Column: Time to address fan-on-fan violence
Beaten in Los Angeles. Shot in San Francisco.
Better be careful what you wear to the stadium. That great ticket you scored could be your last.
It was supposed to be nothing more than a meaningless exhibition game at Candlestick Park, a chance to cheer and jeer as hopefuls from both sides of the Bay fought to make their respective teams. But to the hooligans in the stands Saturday night, it wasn't enough just to watch the game.
There were fights in the stands, a beating in the restroom. Finally, shootings in the parking lot that left one man wounded and another clinging to life.
Unfortunately, we've heard this all before. At the same hospital where the two shooting victims were taken, Brian Stow is just beginning to be able to follow simple commands, nearly five months after he was beaten senseless for having the gall to wear a Giants jersey on opening day at Dodger Stadium.
That beating caused such an uproar that Los Angeles police launched a massive search for the men who attacked Stow. A few weeks later, the Dodgers and Giants gathered on the pitcher's mound in San Francisco in a show of solidarity against violence, and Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum donated $25,000 to Stow's recovery.
The message was that civilized fans have better ways to settle their differences. That people can co-exist peacefully — even sit next to each other in the stadium — despite choosing to root for different teams.
The message apparently didn't travel far.
Sure, the 24-year-old wearing the "F---the Niners" T-shirt probably could have picked a better way to show his support for the Oakland Raiders. But it's beyond comprehension how anyone can be shot several times in the stomach and left to die in the parking lot simply because of his choice of team.
Those kind of things aren't supposed to happen when people buy a ticket to watch their favorite team. If anything, sports is supposed to bring people together, in both victory and defeat.
The two shooting victims weren't the only ones hurt at the game. Another man was hospitalized after being knocked unconscious in a men's restroom. And fights in the stands — some quickly posted on YouTube for the enjoyment of fans everywhere — left others beaten and bloodied.
No, the score of the game — for the record it was 17-3 49ers — didn't really matter. But you have to wonder if any of the so-called fans fighting at Candlestick even bothered to watch what was going on down on the field.
Players were trying to impress their coaches, maybe earn a spot on the team, with hard hits. But it was all done between the lines and within the rules and, when the game clock ran down, there was nothing more to do than shake hands and retire to the locker room.
In other places around Candlestick, though, it was anarchy. And it all happened despite increased security at the stadium and a fan code of conduct that prohibits, among other things, taunting, fighting, offensive clothing, excessive drinking and abusive language.
Anyone who has been to an NFL game has seen all of the above, and more. It's a sport that glorifies violence and sometimes — fueled by hours of tailgating and free-flowing stadium beer taps — that violence spreads to people wearing the replica jerseys in the stands.
Put all the police and security in the stands you want, but it's still 70,000 people — many of them drinking all day — in a combustible situation where logic and sanity are tossed aside. It's a recipe for mayhem that, so far, teams haven't been able to completely control. When the Jets did push back on improper behavior by young, rowdy fans by not selling beer for the final home game in 2007 it was as if the team deprived them of an inalienable right.
"We want beer," they chanted at halftime.
But it's not just the NFL, as the Stow beating so frighteningly showed. He was attacked in broad daylight in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium for no other reason, it seems, than he is a lifelong fan of the Giants.
Stow is a father of two, which gave me pause at the time. I thought about when my oldest son was a toddler who idolized Steve Garvey, but was unsure what to do when he left the Dodgers for the Padres. So I took him to a game wearing a Dodger shirt and a Padre hat, not giving a second thought to what some fan might say.
Would I do the same today with my 2-year-old grandson? Not likely. And I surely would think long and hard before taking any child to an NFL game, where the cutoff of beer sales at the end of the third quarter only seems to make the rowdiest fans even rowdier.
The NFL's first reaction to the shootings was a statement saying the league deplores the violence and wants fans to be able to have a safe and fun experience at its games. But this is the same league that allowed the 49ers to proudly advertise the game — between longtime rival fans — as being "presented by Bud Light."
It's time to do more than offer statements of regret. It's time for the NFL and other leagues to engage in serious discussions on ways to eliminate fan violence, beginning at the very least with a stricter limit on alcohol sales.
Right now, there's a fan fighting for his life in a San Francisco hospital. There's another fan there whose life — and those of his children — were shattered forever because he made the mistake of wearing the wrong jersey.
I don't know them, and neither do you. That doesn't mean it couldn't be anyone of us next.
Let's make this stop.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg