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May 13, 2013

Stop acting like sports are life and death

WASHINGTON — I’ve followed sports for much of my 27 years on earth, but one inescapable fact has caught my attention lately - sports makes people crazy. You can't get around the fact that rooting for your favorite team can enrage you and turn you into a ravenous sports junkie. Passion isn’t always a bad thing, but combined with hatred for the rival of your favorite team can turn into something ugly and disgusting.

The most glaring example of fandom going over the line took place Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami. With the Heat dominating the rival Bulls in the fourth quarter, Chicago forward Joakim Noah was ejected when he was given his second technical foul for the game. As Noah was walking to the locker room, Noah was accosted by a Miami fan with extreme vitriol not often seen.

A photo was taken of the exchange, and soon was all over Twitter and Facebook. As Noah walked past Filomena Tobias, a Palm Beach widow, she leaned toward Noah and extended her right arm leaving only her middle finger exposed mere inches from Noah¹s face.

If you have seen this photo you can see how trashy and classless this woman looks, and there was even a video that showed her high-fiving the people in her section, because she was so proud of her behavior. Nobody deserves to be treated this way, especially a complete stranger. The problem is that if Noah reacts at all he will be vilified for not keeping his cool.

What would drive this woman to act like a four-year-old girl who just rejected the fish sticks her mother made her? We become loyal to teams, and in turn lose our heads. It starts by rooting for your favorite player - LeBron James - and soon you're acting completely out of character.

The behavior after LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami in free agency will tell you all you need to know about what happens when a fan base feels it has been wronged.

Cleveland fans booed, yelled and even burned Lebron James’ No. 23 jersey. All because he left Cleveland for Miami? If given the choice, how many of these fans would have done the same thing?

Fan behavior isn’t reserved for fans of professional teams; it impacts people all the way down to parents of five-year-olds playing soccer. Covering high school basketball I saw plenty of this anger, and the odd thing is it occurs between all kinds of people. I can't get used to seeing a woman over 50 sitting with young children, yelling at referees in a high school basketball game.

It just doesn’t sit well with me, maybe I’m alone in this feeling, but I think I’m not.

Rivalries bring out the best and worst in fans. There may not be a bigger rivalry to the players and fans involved in it than Auburn-Alabama football. ESPN did a “30 for 30” documentary on the rivalry and the hate that exists between the fan bases.

I can’t understand such hatred just because a person roots for a different team than you. I’m a Yankee fan, and I don’t hate the Red Sox. I’m a North Carolina basketball fan, but I don’t hate Duke. I don’t like the rivals of the teams I don’t like, but it’s not life or death.

After Auburn’s 2010 comeback victory over Alabama, lifelong Crimson Tide fan Harvey Updyke poisoned the iconic Toomer’s Corner oak trees on Auburn's campus. Toomer’s Corner had been a traditional meeting place to celebrate on the Auburn campus. Updyke chose this action, because he didn’t like Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, Updyke felt the need to poison a university landmark.

Last week, the trees were cut down because of the damage Updyke’s poison had done. The trees will be rebuilt, but that will take time.

Obviously, not all sports fans are crazed lunatics, but even one is too many. Each week we hear about a fan attacking another fan. This past week a group of four New York Knicks fans assaulted a gay couple for the simple reason that the Knicks lost the opener of their second round series to the Indiana Pacers - it’s just sickening.

Athletic competition is supposed to bring joy and amazement, but for too often they bring heartache and embarrassment. Until we as a society start to act like human beings and not wild animals nothing will change.

                                                                          ***

Dennis is a sportswriter for the Times Herald and can be reached at dglade@wastimesherald.com. Dennis spends his time spoiling his three dogs and rooting unabashedly for the New York Yankees.

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