I have written several columns since 2021 about the coarsening of dialogue and behavior among sports and entertainment fans. Poor fan behavior appears to have become more acute as the initial wave of the pandemic subsided and people returned in large numbers to sports and entertainment venues.
Once fans returned to venues, we sensed a change among fans attending live events, indicating a decline in sportsmanship and an increase in bad behavior. You may recall people rushing the gates at some major football (soccer) matches in Europe who didn’t have tickets.
Like many, I was appalled to see fans throwing bottles at players and officials on the field at the Ole Miss v. Tennessee game in October 2021.
We’ve seen people using derogatory language and ethnic slurs directed at players during games and on social media as happened during the Euros 2020 finals at Wembley Stadium in London.
Fan behavior is one thing, but one would think that players themselves could, in most cases, set a good example in terms of behavior and sportsmanship. This should be the maxim of players who are honored with their sport’s highest honor, such as the Heisman Trophy.
The 2022 Heisman Trophy recipient, Caleb Williams from USC, an excellent quarterback with a terrific record, likes to paint his fingernails with messages, sometimes with a vulgar verb on one hand and the opposing team on the opposite hand. Some may view a vulgar nail embellishment as a subtle, even friendly raillery at a competitor. In my view, it is unsportsmanlike.
Mr. Williams’ celebrity and strong social media presence have apparently inspired a similar fashion trend among fans and players alike. Mr. Williams explained that he paints a message on his nails because of his mother, a nail technician. He often paints his nails to support important charitable causes, even promoting the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988). In my view, such messaging by sports and entertainment celebrities is appropriate and even beneficial to others.
The coarsening of fan behavior hit a new low last weekend when a young Minnesota Vikings fan flipped off the New York Giants’ Isaiah Hodgins, after Hodgins spiked the football after a touchdown. Moments later, Vikings receiver KJ Osborne scored a touchdown and presented the ball to the same fan.
Hamlin’s sportsmanship was on display while in hospital. He thanked the teams, rescuers, medical staff, and fans. He sent apologies to his team for not being well enough to play. His team honored him and the medical staff before their game with the New England Patriots the following Sunday. The Bills carried “Pray for Damar” flags and held three fingers (his number) up during huddles to show their solidarity with their teammate.
Unfortunately, we still find examples where players or fans who forget that there are limits when it comes to their behavior. Linebacker Alex Highsmith of the Pittsburgh Steelers was slammed for insensitivity as he celebrated a sack by performing a mock CPR. The public responded, with fans criticizing him and the team.
In my view, we can do better and as fans we should demand better behavior and good sportsmanship!