The NBA pro basketball brawl, at the Palace arena in Auburn Hills, MI., between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, on Nov. 19, 2004, was ultra-ugly by any standards. It was ignited by an idiot fan, a holder of a $50 ticket, who tossed a cup of water on the Pacer’s shaky Ron Artest, who’s pulling down $5 million a year salary. There is plenty of blame to go around here. The gulf, too, between today’s pro basketball fans, mostly middle class whites, and the oftentimes spoiled players, mostly blacks from the inner cities, is so wide and so deep, that it’s like gazing into the Grand Canyon. That element alone of this incident deserves to be studied by a team of sociologists. This nasty donnybrook also brought home to me some rather unpleasant fan-rage-related memories.
In 1959, the NFL championship game was held in Baltimore, at the now- demolished “Memorial Stadium” on 33rd Street. It was a sell out crowd of 58,000 watching the Colts, with the legend, John Unitas, at the helm, taking on the New York Giants. In those days, the facility was known as the “largest outdoor insane asylum in the world.” It deserved the title. I had an end zone seat for the game, at the closed end of the facility. The championship game ticket only cost $10. Chances were excellent, too, that you would see many of the Colts in the off season selling used cars or tending bar. Back then, a genuine bond existed between the players and the community. The players were also systematically exploited by the team owners as a commodity to be used up during their prime years and then dumped. Most of the Baltimore Colts players had to hold down other jobs, just to eke out a decent living.
At that game, my first cousin, (we’ll call him, “Fritz”), was sitting in the upper deck, around the 30 yard line on the east side of the stadium. He got up to cheer on a play and the guy in front of him, a little under the weather from boozing, took offense and pulled out a knife and stabbed Fritz in the stomach. Fortunately, medics were on top of the situation immediately. Fritz was taken to Union Memorial Hospital, which was located only a few blocks away. A hearty dockworker, Fritz recovered quickly from the vicious assault, but it could have, if circumstances were slightly different, had ended in his death. And for what? Standing up to cheer on a play!
In the mid-80s, when I could still run up and down a soccer field for 60 minutes, I toiled for a number of years as a referee for high school games in the Baltimore area. The pay was in the low two digits. The up side, however, was that it was great exercise and as a former high school and college soccer player, it gave me a chance, too, to be around a new generation of soccer players. The downer was the personal abuse from the parents of the players. Players and coaches, a ref can control. He can just “card” them whenever they get out of line, which I would do. One too many cards and they were history. With the mindless fans, it was different. They are outside of the scope of a ref’s radar. I suspect that the victims in the Roman Colosseum might have heard the same kind of cruel mocking, just prior to their being eaten alive by the hungry lions, as I did as a referee. That was on the good days!
The final straw happened when the personal abuse reached an “Octave 10” level, from an obviously insane parent, who was standing on the sideline with a group of his cronies, while I was working a game at, of all places, an exclusive Quaker school! He reacted to every call I made, (I was working the game by myself), as if I had intentionally launched nuclear missiles to start WWIII! Then, I knew, finally, it was time for me to turn in my whistle!
Yet, I couldn’t help but ponder, even back then, that these same out-of-control fans on soccer game days, or at a Colts game, acted quite differently the rest of the week at their jobs and in their homes. I suspected that they’d then slipped back into their Walter Mitty-like role of a punching bag. The persona they present to their bosses; church or synagogue leaders; the Establishment media; and any other authority figures in their lives would be the opposite of the crazed “fan” that knifed cousin Fritz at Memorial Stadium or that whacko taunter who showed up at that Quaker school soccer game. What is that all about? Why do people – normal everyday folks – transform themselves into the role of a crass loud mouth, brawler, and worse, at sporting events? I’m sure there are plenty of explanations. Some may be found by reading that classic, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,” by Gustave Le Bon.
In any event, the country is fast going to hell! Just take a quick look at the present dreadful state of America, since WWII. Almost all of the social and economic gains on behalf of working class people coming out of the 1930s, and engineered by a progressive Labor Movement, have been or are being lost. The nation’s manufacturing base is also on life support. The draconian Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Law are on the books and worse is expected. Many religious and labor leaders act like props for the reigning political clique. Health care costs are soaring, and the parasites in Washington are taxing social security benefits, while giving the elite huge mega-tax breaks. An illegal and unjust war is being fought, (and lost), in Iraq. And, yet this same hypothetical “fan” is seemingly incapable of raising his or her voice to stop all of the above, and/or, more importantly, to fight back!
Is this all just a reprise of the “Bread and Circuses” techniques of Ancient Rome – keeping the masses entertained, while its rulers, the Caesars, (read today’s Bush-Cheney Gang), rip the people off to benefit the grasping wire pullers behind the scene? I think it is. Today’s Establishment, via its controlled media, regularly encourages violence. But, and this is a big “but,” if that same basketball fan, who threw the cup of water on Artest, repeated that conduct towards an elected federal officeholder, like say, “U.S. Sen. John Anybody,” he would face a stiff, mandatory prison sentence of ten years in a federal institution.
The bottom line is this: As long as the irate fans aren’t organized in any kind of meaningful social or political context and aren’t directing their venom at the Establishment and its destructive policies, the wire pullers don’t give a good hoot what they do. In fact, when the fans do “act out,” as they did at the Pacer/Piston game, it only adds to the Bread & Circuses’ effects that the Establishment is looking to perpetuate in order to further manipulate the citizenry. Meanwhile, the ruthless schemers in and connected to the White House are covertly preparing a military draft to send the children of the fans to die, be wounded, or wasted away by sucking up all of that depleted uranium radioactive dust floating around in the air in Afghanistan, Iraq, and sooner, if not later, in Iran. Now, that is something for a “Fan” to really get peeved about!
William Hughes is the author of “Saying ‘No’ to the War Party” (IUniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at [email protected]