The Sports Hooligan used to be a uniquely British sort of jerk. An uncouth fanatic bloodying the reputation of sport, don't you know? Quite. But that could never happen on our side of the pond, where athletic heroes rank right up there with God, country and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, right?
Wrong. A new strain of hooliganism has infected sports, an American strain that may be worse than the old one. Instead of beating each other senseless, our hooligans want to hurt the guys on the field.
Broncos rooters are clearly the trendsetters here, having designed a battery-powered snowball. Denver cornerback Dale Carter nearly lost an eye after being hit by one in October. After another game at Mile High Stadium there was the tragicomic scene of the Raiders' 335-pound Lincoln Kennedy climbing into the stands to confront abusive spectators. Kennedy reportedly bloodied one fan's lip but wasn't flagged for it because police said he was defending himself. Eight spectators were arrested that night, and Oakland's Charles Woodson was cited for hitting a female fan in the face with a chunk of ice.
Last week in Vancouver—a Canadian city with American-style hooligans—fans threw tennis balls and coins at Rockets rookie Steve Francis, who had spurned their town when the Grizzlies selected him in the NBA draft. What's next, machetes?
In England, where sociologists spend big pounds deconstructing this stuff, the roots of hooliganism are said to be economic. The thugs tend to be poor or unemployed—angry young men seeking an outlet for their rage. Here it's the other side of the coin: With ticket prices so high, the only people at ball games seem to be the millionaires in the luxury suites and the drunken, half-crazy extremists in the $80 seats who live all week for a few hours of spouting bile at the visiting team.
Lowering ticket prices would be one way to get more sane people out to the ballpark. Major sports also need to improve stadium security, which currently has a snowball's chance in Tempe of stopping dangerous hooligans. If that doesn't work, maybe it's time to hand out police-issue Tasers to football, baseball and basketball players. That might short-circuit the problem in a hurry.