top of page

Why can't the NBA and other sports arrest fans who attack or abuse players?

Russell Westbrook Popcorn Incident/ESPN Screengrab

It took less than a week after most NBA Playoff teams allowed full houses for fans to not just step over the line of bad behavior, they went sprinting across it.

Three incidents in one night reminded even the most cynical of us why someone needs to take definitive measures to watch and monitor drunken idiots and fans with zero respect for anyone but themselves.

The NBA's really bad day started with a dumbass from the capitol of idiotic fans, Philadelphia, who dumped his $10 bucket of popcorn on injured Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook.

It got worse a short time later when a New York Knicks fan decided he'd take things to the next level by spitting at Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young who was about to inbound the ball during their playoff game at Madison Square Garden.

It's hard to see unless you slow the video down, but if you do, it's rather clear....

The third was during the Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz playoff game in Salt Lake City later that night when a fan was thrown out of the arena for screaming racial epitaph's at the family of Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. That fan was ratted out by other Jazz fans who wanted no part of the racist behavior.

Don't get me wrong, the NBA is not the only place where fans need a corral---or a jail cell. There was an assault that masqueraded as a fight the next night at a Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Houston Astros game.

Every single one of these incidents in my mind have one common thing that did not happen. The offending fan or fans were not arrested and not put in jail.

Yup, that's right. They should be in jail.

In the NBA cases, the offending fans were "banned indefinitely" from the respective arenas. That folks--is a mere slap on the wrist.

I know, there is a percentage of people out there who are laughing at this thought. Depending on your political persuasion you'll either argue 1) It's a misdemeanor at best, why clog up the jail system? or 2) If you arrest these people why aren't you immediately jailing protestors who damage things?

The short answer to both is this: 1) Because it is the only penalty that might make a drunk fan think twice and 2) Because jail isn't going to deter a protestor in any way, shape or form.

Banning a fan from violating the rules of an arena or stadium is easy to say, hard to enforce. Unless that person is easily recognized, they can just have a friend or someone not with their name buy tickets. There's literally no way to strictly enforce that.

And hey, to be really honest, I'm not sure jail would deter anyone either. It might slow some people down but most idiots who think they have the right to throw things, spit on, physically or verbally assault someone more than likely are acting in the heat of the moment.

Sure, it's always been a problem. Realistically, it's gotten much, much worse as we wind down the pandemic and people re-emerge from isolation. Crime is up in part because a certain segment of the population seems to have decided its better to shoot at or physically attack someone than talk it out or walk away. That is a societal issue that is not going to be easy to fix.

Fans have always been a problem, it runs in cycles. Over the past 10-years, fans seem to feel emboldened to attack fans of other teams for the act of wearing the opposing teams jersey or cheering for the visitors. There is NO universe where that should be accepted. Try going to a playoff game in any sport as an opponents fan and see what happens to you, it's horrible.

Fans now also think they have the right to abuse players they don't like or that don't perform they way said fan believes they should. There is no right to spit at, throw things at or well, do anything but boo players. NONE.

Yeah, sure, I realize fans will go on Social Media, message boards etc and complain or criticize or say god awful horrible things. It happens. A lot.

There are fans who have made death threats to college players for not coming through in the clutch or not playing well enough to win. Seriously. Death threats.

This tweet below was sent to an Ohio State basketball player after the Buckeyes lost in the NCAA tournament not too long ago:

No, this is not "fake news". It really happened. You or any other fan or person of any size, shape, color or creed have the right to say any of this to anyone at any time. Never mind a college athlete.

At some point, the line in the sand needs to have some teeth to it. The person that threatened Liddell should be arrested. Period. That's a death threat.

The fans earlier in this column, whoever started it should be in jail on assault charges. If it happened in a bar, on the street or in a neighborhood, it's assault.

The popcorn fan, same charge. And the spitter. They attacked a player on the court. There should be no hesitation even if the athlete wants to let it go. The arena or stadium should file charges.

It should be spelled out in ANY ticket purchased for any event that if you violate a rule, you risk being jailed and having charges put on your permanent record. Said facility should make it clear they will charge you to the fullest extent of the law for violating any of these rules.

Same with online threats. If you make a threat toward someone on social media, you should be charged with a terroristic threat or harassment. Period. No debate. No freedom of speech. Nada. And yes, I said no freedom of speech.

That's right.

If you want to yell horrible R-rated comments towards someone, it arguably violates respect for the people around you and verbal harassment. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. There is no issues with not liking the other team, to not want them to win.

We SHOULD disagree with others and let it be known, respectfully. But you or I should not have the right to start drunkenly cursing out athletes who honestly can't hear a word you say in front of a family with three kids under the age of 10. Nope....

Will it stop fan violence and horrific fan behavior? No, probably not. Short of banning alcohol, that likely will never happen. We all know the alcohol ban will never happen. There's too much money involved there.

There's a whole separate conversation here about respect for other people to be had here. Sometime in the past 10-years we lost the ability to respectfully disagree with others in topics not limited to sports. Anyone who has an opposing view is viewed as "the enemy" and if you aren't one of one side, you are trying to undermine the existence of others.

But that's a political issue and a whole other set of problems.

I really, really hope that sports arenas, stadiums and other venues put the clamps on inflammatory behavior, I really do. No, I don't believe it will happen but it would be nice. There is nothing worse than being in the stands, sitting a couple of rows in front of the drunken screamers who think they are impacting the game by yelling words that shouldn't be said anywhere other than an R-Rated movie. If you don't believe me, go to a ball game sometime in the next few months. Guaranteed, you'll see it.

And that person or those persons won't be hard to find.

bottom of page