We can't blame the Raiders this time. They're not the ones wearing the black hats. So who bears the bulk of responsibility for enabling behavior that transformed Candlestick Park into a boxing ring, a shooting gallery, and apparently, not a place to take the kids for a family outing?
Let's go straight to the source. A thug is a thug is a thug. You can dress them in the black and silver of the Raiders or the scarlet and gold of the 49ers, but there is no disguising the fact that they remain a blight on the sports landscape and on society in general.
"I don't think sports (fan) violence is increasing," said Kent State sociology professor Jerry M. Lewis, a renowned authority on the matter, "but it is becoming more visible."
Behaviorists, sports owners and league executives have been grappling with sports violence issues long before the assault, two shootings and boorish, aggressive behavior marred last Saturday's 49ers-Raiders preseason game at Candlestick Park. England. Brazil. Ohio State, Michigan, Boston. You need a globe to map out the violence.
Yet at least partly because this latest episode occurred in San Francisco and not image-challenged Oakland, the response was surprisingly swift and dramatic, and it says here and elsewhere, something of an overreaction.
"There is a small element of both teams' fans that, when they get together, it is not a good environment," 49ers President Jed York said during Monday's news conference. "The degenerate behavior that happened is not going to be tolerated. If that means we need to make a business decision to not sell a ticket to somebody then that's something we're going to do."
Fine, do something. But do something that makes sense. Canceling the preseason series between Bay Area rivals, as York has proposed, is a reach. It's like stretching a bandage over an amputated limb. And attempting to dictate who can purchase tickets to preseason games from regular-season ticket patrons is a dangerously slippery slope.
What's the test? What are the requirements? Do one-time buyers have to be currently employed, own a home, or otherwise swear to behave in a civilized, cultured manner?
"If I was going to advise the ownership, I would say, 'cool it for a while,' " continued Lewis. " 'Let's find out if gangs are involved. Let's find out if the two men have any connection.' All kinds of questions need to be asked before moving forward because, frankly, the shootings are an anomaly. This is a whole new pattern."
Lewis, who as a student at Kent State, dropped to the ground when gunfire erupted during the infamous May 4, 1970, shooting incident, has gleaned several common elements from research that dates back to 1960.
Among his findings: Those committing violent acts are overwhelmingly younger white males (Hispanics are categorized as white). Most incidents involve fans of rival teams at championship or otherwise important events. Economic factors the popular "alienation theory" are not significant.
His data also shows that those who commit violence tend to seek an audience a particularly troublesome element given the increasing importance of cellphones and other social media mechanisms. Additionally, he believes teams and leagues encourage bad, overly aggressive behavior with the electronic fan prompts and wands, placards, etc., designed to distract and annoy opponents.
In the professor's world, the fan prompts and assorted video gimmicks would be scrapped. In today's world, at the very least, the 49ers can start by reconsidering the preseason Raiders ban and spending a few more dollars. Hire a larger security detail and install video cameras throughout the premises. Stop selling liquor earlier in the second half. And instead of restricting tailgating to four hours before kickoff and this is sure to cause some foaming at the mouth completely eliminate tailgating in the parking lot. Who needs to start drinking beer at 9 a.m. anyway?
"We know some factors trigger aggressiveness, and clearly, the relationship between alcohol and aggressiveness is one of them," said Dr. Christian End, a professor at Xavier University and another authority on violence in sports. "Alcohol impairs decision and leads some people to see it as an excuse. And football by nature is an aggressive sport. We don't see much fighting in figure skating, for example."
If we learned anything from the horrific attack on Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium, it's that we all should be less tolerant of unruly spectator behavior. Thugs shouldn't rule our world.