Go to any local sporting event these days and prepare to experience all manner of boorish behavior.
In the stands.
Civility is often lost as a win-at-all-costs mentality permeates the seats. Fans spew vulgarity toward the athletes as if it’s just part of the game. Such conduct can be fueled by alcohol at professional games, but what’s the excuse at high school and college events?
At a high school girls soccer game last week in Elk Grove, fans from Pleasant Grove and Franklin endlessly berated referees, including one who demanded, “Come on, ref! How about some sportsmanship?” And there was this line from the Pleasant Grove side: “Don’t bother speaking English to the ref. He doesn’t understand English.”
While a Franklin player battled for position near the sideline, a Pleasant Grove parent barked an obscenity. The player whipped around, stunned, and responded with an obscene hand gesture. Three parents jumped up, pointed at her and demanded an immediate ejection.
Franklin punched in a goal and held on for a 1-0 victory. Then the Pleasant Grove fans confused the senses. After the game, they offered a standing ovation and cheered for both teams. That crowd handled defeat better than it handled the anxiety of the match.
On Sunday in Rocklin, the aftermath of a NorCal Super Regional baseball game between Sierra College and Sequoias went from chaotic to dangerous.
Sequoias fans were chippy throughout the three-day tournament, seemingly second-guessing every call of every umpire, taunting Sierra players, barking expletives at the public address announcer and waving off Sierra staffers who pleaded for calm. A group of those fans became enraged when a Sierra player took umbrage to having a glove thrown at him after the Giants of Visalia recorded the final out to win the regional. It morphed into a mob scene as fans charged toward the Sequoais side-door entrance to the dugout with intent to charge the field, never mind that the players had restored order.
Sierra staff rushed to barricade the entrance with their bodies. Sequoias fans, up to 20 and ages ranging from their 30s to 70s, demanded access. They cursed Sierra players through the backstop, promising bodily harm.
It wasn’t until Rocklin police arrived and took statements that the grounds were cleared.
“Worst thing I’ve ever seen,” Sierra interim athletic director Roz Goldenberg said, looking both rattled and outraged. “I just don’t know what people are thinking when they act like this.”
It was the ugliest scene in 25 years on this beat, and it’s a sign of the times, according to Jason Harper, who founded the Character Combine of Sacramento that holds seminars dealing with such conduct.
“The pressure to win has diminished civility,” Harper said. “People don’t seem to realize that true sportsmanship is to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. Until our athletes and our fans, parents, rooters and coaches understand that this all goes beyond the scoreboard, we won’t improve.”
Harper said sports can be a learning tool for all.
“Sports at all levels is such a powerful vehicle,” he said. “It can lead to the greatest heights of life lessons, but if that vehicle is driven in the wrong direction, it can lead to the depths of humanity, the gutters of cowardice. Everyone lives through a keyboard mentality, social media, through a culture of a bully pulpit, and it’s a travesty. Too many fans live vicariously through their kids and take it to the extreme. Players are mortified when they see this fan and parent behavior. They don’t want it.”
Fortunately, such behavior isn’t the norm.
The Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball tournament at Sacramento City College this week has gone without fan incident.
How players handle defeat is a sign of character, coaching and parenting. That played out beautifully after one emotional contest, resulting in the end of a season and the extension of another.
Rocklin eliminated Oak Ridge with a walk-off hit, prompting an on-field celebration. Fans from both schools applauded.
“Oak Ridge, those kids played their hearts out and were gracious and classy when we shook their hands,” Rocklin coach Roc Murray said. “It starts with the parents. We have a great group this year that won’t tolerate bad behavior. They’re role models. If there’s something right in this world, that’s it.”