I was there. I was walking back down the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium after U of L’s loss to UConn. Most of the Cardinal players had headed back into the locker room. But a couple of players were still gathering some things from the sideline and were getting ready to head out.
And they were catching hell from a fan who had come down to the rail on the sideline. One of them, an offensive lineman, looked up at the man, and the guy saw he had the player’s attention and screamed, calling him by number (I’m withholding the player’s identity. No need to embarrass him.)
“Yeah, you No. XX! Nice job blocking you piece of (excrement)!”
Except, of course, he didn’t say excrement.
The fan’s wife, or some woman, was with him, trying to tell him to shut up and get out of there. But he wasn’t having any part of it. The players just shook their heads and walked off, deserving credit for showing great restraint.
U of L football sports information director Rocco Gasparro saw it, and even approached a police officer on the field. The officer looked over toward the man, who, without any more players to berate, appeared to have settled down. The officer knew there was nothing he could do. There are no laws against being a jerk.
In the postgame news conference, several TV cameramen were talking about incidents they had witnessed that sounded pretty similar.
In this week’s Louisville SportsReport, general manager Jack Coffee included the following paragraph in his weekly column, and it has stirred up Cardinal fans plenty:
The obnoxious behavior of some who yelled at the players and coaches at the end of the UConn game was unacceptable. A fan who shows up at a game and denigrates those who are trying their best to win by yelling obscenities is disgusting and an embarrassment to all Cardinals fans. It’s time to put an end to this foolishness, and the 40,000 of us who want the Cards to be successful need to speak up for sanity and common sense. From now on at every home game the Louisville Sports Report will attempt to take pictures of any fan who goes over the line in verbally assaulting the players. Those pictures will be published in the LSR and on CardinalSports.com.
I have to say, I know where Coffee is coming from. I thought the fan behavior was distasteful enough that I mentioned it in a column, along with my opinion that there is a line that fans should not cross.
Booing is one thing. Cussing out players or coaches is another.
But what Coffee has proposed has enraged a segment of fans, who wonder if they’re now going to be subjected to roving bands of “camera cops” (they are not) or be singled out for any behavior critical of the program.
And the main anger, as I’m hearing it, isn’t that this is the action of a fan magazine, but that it somehow has the sanction of U of L. And I can understand why fans feel that. The bottom line is that while the SportsReport bills itself as an independent publication, and it well may be, it’s largest subscriber is U of L itself, providing numerous subscriptions to donors of a certain level. For years, U of L in its own media guide, included a paragraph referring to the SportsReport as the leading authority on U of L athletics. You can’t do that by NCAA rule unless it is an affiliated publication.
While I agree that a little public exposure wouldn’t hurt some of these bad actors, the execution of such a plan is unworkable and fraught with legal and journalistic questions. The bottom line is that fans are going to act however they want to act, whether it’s in bad taste or not. I think U of L is within its rights to identify these fans and even refund their season tickets, where possible. Remember, we’re still talking about a very few who cross the line in verbally attacking players and coaches.
But I’d caution against trying to subject these folks to too much public ridicule. For a moment, when I saw the incident I saw, I thought about trying to get the identity of the jerk berating the player. But only for a moment. The bottom line is you get drunk fans who will yell anything. They wake up in the morning and feel like idiots probably, and that’s that. None of us probably deserves having our most stupid, embarrassing behavior on public display.
Which brings up a final point. I’ve been told by some of the same cameramen who witnessed the events after the UConn game about footage they have of players — and even the head coach — responding to fans in a way that is less than flattering. These aren’t people affiliated with The Courier-Journal. But if the team has gotten the benefit of the doubt on some of its behavior, I’d suggest that fans get the same benefit.
We can all agree that the fan I saw screaming obscenities at players was wrong. It has no place in college football. Buying a ticket doesn’t give you the right to do that, I don’t care how much you paid for it. But I don’t know that threatening fans accomplishes much beyond making them even madder.