Why Fans Feel That They Can Throw Things at Athletes

by Gus Griffin







By now, you have witnessed the scene in Jacksonville last Sunday when a fan (or fans) threw objects at an ejected Seattle Seahawks player, who then attempted to go into the stands. I could parrot the “company line”, which says under no circumstances should a player go into the fan seating areas with malicious intent, regardless of provocation. But there is a part of me that feels perfectly comfortable with the notion of a 300-pound man going into the stands to “lay hands” on any coward who throws an object at him.

To understand why I don’t think this is the worst thing that could happen, we first need to look at why fans do this. There are basically 4 primary causes, being alcohol, the ever increasing prices fans pay for their tickets, envy, and the impunity that they have learned from the larger society about how they can treat Black men.

The last point about Black men is not to suggest that they are the only athletes that are the targets. It is to say that they are the overwhelming targets of this behavior. The first is easy. Some simply can’t hold their liquor and contrary to the common narrative, alcohol does not make one do what one would normally not do. Alcohol does encourage one to do what one has ALWAYS wanted to do but never had the nerve to follow through. Sobriety can act as a filter and catch certain thoughts and behaviors. But it only catches what was inside to begin with.

The second cause is the increasing prices fans are paying for seats. A fan needs to be reasonably close for whatever he or she throws to have a chance to actually hit and harm an athlete. Seats in the section from where the objects came last Sunday in Jacksonville, price at about $238 per seat. These are among the cheapest in the league at that proximity to the field. Imagine what one would pay in New York or Dallas for the same seats? With the price of that ticket, all too many fans feel entitled to do whatever they want.

The third reason is envy. The overwhelming majority of the fans in these seating areas are white and middle to upper-middle class. While the majority do not engage in such behavior, even when drinking, there are some who feel that regardless of how accomplished and wealthy the Black athlete is, he is still subject to them. This leads us to the fourth and most complex of the causes.

It has to do with the message the general society has received loud and clear about how it can treat Black men. That message has been that violence and disrespect is not only permitted but one need not concern him or herself with any accountability. Add all four up: alcohol, entitlement, envy, and a sense that they can treat Black men any way they like with impunity, and we really should not be surprised when this happens.

The insult to injury whenever this sort of thing happens is the focus which shines much more on how the Black athlete reacts to the treatment than the treatment itself. The NFL is like most institutions in that managing the reaction to injustice is a far greater priority than the injustice itself.

In defense of the NFL, there is only so much it can do about this issue. It can and should certainly cancel any confirmed offending fan’s season tickets and push for any applicable criminal charges. While it should do these at minimal, it would be a band-aid. It’s not as if fans come to games as blank slates, free of any of the biases that exist in the larger society. When one looks at the message from the larger society, which clearly says Black Lives Don’t Matter, it’s understandable why they think this way.

Throughout history, from the reaction to the Black Panther Party till today, America has made it very clear that the idea of Black men standing up for themselves in any venue for any reason, regardless of provocation, is to be suppressed. The fact that there is a simultaneous obsession with the right of just about every other demographic to bear arms is not considered a contradiction. Therefore, until the root of this behavior is addressed in the larger society, there is no reason to believe it will cease to exist in the sports world.


Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

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