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Dear Sports Fans: Keep It Civil

Insulting Refs, Players, and Coaches Is Not Okay.

One thing I love about covering sports is that I get to move around the field, or in some cases, the court, and snap photos of the action. On some occasions, I even get to interact with fans.

I like fans, and I understand that emotions can run high depending on the contest, and what’s at stake. Yet, it bothers me, whether it’s covering an event, or watching a sporting event from a local pub, when I hear folks from the comfort of their chairs insult officials. I understand the criticism, and I know that referees make bad calls.

What’s worse is when these armchair cornermen insult fighters, or players, and coaches on the other team.

It seems like this issue has gotten worse over the years, especially at the professional level.

In March, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was caught on camera getting into a heated, verbal altercation with a Utah Jazz fan. Westbrook was fined $25,000, while the fan, along with others who said racist comments at the Thunder player, were banned from games. On March 29, the Boston Celtics issued a two-year ban to a young fan who was accused of using a racial slur against Golden State Warrior center DeMarcus Cousins. The ban was only for two years, because the team was unable to verify the use of the slur.

These are instances where it’s only one to two fans who were involved in an altercation, Some fans are overzealous, and will attempt to show support to their team by trash talking the star players on the opposing side.

It’s fine to cheer, and root for your team from the stands, and it’s OK for crowds to rain down boos, and jeers to the opposing team. However, it’s disrespectful when fans resort to using racial, homophobic, and sexist remarks in an effort to heckle other players. Those kind of taunts don’t support their team, rather it makes the fan base look bad.

What is worse is when fans try and justify the behavior, and actions of their brethren.

Some folks argue that the monetary, and emotional investment they’ve paid for admission into sporting events gives them free rein to say and do what they want. Professional wrestling fans have taken this a step further by leaving their seat, and entering the ring. During WWE’s Hall of Fame ceremony on April 6, a fan entered the ring, and attacked Bret Hart, who was being inducted into the HOF for a second time with his tag team partner, Jim Neidhart. Thankfully fellow wrestlers, and security neutralized the fan before they could do any harm.

Another reason fans express horrible behavior is because they know their insults will solicit certain responses from athletes. While most players shrug off insults, guys like Westbrook are known to respond to them. It’s a case of poking the bear, only fans believe they’re protected from consequences, because they are a private citizen, while pro-athletes are public figures.

Some folks do throw insults in an effort to impress their friends, or they hope their actions are seen, and go viral on the Internet.

This supposed entitlement of behavior doesn’t always work at every event requiring admission.

If someone attended a Broadway show, and started heckling performers, they would be kicked out of the theater, and possibly banned.

If an overzealous fan at a high school basketball game started harassing the visiting team’s bench, security–and probably parents–would escort them out of the gym.

Just remember folks, keep it simple. Don’t harass players, or fighters, you’re not doing your team, or your fan base any favors. If you can’t behave yourself at a sporting event, just stay home.

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