Players & Coaches vs. Fans: Fighting A Losing Battle

One of my friends was looking at ESPN.com Saturday night during the Kentucky football game because it wasn’t going very well for Kentucky. He alerted me to something interesting: 4 out of 6 of the headline stories were about players & coaches having issues with fans.

Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher got into it with a fan after his team lost to the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday. On the same day, Tennessee cornerback Rashaan Gaulden flipped off Alabama fans after the Vols got their first touchdown in a few weeks & drew a penalty for it. Kyrie Irving gave a fan a suggestion as he headed to the Boston Celtics’ locker room for halftime on Friday night. DeMarcus Cousins got fined for cursing at a fan on Wednesday night.

Sports teaches young people a number of important lessons. Being part of a team & trying to accomplish individual & collective goals are important building blocks for life. Apparently one thing that isn’t taught enough in sports is how to treat other people.

Each of these incidents involved relatively innocuous statements. An FSU fan suggested to Fisher that he make changes on the coaching staff. A Philadelphia 76ers fan asked Kyrie where LeBron James, his former teammate, was. A Memphis Grizzlies fan in the front row directed a couple of F-bombs in Cousins’ direction. I didn’t see any reports of what brought Gaulden’s act on, but it likely wasn’t worth the penalty that set Alabama up on another scoring drive.

These events have a pretty predictable way of playing out. The player or coach says something mean to a fan. They apologize while insisting that moment doesn’t represent who they are as a person. In most cases, we buy it and move on. If we held a grudge against every player that had a negative interaction with a fan, we wouldn’t have many players left to root for.

Criticism is one of the few areas I can relate with professional athletes on. I can’t do the things they do in their sports. But as a writer for various websites I face the same type of criticism they get in person or on social media. 411mania’s commenters can be blood-thirsty savages. If you make them angry they’ll go off on you something fierce for years after whatever you said to make them angry. And the stuff that gets deleted by the moderators makes the stuff that makes it through look like child’s play. I finally got my first hockey hate column earlier this week due to something I wrote on Predlines. A Chicago Blackhawks fan was so enraged by the horrible things I said about his team that he went off on me. And then all his followers went off on me too.

I was flattered, honestly. When you write an article about why you hate the Chicago Blackhawks, the other side has a right to respond. It’s only fair.

hawksfans

Did I respond in a negative way? No. The websites I write for, with the exception of this one (Dustin would probably encourage me to fight back), frown on that sort of thing. Writers aren’t supposed to argue back & forth with commenters on a personal level. It makes them & whoever employs them look bad. Unless, of course, the writer is really skilled at the art of verbal smackdown. Then they can make a career out of it.

For a writer, going after readers is a losing battle. For a player, going after fans is a losing battle.

Two of the most famous instances of player on fan crime involved the Indiana Pacers. Reggie Miller led the Pacers to victory over the New York Knicks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. We remember it because he clowned Spike Lee between the shots he made to beat the Knicks. We also remember that the Knicks ended up winning the series, so Spike ended up having the last laugh.

The other one was Malice at the Palace. Ron Artest & Stephen Jackson won the fight against the fans, but their suspensions afterward hurt the Pacers’ playoff seeding. The Detroit Pistons would eliminate them from the playoffs. The Palace had the last laugh.

The Pacers took on the fans. The fans won.

As a player, or as a coach, you have to draw a line. Going after the other team is part of the job description. Going after the other team’s fans isn’t. I don’t think this requires a whole lot of explanation, but I can spell it out for you pretty easy.

Your opponents are on the other side of the field from you. The fans sit in seats that aren’t on the field. They’re crazy about their team, just like your fans are crazy about you. They might say something mean. They might say completely ridiculous things. You have to tune them out as much as possible. The last thing you want to do is respond, because then they know that they’re in your head. Their mission will have been accomplished.

I’m not here to say that fans are angels. Certainly not. If we’ve learned nothing else in the last couple of years, it’s that there’s a larger amount of idiots out there than we ever thought possible. We hope that fans will behave themselves. There will be a percentage in any large group of people that can’t. Players & coaches’ job description doesn’t include policing fans. There are other people that get paid to handle that.

There are two ultimate no-nos for fan behavior as far as I’m concerned.

-racial slurs

-throwing things

Everything else is fair game & people actually involved in the game need to realize that these things will happen. Focus on the game.

Players never win battles with fans. Except on Twitter.

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