On March 31, the Dodgers and Giants played their season opener at Dodger Stadium. Clayton Kershaw pitched a masterful game to help the Dodgers take down the defending champs, but few people remember the actual game that day.
That’s because after the game, a 42-year-old paramedic named Bryan Stow was beaten by two Dodger fans for wearing a Giants jersey to the game. Stow remains in a medically induced coma after part of his skull was removed to allow for brain swelling. The uproar from around the league and around the country has been monumental, causing a number of different people to be blamed and a number of different actions to be taken.
The most obvious perpetrators are the two men who attacked Stow, but they are still unidentified and the reward for information on their identities and whereabouts keeps increasing. Beyond them, the next level of blame was placed on the security guards (or lack thereof) at Dodger Stadium. Another reasonable step, because the whole point of having security at a baseball game is to stop this exact kind of thing from happening. The Dodgers organization has publicly addressed the issue and has implemented a stronger security presence at games in order to protect against a repeat offense.
These results seem logical, but in today’s world of in-your-face media from every angle possible, there are always people pushing the envelope. In particular, John Steigerwald, a columnist and former sports anchor from Pennsylvania, wrote a column for the Observer-Reporter about how Stow brought the violence on himself by wearing a Giants jersey to a Dodger game.
The boldest (and most-quoted) line of his piece was: “Maybe someone can ask Snow [sic], if he ever comes out of his coma, why he thought it was a good idea to wear Giants’ gear to a Dodgers’ home opener when there was a history of out-of-control drunkenness and arrests at that event going back several years.”
If you have an ounce of compassion in your body or even an inkling of common sense, this quote should probably stir up some anger inside you, not least because Steigerwald couldn’t bring himself to look up Stow’s actual name (the error has since been corrected on the Observer-Reporter’s website, along with some of the many other factual errors in the story). This sentence was not an isolated occurrence, either, as the rest of the column goes on to blame adults for wearing jerseys to games (something Steigerwald believes is childish) and how that leads to violence.
The column, which has been ripped to shreds in the media since its release on Sunday, has become well known enough that Steigerwald found the need to give a public “explanation” of his thinking. On his blog, Steigerwald said that he didn’t blame Stow and that Stow didn’t have it coming to him, but that Steigerwald was merely saying that Stow unwittingly contributed to the violence. The blog appears to have been taken down shortly afterward, but the story is not going away from people’s minds.
While few people agree with Steigerwald’s take, there are differing opinions on the problem of fan violence and what can be done about it. Fan violence is truly terrible and should certainly be prevented as much as possible, but in my opinion it has sadly become part of the game. In some sense, as Americans, we are not nearly as accustomed to it as people in other parts of the world. In China, a fight over how tall a player was led to the game being canceled and several cars being destroyed.
Hardly anything can compare to international soccer, though, in terms of fan violence. In October, a qualifying match between Serbia and Italy was stopped after seven minutes when masked Serbian fans took over parts of the stadium and threw flares at the players on the field. Just a few weeks ago, a fan was killed at an Argentine match, becoming the 252nd victim of soccer-related violence in Argentina alone since 1924. Wikipedia has a 13,000-word article just about soccer fan “hooliganism,” and the problem has spread around the globe.
All this is not to say that the Bryan Stow incident is not a problem. Any act of violence is a problem, and steps should always be taken to assure fan safety. But the sad fact is, when tens of thousands of people are put in a small area for hours, not to mention when fierce competitiveness and alcohol are mixed in, violence is an inevitable consequence.
The root cause of fan violence and the best way to minimize it are debates that will continue to rage for years to come. Unfortunately, though, the issue of fan violence is unlikely to leave the sports world any time soon.
Jacob Jaffe is also glad there aren’t any more Disco Demolition Nights at baseball games. Tell him why you agree at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.