Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Decent fans, please step up

This is the point at which I, spurred by recent news events, am supposed to tell you that throwing objects on a playing surface is wrong. That there's no place for it in college basketball. That you could really hurt somebody with such foolishness.

The ensuing step is for you to finish the piece, put down the newspaper and say, "How insightful! I never considered that! Three cheers for the local columnist!"

But you would not say that. Instead you would say, "No kidding, moron." Because you're not an idiot. The odds of you, as a sports fan, being one of those dolts who throws stuff on the floor is about 1 in 500,000. Include the variable that you'd actually have to be able to read to process such a lecture in the newspaper? That puts the odds closer to 1 in 2 million.

So I know you're not that guy. But someday soon, you might be sitting next to that guy. Or a couple of rows behind him. And that's why I'm addressing you today.

You can help.

The only answer now is fraternal policing. Nearly everybody has a camera phone these days, right? Use it. Then show an usher. Then watch the idiots get escorted out of the arena, so everybody else can enjoy the game.

Bottom line: The answer to this problem lies with you, not them. The knuckleheads have no interest in changing; they're probably Googling themselves right now to see if their antics showed up on SportsCenter. But the sane folks have the knuckleheads vastly outnumbered -- and they need to take their arenas back.

No doubt the majority of Mississippi State basketball fans are embarrassed by what happened at the end of their team's game against Kentucky on Tuesday, as a few rogue spectators littered the court with bottles. Just like the majority of West Virginia supporters are ashamed at what happened Feb. 3, when a Pittsburgh assistant coach was struck by a projectile heaved from the stands. Virginia Tech fans recently got a warning because of flying debris during a game. You think most of the roughly 10,000 people at Cassell Coliseum that night truly deserved admonishment?

Of course not. And neither did an entire WVU fan base. But they got it because nobody in their ranks stepped up to stop the actual perpetrators.

That's where you come in. Do something. Pay attention. Identify. Tell somebody.

Don't like tattling on your fellow fan? Understandable. But if you're going to argue later that those rubes don't represent your fan base -- when others inevitably rip your crowd as being thuggish -- then you're better off voicing your opinion when it can make a difference. Otherwise, get used to the broad brushes, because they're going to paint like crazy.

And it's not just debris throwing that makes fan bases look bad. Last week, we ran a piece from The Washington Post that discussed how former Tech quarterback Sean Glennon, who now works for a mortgage company in Northern Virginia, is still receiving nasty phone calls from people. I know you didn't call the guy, but maybe you know somebody who did. Or maybe you know somebody who's repeatedly ripped him anonymously on the Internet, making it fashionable to pile on.

Tell those people how you feel about such pettiness.

If not, someone with a higher salary but less sway will have to do it for you. This is always hilarious.

A coach will get on the microphone, as WVU's Bob Huggins did Feb. 3, and lay into his own team's fans for being stupid. Tech coach Seth Greenberg has done it, too. Sadly, a lot of coaches have had to do it.

The best part is the roar that follows.

"Yay!! Our coach just called us all a bunch of losers!!"

The sane fans must feel as though cheering such speeches is their only recourse, but it's not. They have technology available to them that previous generations never did. They've just got to use it.

If the so-called "mob mentality" is empowering these punks, then the best solution is to redefine the mores of the mob. Only the mob can do that. Apologies from school presidents won't. Threats of technical fouls won't, either.

A potential bottle thrower does not care if the officials or athletic directors disapprove of his actions. But if the people wearing the same colors to his left and right did? That registers. That influences.

Decency is a group effort. And you're a key member of the group that actually matters.

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