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The State Of Fandom In The NFL: Where Is The Line Drawn And Crossed?

The reality is that some of us do care a little bit too much about our games and for the wrong reasons. There are some needs that sports are not designed to meet. Better to find their fulfillment elsewhere.

Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

Technically speaking the first quarter of the 2012 season will not end until the October 5th game against the Eagles after the bye. But there is so much to say now that I'm jumping the gun. I may revisit the issue in two weeks, but with time on our hands and undoubtedly a bad taste in many mouths over the events of past weekend, I want to say a bit about other fans.

Sarah has been sick.

My friend Sarah and I have been getting together for the past few years to watch the Steelers together. I value her presence because she has been my Goldilocks when it comes to watching the games; not too crazy, not too tepid, just right. Not too idealistic, not too cynical, just right. Not too prissy, not too get the idea. We were supposed to get together this past Sunday but she just wasn't up to it, that left me with some choices as to where I would watch the game.

I decided to at the last minute to join the DC Steeler Mafia crowd at the Alley Cat at the last minute, so last minute that Boss Steeler Chick got my rsvp on her phone while she sat starring at me across a table. As you know, it was a frustrating afternoon from a football perspective, but the most frustrating aspects of the day were not directly related to the football. And, this will seem strange, it was an absolutely hilarious evening. The Steelers were twisting in the wind and I'm laughing my behind off. This demands an explanation of course. Bear with me.

First the frustrations. In the Washington DC media market the Pittsburgh game was slated for a 4:25 p.m. ET start. Those of us at the bar freely admitted that it might have been more convenient to stay at home and watch. But we clearly see some value in the shared experience.

So, as the Bengals/Skins game concluded in disappointing but timely fashion we all settled back in anticipation of Steelers football. But nooo! What CBS decided is that what we really wanted to see was two 0-2 teams (Kansas City and New Orleans) duke it out in overtime. Given the fact that these are 0-2 teams that are by definition somewhat incompetent it takes them a while to settle matters. And then there is a play that the replacement officials (speaking of incompetent) want to review so that's at least another ten minutes. In the mean time we discover via phones that the Steelers have scored a touchdown. And then the Raiders respond with a score of their own. Eventually the Chiefs manage to win. So its on to the Steelers!

Except...the Jets and Dolphins are also in overtime, let's check them out. Dolphins miss a field goal. The Steelers score again. Some folks refuse to go to the site carrying the Steelers game because they end up being connected to a third party site that promises to hook you up with Chinese women. What has the world come to when even prostitution and pornography have been outsourced to China? Finally the Jets manage to prevail. Now what? Is there a Pop Warner game somewhere that is in overtime? Apparently with nowhere else to go CBS, reluctantly it seems and after a copious amount of commercials, joins the game in progress in Oakland in the second quarter. Take a deep breath.

Then there are the replacement refs. This is, mind you, before the Patriots/Ravens game, and over 24 hours before that disaster in Seattle. You try to put the best face on it, but this is just awful. And given the stakes the league just comes away looking petty and greedy. Are they seriously making an issue over something that involves basically chump change; coins that you would toss at a beggar? I find myself wondering whether any flag is legitimate. What should be minor or momentary stoppages in play devolve into federal cases. The games drag on forever it seems.

Now if any of the above seems funny to you that was not my intent. It was frustrating as hell. But then there was the behavior of the fans.

I've been troubled by some fan behavior for quite some time now, but thought it was just a matter of me being too prickily. But then there was an article that appeared in the Atlantic. And a disturbing report on HBO's Real Sports that is reinforcing the idea in my mind that there are some aspects of the fan culture that can no longer be glibly explained away with the 'different strokes for different folks', 'everybody's entitled to do their own thing' atttitudes that excuse behaviors that rightfully should be condemned as they threaten to compromise the good things about being a sports fan.

I'm going to try to be as concise as I can about the nature of my complaint. I love the community aspect of fandom. In a world where social ties are often frayed, difficult to establish and maintain, it is no small thing that the common allegiance to a team such as the Steelers can facilitate instant connection with people who may have nothing else in common otherwise. It is this appeal of community and connection that inspires some to drive 30 minutes or more one way to do something that is available less expensively and more conveniently in their own homes. We also experience this at BTSC. It is what keeps some of us coming back day after day, and even hour after hour to have relationship with people literally from all over the world who share a passion.

There is a certain amount of behavior that can be, at best, a bit weird and at worst obnoxious. There was a lot of that on Sunday from both Steelers fans and followers of other teams. That can be annoying, and in large enough doses, borderline intolerable, but it is also the price you pay for the real and necessary sense of inclusion that is part of this communal experience. The yelling and screaming, the cursing, the pacing and the flopping on the floor as if one were possessed by demons, the constant complaining, the complete obliteration of the social filters essential to civilized co-habitation can be maddening, or from my perspective, really, really funny.

Last week I described a particular Steeler fan as being "passionate", and "special" (these are euphemisms). Now if they gave out credentials in this sort of thing he would have had a GED. There is another at the Alley Cat who has a Ph D in being 'special'. Barry of the Mafia offered to find out who this person was, but after mulling it over for a few seconds I refused. Journalistic integrity would have bound me to an honest accounting of what I found, but I wanted to have the option of just making stuff up when it comes to this guy.

He has been present every Sunday. Since he was a Tampa Bay Buc fan he has mostly been just an oddity that demands your attention from time to time. In the spacious restaurant we exist in parallel dimensions, obsessed with unconnected dramas. But he is so loud and over the top that we are forced to pause from time to time to make certain a crime isn't in the process of being committed. As long as he stayed in Buc Land he wasn't a problem. But Tampa lost an early game to the Cowboys and having nothing better to do and presumably hopelessly off his medication he came to the conclusion that punking the Steelers would be a productive use of his time. Now, acting a fool over the Bucs and the Cowboys, or the Bucs and whomever is one thing. But now he was running around the Steeler section of the bar, bringing to mind the recent local news reports about rabid beavers who were terrorizing children. I have to admit to having never seen a rabid beaver, but I'm sure if you outfitted them with Buc jerseys you would have a hard time making a distinction between them and this guy. As we all know there is only one way that you deal with a rabid creature, you euthanize them. I was indelicate enough to openly suggest this course of action to Angela and Arla. Of course they thought I was just trying to be funny. As the evening wore on the idea seemed more rational and necessary. I have to admit that he was funny even if it was not his intention, but I wasn't there for the humor.

What attracted him to us is that he was playing the Hater. He had no particular allegiance to the Raiders. Neither did two other 'fans' who heckled so relentlessly that some Steelers fans moved to other areas of the bar to get away from them. Does this constitute fair game? I say no. The Real Sports feature and other supporting data reports that some fan behavior is moving in dangerous and increasingly violent directions. For some affiliation with a team is similiar to how we have viewed gang membership. The reaction to rival teams is also similar, which is to say violent. The Real Sports piece focuses on physical violence in stadium settings. But there are other settings and other manifestations of violence. We experience it at BTSC through trolls.

Haters are, at bottom, practicing nihilism, defined literally as terrorism. The purpose is to destroy for the sake of destruction. The trolls whom we encounter on a regular basis, the Buc fan and the two hecklers were in the context of their actions only concerned with tearing down. The practice at BTSC is when an individual reveals that spirit of participation they are warned and if unresponsive, banned. This is appropriate because it is a direct assault upon the purpose of the site; to provide a safe haven of sorts to like minded individuals who follow the Steelers. The DC Steeler Mafia and other fan groups and bars (for whatever team) strives to do the same. This is not an issue of conflicting allegiances. There were two legitimate Raiders fans present who were respectful and were treated respectfully and celebrated their team's victory among us with no sense of resentment. The individuals in question only rooted for the Raiders insofar as doing so would upset or irritate Steelers fans. This directly undermines the purpose of gatherings of this sort.

I am a Pittsburgh native and lived there at a time when the character of the town was probably a bit rougher than it is today. Because respect was such a highly valued commodity it was understood that you took your health and safety in your hands if you stepped over the line. If you were lucky you got a fist in the face. While such reactions, much like spanking, have fallen out of favor, it may actually be the wiser course of action. Filters and certain rules of decorum exist for a reason. The tendency of some fans to be indifferent to impulse control as a manifestation of 'keeping it real', and the acquiscence of the rest of us in the interest of 'tolerance' could result in uncontrolled explosions down the line.

The reality is that some of us do care a little bit too much about our games and for the wrong reasons. There are some needs that sports are not designed to meet. Better to find their fulfillment elsewhere.