Don't expect civility in stands at playoff time

This Just In...

January 25, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

WHATEVER happened to civility, right? You want civility, you should sit at home, put doilies on the table and have high tea with your American Girl dolls. I don't think you can expect a lot of civility when you dress up in Ravens purple and go to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh during a National Football League playoff game. You're not asking for civility. You're asking for trouble.

But that's me.

I guess Tom Dewberry, a state delegate from Baltimore County and the speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, has higher expectations for society, and to his credit.

He's so upset by the lack of civility at the Ravens-Steelers game Sunday in Pittsburgh that he's been beefing about it in a public way.

In a letter to Tom Murphy, mayor of Pittsburgh; Steelers President Dan Rooney; NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; and a handful of newspapers, Dewberry vows never to return to The Pitt because of his "nightmare experience" at Sunday's nightmarish -- for the Ravens -- game.

"No experience in the world could have ever prepared my [16-year-old] son and I for the horrific treatment we received from an overwhelming number of football fans in your city," Dewberry wrote Murphy. "Shortly after disembarking from our car, the so-called fans began harassing, embarrassing, abusing and intimidating us -- both physically and verbally. They used disgusting and vile language that would have made even the most hardened sailor blush (or gag).

"This treatment continued from the half-mile walk to Heinz Field, inside the stadium, and began again on our return to the car -- even after your team had pummeled the Ravens. These low-lifes stalked us from behind or right beside us, continually spewing their venom at us. Many of these twenty-something or forty-somethings jumped to within an inch of our faces, demanding that we leave or they would physically or sexually force us to do so.

"Only one word can describe how this grey-haired 50-year-old and his 5-foot-7, 125-pound son felt. We were absolutely terrified! This terror went on for four relentless hours. We cowered silently in our stadium seats. I felt helpless and hopeless that if [my son], or I, responded in any way to these fans' provocations, I would not be able to protect my son's well-being. Even the few (maybe two) decent fans who bravely spoke out for us were shouted down and intimidated into not interfering."

Dewberry, a Ravens season ticket holder, said he had been to games in Washington and Tampa, and had never seen such behavior. He said yesterday that he did not report the problems to police because officers were not visible when the harassment was at its worst.

In response to all this, Craig Kwiecinski, spokesman for Murphy, said: "We were disheartened to learn of Delegate Dewberry's unfortunate experience during his visit to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a wonderful and friendly city, and we hope that he will consider returning to Pittsburgh in the future to take advantage of Pittsburgh's true hospitality."

Can you tell this guy works for Pittsburgh?

I sympathize with Dewberry -- especially because he felt he could not protect his son. That's an awful feeling. You don't see many kids at professional football games, and their safety is one of the main reasons.

But what can you do?

In the ideal world, football fans wouldn't get bombed on beer and behave like idiots. They would refrain from foul language. They would cheer heartily for the home team and welcome supporters of the visiting club in a most gracious manner. They would all wear straw boaters and cream-colored slacks and display good-natured sportsmanship like the dandy Cambridge freshmen in Chariots of Fire.

Fact is, we've been living in the long, dark age of the vulgar, boozed-up football fan. And when you wear the opponent's colors into the lion's -- or the Steelers' -- den, you might as well tape a "Kick me" sign to your back.

You can be victimized by idiots anywhere and at any time, but I dare say it's more likely to happen in rival cities during the playoffs (or in the Giants, Shea or Yankee stadium all the time).

I don't know what's to be done about this. Dewberry thinks a franchise should revoke the season tickets of any fan caught harassing another, and so begins his one-man campaign to bring some civility to the grandstands. Good luck, pal.

In the meantime, I'd like to suggest the solution that Mike Ricigliano, the talented sports cartoonist, discovered by accident when he went to Oakland last January for the American Football Conference championship game between the Ravens and the Raiders. The Raiders have crazy fans who constitute a kind of neo-Gothic nightmare for visiting teams and their supporters. But Ricigliano found a safe place -- a seat directly behind Ravens guard Edwin Mulitalo's "four giant cousins."

That's the only solution. If you want to follow the Ravens to an away game and wear purple, take a Mulitalo with you.

Or just wear black. Black is great. I find it elegant and slimming.

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