San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Fans’ frat house culture must change

On the 49ers

Matt Barrows

mbarrows@sacbee.com

Fans enter Levi's Stadium before an NFL game between the 49ers and the Chicago Bears on Sept. 14.
Fans enter Levi's Stadium before an NFL game between the 49ers and the Chicago Bears on Sept. 14. The Associated Press

After the 49ers’ preseason debut at Levi’s Stadium, one of the local television stations interviewed fans about their experience.

One man in the parking lot gushed about the new venue’s technological advances, including the ability to place food and beverage orders from a cell phone.

“I ordered a few of shots of Patron,” he claimed, even though the 49ers say liquor cannot be ordered through phone apps. “It came right to me!”

He was in the driver’s seat of his truck during the interview. When it was over, he drove away.

Apparently, the normal rules of society don’t apply at NFL games. It’s like a lawless, manner-less bubble. You can drink as much as you want, curse as loud as you want, dump your trash on the ground in front of you.

And you can fight.

Two men were sent to the hospital Sunday, and one faces potential paralysis, after they were attacked in a Levi’s Stadium restroom before the game. Their two alleged assailants, brothers from Tulare County, were in court earlier this week. The rap sheet for the older man, Dario Rebollero, 34, reads like this, according to The Fresno Bee:

▪ 2001, arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

▪ 2001, arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty and hit and run with property damage.

▪ 2003, arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft.

▪ 2007, arrested on suspicion of DUI with a blood-alcohol level of .15 or more.

▪ 2007, arrested on suspicion of reckless driving.

▪ 2008, arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft.

▪ 2008, arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, evading police, driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest.

Now both men have been charged with felony assault, and the younger brother, Amador Rebollero, faces an additional count of felony assault producing paralysis.

Stadium violence is not unique to the 49ers or the NFL, but some of the most disturbing incidents in recent years have involved 49ers fans, including shootings at a 49ers-Raiders game in 2011 and a fan brawl at a 49ers-Cardinals game earlier this year in Arizona that left nearby concrete steps splattered with blood.

Something is grossly rotten when people are reluctant to bring children to a football game, and for the past decade or so, delinquents have vastly outnumbered kids at 49ers games.

Yes, football is tribal, aggressive and violent by nature. But so is hockey, which actually condones fighting. Yet there is far less rowdy behavior – and there are far more children – in the stands at hockey games than at NFL games.

The problem is the fan culture, which has taken on a vulgarity and lawlessness it didn’t always have. It’s not close to English soccer hooliganism, which marred that nation’s favorite sport from the 1960s through the 80s. That was organized thuggery that left rival fans bloodied and often dead.

The bad fan behavior in the NFL has been random. But violence tends to attract violent people. And if a certain team’s fans gain a reputation for fighting, it’s not difficult to see the problem snowballing.

The United Kingdom hasn’t eliminated hooliganism. But it’s a far smaller problem than it was. Watch Premiere League games on Saturday morning, and you’ll see fathers, sons and daughters in the front rows.

Britain got on top of the issue through aggressive action by the police in identifying trouble makers, by building better venues and by implementing at least some restrictions on alcohol.

At Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, security cameras tracked the two suspects, and they were arrested minutes after the incident, which couldn’t have been done at Candlestick Park. The 49ers say undercover police, some wearing the opposing team’s jersey, rove the venue and that obviously drunk fans aren’t allowed through the gates.

To their credit, 49ers fan groups – which are largely organized on the Internet – have denounced the recent violence and called on fans to better police themselves.

But it’s the frat house culture that must change.

Sunday’s fight occurred in a crowded restroom before kickoff. There were more than 50 men in line. Why? Because many had already been drinking for hours.

Who eventually intervened and alerted police? The restroom janitor, not the “men” waiting in line.

Decorum shouldn’t vanish when somebody puts on a football jersey. Responsibility shouldn’t disappear when someone steps inside a football stadium. Purchasing a ticket does not give you license to act like a goon.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

Editor’s note: This story was changed Oct. 10; according to the 49ers, only beer and wine are available through the stadium cell phone app that allows fans to order from their seats.

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