Don’t get me wrong, what happened at Candlestick Park in San Francisco Saturday night sucked. Two men were shot and another was seriously beaten after the preseason game between Bay Area rivals Oakland and San Fran.
But those incidents combined with dozens of reported brawls in the stands during the game have also shed light on how hopelessly hysterical the media can be.
I also understand that these aren’t the first grossly violent episodes to take place at a professional sporting event this year. A man suffered severe brain injuries after being beaten outside of Dodger Stadium less than five months ago.
But I do not think that the two stories come together to create a sudden trend, and it’s embarrassing to see the media inventing news themes by melodramatically concluding that we have some sort of fan violence epidemic on our hands. Both of the aforementioned unfortunate situations were extreme aberrations that come together to produce what is better known as a coincidence, not a scary fad that requires the whole country to make sweeping changes at sports venues.
But that is how our knee-jerky society reacts to incidents like these. Instead of concluding that America’s sports stadiums have a violence problem, maybe we should be asking whether it’s simply a broad violence problem that has (inevitably, some would argue) spilled over into stadiums on two occasions.
I don’t know if it’s a lazy attempt to make a deep connection or a sly attempt to make a connection that doesn’t exist, but every story written about this recent “spate” of violence at California stadiums has been riddled with hollow yet poetic theses and patented clichés.
Take Mike Lopresti of USA Today: “Last time, shock and disgust. This time, only disgust. We are past being shocked by stories like this, and what a lousy place that is to be.” But how false is that? We are shocked, hence why this has been made into such a big story. It doesn’t take two examples to eliminate shock.
Every year, 5,416 regular-season MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL games are played in the United States and Canada. The two recent California incidents are acute and extraordinary, maybe even unprecedented. Even if violent acts occur at a dozen other North American sporting events, about 5,400 of the 5,416 are pretty safe. If 100,000,000 people attend pro sports events in America every year, about 999,999,900 of them return home unharmed.
You’d have a better chance getting shot or mugged or violently beaten walking down most city streets in the U.S.
But it’s the idea that sporting events are supposed to provide some sort of non-violent sanctuary that only illustrates how disconnected the media has become from the fans.
Ann Killion of CSN Bay Area was one of few media people who got it right, at least with this one sentence: ”It’s no secret that attending an NFL game at either one of our local football stadiums is not a comfortable experience: the stands include far too many young men who appear angry about their teams, who are profane and violent and seem intent on getting incredibly inebriated.”
People claim that, with incidents like these, our escape from the big, bad and scary real world is being tarnished and is no longer some sort of utopia. But that never existed. It’s the epitome of a media construction. It’s always been this way, regardless of what wannabe poets tell you. I grew up attending Bills games and Argonauts games and Leafs and Raptors and Blue Jays games, in places where crime rates are significantly lower than they are in California. I’ve seen fan violence in those places. I’ve seen fans rumble in Toronto and Buffalo and Montreal, and at Fenway, Wrigley, and Yankee Stadium (new and old). I’ve seen dozens of bloody noses, roughed-up chins and even one clearly broken arm. I’ve seen drunk slobs beat each other over runs. It happens at sporting events across the country every day, and it has been going on for decades, if not longer.
Here’s a beauty line on the San Francisco tragedy from Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press: “But it’s beyond comprehension how anyone can be shot several times in the stomach and left to die in the parking lot simply because of his choice of team.”
And if that isn’t a blatant display of our desire to turn everything into a good-vs.-evil soap opera, I don’t know what is. Why should we assume that these were acts of random violence? We simply do not know the circumstances surrounding what took place on Saturday. We don’t know what, if anything, the victims did to provoke such acts. But we also don’t know that they were only guilty of wearing the wrong team’s gear. In fact, there’s no indication that the culprits were randomly opening fire on fans of their team’s geographical rivals. Let’s not dramatize the ordeal by drawing conclusions that simply make the story sound a tad more tragic than it already is.
There’s actually no evidence that the incidents in Oakland were team-related, although I’ll admit that such a conclusion isn’t far-fetched. The point is that violence happens, especially where both booze and testosterone are flowing. And based on mathematics alone, violence happens where people congregate in the tens of thousands.
There are over 12,000 violent crimes and over 125 homicides in the Bay Area every single year. People are shot, beaten and stabbed outside of theaters, restaurants, malls, apartment buildings. Chance alone states that, if the feces hits the fan that commonly, it’s going to happen at Raiders and 49ers games once in a while. It’s actually quite amazing that it doesn’t happen more often in cities across the country. If anything, these disastrous events have shed light on how fantastic the security has been every other day of the year and at every other venue in professional sports.
We want to believe that the pair of tragic events in Los Angeles and San Francisco fit nicely into an emerging and troubling trend that is about to peak. Maybe that’s an easier way to rationalize what’s happening and go about finding a solution. Increased security won’t hurt, and tighter limits on alcohol would be crucial (good luck getting the sponsors on board). But instead, we should look at the broad picture. These are angry people doing angry things in a bankrupt state, in a country with a strange addiction to firearms and violence.
The violence isn’t surprising. The location is. This isn’t the NFL’s problem or MLB’s problem. It’s America’s problem, and by chance, it has leaked into its stadiums. You don’t fix the problem at the stadiums. You fix the problem everywhere else.
(Photo courtesy AP/San Francisco Chronicle/Yahoo! Sports)