Baseball's opening day is supposed to be the happiest of spring for sports fans, and for most of us, it was. But the story of Bryan Stow, a Giants fan beaten outside Dodgers Stadium on the first day of the season, has put a pallor on baseball fanship. The violent fan has snuck in and made us all look bad.
According to witness reports, Stow was walking outside the stadium after the Giants' loss to the hometown team when he was attacked from behind by two Dodgers fans who had been heckling him for liking the rival team. Although the father of two and paramedic hadn't responded to their verbal attacks -- or perhaps because they weren't getting a rise out of him -- he was beaten so badly that he's been put into a medically induced coma by doctors as they address his possible brain damage.
While cops continue to look for his attackers, fundraising efforts have brought in some $200,000 (even Tommy Lasorda wrote a check!) for a guy who is more or less a hero in California at the moment. An All-American guy enjoying a baseball game, a guy with two kids at home and a job where he saves people on a daily basis. A guy who did nothing to deserve this fate.
The Stow family has proven themselves classy as they talk to the media, refusing to blame the Dodgers for the incident. They said the assailants "weren't true Dodgers fans." I get what they mean -- they're trying to stamp out any fires between the two rival teams.
But what happened to Bryan is proof that fanship can turn to flip out in a split second. It's the sort of mentality that spurs post-Super Bowl game riots, that has created a whole movement known in Europe as football hooliganism, whereby fans bring dangerous weapons to games and take to beating the pulp out of rival fans simply because they wear the wrong colors to the pitch. They take ownership -- in their minds -- of the team, and take disagreement as a personal affront.
It's encouraged, I suppose, by the make-up of fandom. You're "part of the Tribe" if you're a Braves fan. Part of the Sea of Red if you're a Kansas City Chiefs fan. You're not just a watcher, you're practically on the team.
What sets a sane fan apart from violent one isn't whether they're a "true" fan or not, or how far into the culture of the team they are, but the measure of the person's internal character. A dedicated Yankees fan (yeah, yeah, say what you will), I have felt absolutely dejected at the end of a game and felt on top of the world at the end of another. I make Red Sux jokes with the best of them; yet I've never felt compelled to beat the snot out of a Fenway devotee.
We'll never be able to completely get rid of the violent fan, but we can prove that the rest of us have big enough hearts to beat them. You can start by helping out Bryan Stow's family. If you're in California, check out Support 4 Bryan Stow to show up at a fundraiser, or make a donation via the SF Police Credit Union. Mail checks payable to "Bryan Stow Fund" to: SF Police Credit Union c/o San Mateo Branch 1495 S. El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94402.
Do you know fans who are this rabid?
Image via Michael Hilton/Flickr