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Safely in Their Seats: Suggestions to Improve Fan and Player Safety

By Michael Abramson, 3/18/14
Over the past six weeks college basketball has experienced three episodes of violence involving fans and players. This article provides a description of the most horrific incidents of fan-player violence, discusses the events in this year’s basketball season, and offers suggestions to curb fan-player violence.

One of the scariest circumstances of fan-player violence occurred on April 13, 1993, when a fan came down from the stands and stabbed Monica Seles with a 9-inch boning knife.[1] Eleven years later, on November 19, 2004, Ron Artest leapt into the stands after a fan hurled a beer at him at the end of the Indiana Pacers vs. Detroit Pistons game. Stephen Jackson and other players followed him into the stands and violence broke out in an incident now known as the “Malice in the Palace.”[2] In both of these incidents physical barriers between fans and players did not exist, and security was not present to stop the initial violence.

During the past six weeks of the college basketball season violence has marred a great end to the regular season. On February 8, Oklahoma State Marcus Smart pushed a fan after Smart went into the crowd underneath the basket in the Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech game.[3] On February 27, punches were thrown after fans stormed the court at the end of the Utah Valley vs. New Mexico State game.[4] On March 6, a fan ran onto the court at the UC Santa Barbara-Hawaii game and yelled at the coach and taunted players.[5] In all three of these incidents, physical barriers (or meaningful physical barriers) did not exist between the fans and the court, and security was not present at the junction of the court and the stands.

It is both tragic and unfathomable that violent incidents still occur at sporting events after twenty years have passed since Seles’ stabbing and nine years since the “Malice in the Palace.” The world of sports should have taken actions by now that would eliminate these types of violent acts. The suggestions below, if implemented, will hopefully decrease violence at sporting events and protect fans and players alike:

Physical barrier between fans and players. The best way to prevent fans from committing violence is to prevent them from getting to the playing surface. Architects should investigate different types of barriers. One suggestion would be a tall sheet of plexiglass surrounding the court (similar to those at hockey games). The glass would allow fans to see but protect the players from fans. Another suggestion would be to raise the seats so high above the playing surface that jumping down would be prohibitive. These types of barriers would likely generate criticism, so sports should consider other measures as well.

Move fans away from the court. If one will not create a physical barrier, one should at least move the fans away from the court. Several feet should separate the first row of seats from the playing surface, and sports should eliminate court-side seats. Increased space will prevent fans and players from interacting, and it would also give security extra time to react if a fan leaves the stands and heads for the court.

On a side note, basketball should also remove the camera gallery at the ends of the courts. Players are constantly running into them. Too much of a danger exists for a player or camera person to get injured when a player runs into the camera gallery.

Increased security. Security should be present at every location in which the stairways/aisles of the stands come into contact with the playing surface. Security would then be able to prevent individuals from getting to the playing surface. Additional security should be present at other positions around the playing surface to prevent any fan disturbance.

Eliminate the practice of fans storming the court. Fans rushing the court can trample other fans, [6] accidently trip or step on players causing terrible injuries (such as the one to Joe Kay), [7] or attack opposing players and coaches. Stopping the practice of rushing the court might take away a bit of the excitement from college basketball, but to prevent life-changing injuries or even death, it is worth the trade.

Improved fan and player behavior. Better decorum from fans and players may reduce violent acts at sports. Fan behavior has degenerated to the point where people do not want to come to games because of unruly fans and possibly dangerous situations. It is so bad that, at Falcons games, a special phone line exists to complain about fan conduct. Fans curse, scream, and openly mock opposing players. Fans need to remember that it is just a game, not a war. Sports exist for enjoyment and should return to an atmosphere of sportsmanship and camaraderie.

Players are becoming more violent in their actions with one another. They openly taunt, yell, and mock the opposition. This attitude creates an atmosphere of antagonism and hatred which fans emulate. Competition and hard play should remain, but players must remember that it is only a game.

By now, the world of sports should have developed measures that would have prevented violence at sporting events. The rash of violence during the past six weeks of the basketball season should serve as a long-overdue wake-up call. Sports should adopt some form of the measures above in order to better protect the players, coaches, fans, and arena personnel.

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