Bad fan behavior an ever-growing epidemic

Josh Brown TDN Sports Editor

Everyone that follows any sports team at any level knows that their team has “that” fan. The one that is belligerent, overzealous and always yelling hateful things from the stands at the officials during a game.

No one says anything to them. Everyone just accepts this behavior. It’s just the way they are. The way they’ve always been. They’re not going to change.

The problem with that indifference? Over the years, it’s turned “that” fan into “those” fans. And, emboldened by the lack of consequences or oversight around them, their collective behavior has just become progressively more and more atrocious.

So this column isn’t aimed at them. They’ll see these words on this page and do what they always do: come up with excuses and justifications for their behavior — after all, those referees deserve to be belittled and torn down after making such horrid mistakes (spoiler alert: no, they don’t) — or even remain completely oblivious, thinking “well, he couldn’t possibly be talking about me.”

No, my target demographic is all of you out there that sit by quietly, embarrassed and ashamed by their behavior but not doing anything to stop it. After all, “those” fans are your neighbors. Your close friends. Your own parents. Even your own grandparents.

Those relations don’t excuse behaviors that have absolutely no place at a public event.

Why am I bringing this up now? After all, the varsity high school season — which easily was the worst I’ve ever witnessed when it comes to fan behavior in general in my decade plus of covering high school sports — is now over.

On Thursday, Troy Junior Baseball President Brandy Joins shared an account of an incident at a Wednesday night game on TJB’s Facebook group page. Apparently, fans and coaches were disputing calls made by the home plate umpire, a situation that snowballed into the umpire finally throwing off his mask and leaving the field, all while being heckled by the crowd. Given the option by a board member that was present to either switch with the field umpire or leave, the home plate umpire felt he had no choice but to leave, and he later told Joins that he would not be umpiring any more games.

The umpire in question? A 13-year-old boy.

Now, it should be noted that even Joins’ description of the incident is a second-hand account. But that doesn’t matter. Also irrelevant? Getting to “the truth” of this incident or listening to both sides of the story, because there have been disputes on how severe what was actually said was. None of that matters. Negative comments about calls — whether they contained curse words or not — were made toward a child official there to learn the game of baseball. And at a recreational league’s game, too, meaning whoever ended up winning or losing the game is the most irrelevant thing of all and that no one present should have been concerned with that in the slightest. That’s what recreation means.

And also, the role the coaches in the game played in the incident is in dispute, but I’m not bringing them into this at all. Being a little league coach is almost as thankless a job as being an official. At times, they even may catch more grief from the fans present than the umpires.

So again, the specifics of this one incident are not really the point. And neither are the actual calls made by the officials, whether they’re the correct call or not.

The point is that this pattern of behavior has become so commonplace that it’s now accepted as the norm — and that absolutely cannot be allowed to be the case.

During this past high school basketball season — which easily is always the worst season when it comes to fans mistreating officials — I witnessed fans getting thrown out of games on four separate occasions. During a normal year, I’m present for maybe one fan ejection.

Two of those four instances? Fans of the same team. And in both cases, the team they were there rooting for was winning by 25 points or more in the second half. What, did the call in question keep your team from winning by 50? Was that the problem? Literally no excuse for that kind of behavior at a high school — or any level — sporting event.

And beyond the typical issues of fans not actually knowing the rules or how to recognize violations themselves — tests should be administered at the gate, and if a fan can’t identify what traveling actually looks like or is, they’re either not allowed to enter or are forced to leave the first time they utter the word “walking” at any volume — they’ve actually begun to openly question their own coaches.

During a tournament basketball game, the opposing team was winning by 30 points with more than four minutes left to play. So the coach of the team I was there to cover — again, I’m not naming names or directly calling out specific fans, because that’s not the point — pulled all of the starters, putting in the team’s young backups to get them tournament experience in the final game of the season. You know, the commonly accepted and intelligent thing for a coach to do, the thing literally every coach does in that situation.

From behind me in the stands come a chorus of lunacy from a relatively large group of fans: “Let the seniors play! It’s their last game! Keep them in the game!” And then, the crowning smack-my-head moment: “You need to look for a job somewhere else!”

No. That coach is doing exactly what they were supposed to do. Someone needs to to teach you how to act in public.

Everyone seems to think that, by buying a ticket to attend these events, they are given the right to act any way they feel like acting. That is not the case. Before every sporting event, the announcer reads off a message asking everyone present to treat the players, coaches, officials and each other with respect. At the beginning of Troy Junior Baseball season, all of the parents sign a code of conduct form, promising that they won’t act, well, the way they act.

To that 13-year-old umpire, I hope you’re reading this. Don’t let anything anyone says to you get to you. Ignore the haters. They don’t matter in your life in the slightest. All that matters is having confidence in your own abilities, and knowing that nothing anyone else says or does can take that away from you. I sincerely hope you rethink giving up umpiring — Joins said you’d been doing it for three years now, and that you were one of her best. And one bad day or a bunch of obnoxious fans will never change that.

I know you’re probably thinking “that’s easy for you to say” — trust me. In my position, I know a little something about this. And I’m sure that, no matter how correct I am, no matter how well I’ve clarified that the specifics of one incident don’t matter and that this is about a general topic, I’ll hear even more about just how wrong and awful I am after people read this. But they don’t matter either. All that matters to me is that you read this and take its message to heart — and show everyone how strong your own heart is.

Joins herself may have said it best in a response on her original Facebook post:

“I won’t apologize for bringing to light the issues that surround any youth league sport, and that is the blinders we all put on to let inappropriate behaviors continue and not say/do anything to stop them. This incident was kind of like the straw the broke the camel’s back for me. I apologize to the coaches that this affected, as that truly was not my intention at all. Again, I hope that everyone will have their eyes and ears open and encourage our youth, instead of ridiculing them for a bad call.”

So to those of you that sit idly by when your fellow fans — be they anyone from your best friend to your own normally dear, sweet grandmother — misbehave? Stop. Say something to them. Tell them no one wants to hear that kind of thing in public. When they inevitably argue “but the call really was that bad!” — say you don’t care. No one does. Because it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is the lesson that you’re teaching your children by doing nothing. You’re showing them that acting that way and treating other human beings that way is an acceptable thing.

And it just isn’t.

By not silencing “those” fans, you’re only creating more of them.

Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.