Commentary

NFL should ban misbehaving fans

Quiz and $75 fine are just an interim step to making stadiums safer

Updated: April 18, 2012, 11:38 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

True or false: Behaving badly towards other fans, such as fighting, swearing or threatening them, is OK as long as they deserve it.

[+] EnlargeNFL Game Security
David Dermer/Getty ImagesSecurity prepares to escort a Steelers fan out at a Browns game in October.

Even a 5-year-old could get that answer right. And if you didn't immediately realize the answer is "false," then maybe you should be taking an anger management course instead of the NFL's version of the Drunken Idiot's Guide to Stadium Behavior.

According to the New York Post, that's a sample question from an online exam that abusive NFL fans who are ejected from stadiums now must pass if they ever want to attend another game.

Do this and prepare to answer the following:

True or false: Every fan has a right to like any team they wish. Using abusive language towards fans who support teams you don't like will not be tolerated.

After reading questions like that, I'm sure NFL draft prospects wish the league had hired Dr. Ari Novick, the mastermind behind the conduct exam, to create the Wonderlic.

Certainly the NFL deserves some credit for being proactive in trying to stem fan misbehavior. But even though this is a step in the right direction, it's only a half-measure.

Brandishing this exam, which has been used by both New York teams and in New England since 2010 and now will be used by five other clubs, as a deterrent is like spitting on a raging fire to extinguish it.

There is no question that unruly behavior by fans has grabbed headlines and seemingly become more prevalent and distasteful at live games. It's reasonable to assume that this is not encouraging saner fans to forsake their comfortable, safe, home-viewing experience for an expensive NFL outing where they might be in danger.

In August, two men were shot after a Raiders-49ers preseason game.

[+] EnlargeNFL Security
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesFans pass through security before a Texans game in January.

In November, a 25-year-old was stabbed in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot during a Chargers-Raiders game.

After the Jets-Chiefs game in December, a Jets fan was hospitalized after being punched in the face.

Search "drunk" and "fans" on YouTube and you'll see numerous videos -- some of which are truly frightening -- of fans behaving so ridiculously that it will make you never want to attend an NFL game.

The behavior is so boorish it makes me question whether the threat of having to pay $75 and score 70 percent on a four-hour online course will deter the people who misbehave.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the expanded use of the online course "is part of the NFL's on-going effort to further improve the gameday experience for all fans." But if that's the case, why not at least make the course a league-wide mandate?

Considering that the NFL is all about setting strong disciplinary precedents for players, coaches and franchises to eliminate future problems -- just ask the New Orleans Saints -- you would expect the league to take a much harder stance on bad fans.

"If you take the test, you've confessed your sin," said Kent State professor Jerry M. Lewis, an expert on fan violence. "It creates a deviance bureaucracy. What if you take the test? Does that give you license to do it again?"

It would be totally appropriate for the NFL to develop no-tolerance policies for misbehaving fans. And while the NFL already has rules that limit alcohol consumption at stadiums, if violent fan incidents persist, the league will eventually need to consider even more stringent alcohol restrictions.

Besides, how enforceable is the current code of conduct for fans, which has been in place since 2008? What does the league plan to do about fans in the parking lots, like the examples above? What's a $75 fee to a season-ticket holder, who probably spends that much on food and drinks at every game?

If fans are ejected from a game, stadium officials can record names and seat numbers, and take photos. But what's the likelihood the ticket-takers are going to pick out those faces in the crush of people at the turnstiles before the next game? And we know ticket scalpers aren't exactly going to go "CSI" on the NFL's behalf and question a customer about previous behavior before taking his cash. Of course, these are enforcement issues for lifetime bans, and there's a crowd of people in masks and face paint.

"My research shows that [fans] aren't crazy," said Lewis, who has studied hundreds of violent encounters. "They are really committed to their teams, which is the thing with using psychoanalytic vehicles [such as this quiz and fine]."

Stadiums might or might not have been more dangerous next season if this program wasn't expanded. But this is an interim step. If the league really wanted to make a bold statement, it would threaten wayward fans with a lifetime ban from NFL games.

It's just sound business. Before a slight increase in 2011, the NFL's attendance numbers had dipped three straight years.

Some of that can be attributed to the shaky economy, and to the technology that has rendered experiencing live games less appealing than watching from home. But the NFL also has to combat the growing perception that its games aren't a good atmosphere for families. The league already has had its share of troubling incidents, but certainly the NFL wouldn't want to be subjected to the bad publicity Major League Baseball received after the Bryan Stow tragedy.

Fans need to feel safe. True or false: Everyone feels more secure knowing that all that blocks the return to the stands of a moronic fan is a simple quiz.

Jemele Hill | email

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