Taking the NFL's fan conduct course
October, 8, 2012
By Charles Curtis | ESPN The Magazine
John Sleezer/Getty ImagesHolding up a sign may not get you ejected from a stadium, but get too rowdy and you'll have to take an online course.Pop quiz, NFL fans. Security was called to eject you from a game because you:
A) Cheered when Matt Cassel got injured and called him a $@*%#%#@%! with a 7-year-old sitting nearby.
B) Passed out on the woman sitting next to you after finishing your 10th beer.
C) Took a swing at someone wearing a Jared Allen jersey because the actual Jared Allen just sacked your quarterback for the third time that day.
D) All of the above.
If you’ve been given the heave-ho for fan misbehavior, the NFL has a new rule just for you: Stay classy, or take a class.
As Darren Rovell reported in August, the league now requires disorderly die-hards to take a course in fan conduct if they’re tossed for unruly behavior. Last season alone, an estimated 7,000 fans were ejected from NFL stadiums.
This season marks the first in which the entire NFL is using the course, created by psychotherapist Dr. Ari Novick, as part of its best-practice policies, with all 32 teams adopting the program after New Meadowlands Stadium (now MetLife Stadium) and Gillette Stadium used it to success in 2010. When the NFL showed interest last year, Novick tinkered with the course based on feedback from fans and the league.
Don’t worry, miscreant supporters, you won’t have to wear a paper bag on your head at your local elementary school as a lecturer drones on for hours. After wrongdoers receive a letter detailing their offense, they are sent an online link to take the course in the comfort and privacy of a man (or woman) cave.
Without so much as a single drunken rant, Playbook was lucky enough to receive access to a class.
After offenders dole out between $50 and $100, they log on to lessons divided into chapters interspersed with mini-quizzes, just to make sure the material sticks. Users are encouraged to take timeouts and to finish in a total of four hours. There’s no way to speed up the clock -- the course posts the time required for each section. You’ll spend at least a robust 28 minutes and 10 seconds on Chapter 1, for example.
Surprisingly, the content isn’t solely focused on how to behave in a stadium setting. It does, however, kick off with the team’s code of conduct.
“That was done intentionally,” Novick said. “We didn’t want to start the program with some of these bigger lessons. We wanted to get down to the fundamentals initially. ‘Hey, here’s why you were required to take the class. These are the rules of the stadium.' We want you to understand that.”
That’s when the lessons become more universal. The next chapter is a basic lesson in empathy, social awareness and stress management, using psychotherapy techniques such as “assertive communication” -- starting phrases with “I feel” or “I need” when describing behavior.
The course then turns to the topic of alcohol, from patterns of abuse to risk factors.
“It’s a little more global than just at the game. Often, someone who’s getting out of control from drinking, this isn’t their first time,” Novick said. “It’s not like you came to a football game and discovered ‘Alcohol has an adverse effect on my behavior.’ The course isn’t meant to be a replacement for medical and psychological advice, but it’s meant to open someone’s eyes that alcohol might be a problem for them.”
Much like the typical compliance training that employees everywhere take in their offices, the course ends with a 30-question test of mainly true and false questions based on the content of the class.
The relative ease of the questions has actually been a source of criticism, but as Novick points out, “The final exam is really just meant to make sure you understood the basics of the class. It wasn’t meant to trip anyone up.”
A passing grade is at least 70 percent, complete with a certificate -- and the all-important admittance back into your stadium of choice. Those who don't take the class risk having their season tickets revoked or even possible trespassing charges should they venture back to their home stadium.
There are, in fact, fans who likely choose to take that route. Novick says some ejected fans don’t take the course until the offseason and some altogether skip it and discreetly head back to their home field. What could be a flaw in the system, however, isn’t a defect.
“Even if someone decides not to take the class and comes back to the stadium again, you’d better believe that fan is thinking about what he’s doing,” said Novick, who pointed out there hasn’t been a repeat offender who’s had to retake the class. “If they’re no longer posing a threat simply out of fear that they might get arrested if they do get caught, then we’ve solved the problem anyway.”
And you can't be mad at that.