Interlopers at sporting events are the last taboo on television
We see everything on TV, but someone runs out on field camera moves away
In every other instance viewer discretion is advised, but we're not given choice
Lack of air time has never been a deterrent; field invaders continue to invade
Did you see the guy in the Batman underpants who leapt from the bleachers at Camden Yards on Opening Day and spent 63 seconds eluding justice on the outfield grass, his cape flouncing in the breeze, before a pile of policemen -- presumably in defiance of Commissioner Gordon -- finally tackled him in left-centerfield?
Neither did I, because I was watching the game on live television, and while TV eagerly serves up murder, war, famine, sex, profanity, calamity, depravity, colonoscopies, car chases, car crashes and all manner of Kardashians, the cameras demurely avert their eyes whenever a fan runs onto a baseball field.
It's the final taboo on TV, the last remaining island of discretion in a sea of Snookies.
And so any viewers dozing through that Orioles-Twins opener -- and I was one of them -- were abruptly awakened by a great ovation, signaling that something exciting was happening just out of view. What it was we could only guess at, for the cameras pretended not to notice, in the way that men suddenly fix their gaze a mile into the distance when a beautiful woman walks by on the beach.
Not that these field-crashers are beautiful women. On the contrary: They are always neither. But they do exist, and pretending otherwise is perhaps the silliest affectation in sports.
Yes, the announcers will sometimes concede that some unseen "idiot" has disrupted the sacred ritual of scratching, spitting and underwear adjustments that comprise most of a major-league at-bat. But otherwise television will not acknowledge the interloper who, just beyond the frame, is zigzagging across the outfield grass trailing a conga line of policemen, in a diverting scene that calls to mind the closing credits of Benny Hill.
In all other genres of television, the viewer is given a choice. "The following program" --our screen promises -- "contains graphic violence, nudity and scenes of a strong sexual nature. Viewer discretion is advised." Or a news anchor will gravely intone: "What you are about to see is so profoundly disturbing you may wish to look away." In either case, the warnings are thinly disguised come-ons, calling us into the room, imploring us to draw up a chair, defying us to avert our eyes.
Only in sports are we required to look away, lest we be moved to invade the field ourselves the next time we're at a ballgame. Quite why other forms of social deviance aren't subject to this same blackout rationale on TV remains an open question. On local news, famously, if it bleeds it leads. Real-life murder mysteries have become a staple of cable and network TV, replete with crime scene video and slow-motion re-enactments. But some depictions of criminal behavior are beyond the pale even by TV standards. And so it is with the misdemeanor trespassers in American ballparks.
Never mind that starving these people of air time has never been a deterrent. This baseball season alone, the Orioles had four separate field invaders in their first 10 home games, most recently last Friday night, when another shirtless spectator slid headfirst into home plate before getting up and jogging away, only to be tackled from behind by home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg.
The next night, in Los Angeles, a young man in a Washington Nationals T-shirt breached the bleachers at Dodger Stadium and ran toward leftfield, evidently intent on embracing Nats' debutante Bryce Harper. (He was intercepted by security before consummating the hug.)
The same day, in the English Premier League, a Liverpool fan ran onto the pitch at Norwich to celebrate a goal, and to make a lavishly obscene gesture to the home fans. He also somehow managed -- after being taken into police custody, but before exiting the field of play -- to moon his fellow Liverpool supporters.
Watching all these cellphone videos consecutively, I felt like the guy in the theater in the final scene of Cinema Paradiso, watching a movie made entirely of illicit clips censored from the movies of his childhood and spliced together into one endless love scene.
Which isn't to say that I love these nitwits. Nobody does. Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones told the Baltimore Sun that he'd like to see a K-9 Unit -- and Tasers -- employed in future pursuits of would-be Batmen.
If the Orioles ever do release the hounds, turning German shepherds loose on inebriated superheroes, surely TV could no longer resist the spectacle. A clock would be imposed on the screen, as in professional bull riding, counting how long it takes before man succumbs to beast.
And why not? When there are cameras in the courtroom, cameras in the delivery room and cameras in the operating room, it's the next logical progression, the final frontier.
And so I propose a cable channel devoted exclusively to the footage of fans running onto the field that all the other channels have refused to show. What you see there may horrify you -- may be so profoundly disturbing that you'll have to look away -- but at least the choice will be yours.
Viewer discretion is advised.