If we define a sports fan as one who follows a team and cares whether it wins or loses, count me in that group. I grew up following the fates of the Orioles and Colts in my hometown of Baltimore and became a devoted Dolphins fan when we lived in Miami and the Fort Lauderdale area. Now living in North Carolina, I cheer for the UNC Tar Heels (Go, Heels!) and Carolina Panthers (Keep pounding!).
A fan, short for fanatic, sometimes also called an aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something or somebody, such as a band, a sports team, even a politician, a book, says Wikipedia. So I qualify, I suppose, but, as much as I love to see my teams win, I’ve never wanted to climb a light pole in celebration or throw a beer can at a cop.
Some, as we have seen, decorate their homes or cars with team colors and memorabilia. Others make fools of themselves in public and commit violence. Last night, following the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory over the new England Patriots, fans rioted — that’s the right word to describe it — in the streets, setting fires, tossing bottles and trying to tear down traffic lights. That doesn’t qualify as harmless fun.
The Washington Post reported last year that increasing stadium and parking lot violence and other such behavior is a concern for all 32 National Football League teams. Between 2011 and 2015, the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers led the league in arrests per game at their home stadium, averaging 24.6. They were followed by the New York Giants, the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Philadelphia’s hooligans didn’t make the top five. The stadiums where disorderly fans are least likely to leave in handcuffs belong to the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Bears, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers.
My personal beef is not with these celebrations, dangerous as they can be, but with the rude behavior of fans toward others who don’t share their loyalties. As one who enjoys attending baseball games, I have had the opportunity to observe in several cities traveling groups of fans who attend games on the road and make life miserable for fans of the home teams who host them.
In my experience, fans of the Boston Red Sox, who must have endless amounts of money to support their travels, easily win the obnoxiousness prize. Visiting Red Sox fans can take over a city’s bars, restaurants and hotel lobbies and seem to enjoy taunting and insulting locals in these venues and at the stadium. I want to believe that these are good people at heart who love their mothers and all that, but many of them leave their manners at home. They forget that they are guests in another’s home.
Without doubt, fandom does affect our behavior, not always for the better. Like thousands of others, I will celebrate the victory of the underdog Eagles over the Patriots. What a great game. But I will do it by raising a glass quietly and staying as far as possible from Philly’s Broad and Market streets.