. Though some felt the response was excessive, investigators declined to issue any formal charges against the Chinese team since no player actually left his seat during the volley.
"It is our conclusion that the Chinese acted with proper restraint, given the fact that, had they wanted to, they could have killed their attacker in less than 10 seconds," said a chief investigator.
Aggressive fan behavior has already prompted threats of a strike if security measures aren't tightened before the start of next year's Pro Bowling Tour. "We don't intend to make the same mistake as other sports," said a PBA spokesman. "The time to act is NOW, before we have spectators we don't actually know."
Psychiatrists argue the only way to reverse this trend is by teaching fans constructive ways to voice their disapproval. In a recent experiment conducted by the American Psychiatrists Association, Lakers fans were issued sock puppets resembling Kobe Bryant and told to "Sock it to Kobe" by telling the puppet how they felt.
"We all agreed it was a success when, at one point, there were literally 20,000 spectators in the stands yelling and screaming at sock puppets," said one psychiatrist. "We also agreed never to do it again because, quite frankly, it was the creepiest thing we'd ever seen."
In spite of a promise from NBA commissioner David Stern to protect athletes from unruly fans, "even if it means restricting alcohol consumption by raising the price of beer," agents and union officials say it's going to take more than promises to quell the anxiety many athletes now feel when stepping onto the court.
"Getting sucker punched and shanked by a defender is just part of professional basketball," said union director Billy Hunter. "But no athlete should be expected to go out, night after night, knowing he might get hit with an empty beer cup - or worse, a paternity suit."
When asked to comment on talk of a potential strike if tighter security measures aren't in place by season play-offs, Hunter called the rumors "laughable" and denied any plans to strike because of security issues.
"If we strike, it'll be for more money," said Hunter. "Sadly, after paying for child support, defense attorneys and anger management classes, many athletes are dangerously close to making the league minimum of $1.3 million - which sounds like a lot, until you factor in the cost of tricking out a 16-seat Humvee."
On a personal note, I plan to continue viewing professional sports from the safety of my own living room. The beer is cheap. The seats are more comfortable. And if I get angry, I have my own set of sock puppets.
You can write to Ned Hickson at:
The Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.