November 25, 2004


After an Ugly Few Days, Manners Come Back to Mind (Thomas Boswell, November 24, 2004, Washington Post)

Often, it's hard to spot turning points, especially as they are in progress. This time, it's not. This is sportsmanship's window of opportunity. Everybody needs to grab this chance with both hands. Welcome back, old friend, you've been gone too long.

The last few days may actually turn out to be among the best we've seen in sports in a long time. Nobody got seriously hurt, but a serious problem got a ton of attention. That's win-win. Usually, to stir public furor, somebody gets maimed. Not now. Every time we see the now infamous replays we expect a broken neck. Instead, nothing. For once, we get the lesson without the tragedy. We see the problem vividly defined with few consequences, except punishment for the perpetrators, as it should be.

Don't worry. Our current age of sports rage won't suddenly be replaced by boring good behavior just because there's a fuss. It took decades for our games to reach their current disrepute among decent people. It'll take years to reverse those trends. Go with the flow of indignation. This time, it's good.

The same tide of intolerance that is requiring everything from liberalization in the Middle East to decency on broadcast television can effect a change in public manners and sportsmanship, just as the hooliganism of soccer fans goes hand-in-hand with muticulturalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2004 1:17 PM

I was at the Knicks-Atlanta Hawks playoff series way back in 1971 when a hard foul by ex-Knick Walt Bellamy sent Willis Reed to the locker room with an injury. The crowd responded with a rhythmic chant of "F--- you, Bellamy," which at least in my case, was the first time I had heard the F-bomb dropped in loud unison at a major sporting event.

There was nothing thrown on the court and no Hawk players ended up in the stands, but things like that did happen at other sporting events in the 1970s (the Bruins-Rangers fans brawl and nickle beer night at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland being among the most infamous examples). The difference back then was on the rare occurance when players did go into the stands, you never saw as many people defending that action after the fact as you do now, especially the other current and former NBA players who still support Artest, even after it's been made clear the guy he went after and decked wasn't the one who threw the beer in the first place.

The idea that one incident of "disrespect" gives a player carte blanche to go off and whale on anyone in the general vicinity is the mindset that needs to be changed. While I don't know if Stern's suspensions will do that, the monetary awards juries are likely to level against Artest and Jackson may do the trick (and if I were on the jury, O'Neal would get off for his haymaker, since the guy was on the court and was headed further out there despite the first punch by Artest).

Posted by: John at November 25, 2004 1:38 PM

What does multi-culturalism have to do with sports hooliganism? It is lily-white crowds in Britain that set the gold standard for loutish fan behavior. Take in a cricket match in Jamaica or Dominica or even the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and you won't see a single act of untoward behavior. The all Black crowd, the all Black players, the all Black officials won't put up with it.

Posted by: Bart at November 25, 2004 2:25 PM


Yes, the politeness of the event is directly related to the monoculturalism of the environment, thus proving the point.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2004 2:44 PM

It is simply a matter of what the crowd will tolerate, not a matter of the race or races of the crowd. As stated earlier, there are few crowd as thuggish as English soccer hooligans, and they are all White.

Posted by: Bart at November 26, 2004 1:40 AM

OJ: You couldn't be more wrong in your analysis of British football hooligan culture.

Bart: You're right in principle, but a decade or so out of date.

Here's a rough guide to how hooligan culture worked:

In the late 1970 and throughout the 1980s, football crowds were almost exclusively white, working-class men.

Within those crowds were pockets of bored, disaffected youths who gradually got themselves in gangs ('firms') with the intention of engaging in tribal warfare with firms from other teams.

It was particularly a problem in London, where you have lots of top-flight football teams who regularly met in Division 1, and plenty of opportunities for fights in tube stations etc. The most notorious London firms were Chelsea’s ‘Headhunters’ and West Ham United’s ‘Inner City Firm’.

Firms took themselves seriously, with strict initiation rules and ‘bases’ in pubs (one of the frequent aims on hooligan battles was to ‘take another firm’s pub’.)

Although it’s a myth ex-hooligans like to propagate that they never hurt innocent by-standers, in actual fact it is true that the idea was to only fight ‘volunteers’, ie, those who were in opposition firms. And far from going on random rampages, the hooligans were extremely organised - opposing firms contacting each other to arrange times and places to fight where the police wouldn’t be expecting it.

Anyway, that all stopped in the early 1990s, and it’s no longer a problem in Britain.

What killed it? Partly better police intelligence, but the main reason was a cultural shift: the exact thing that OJ thinks caused hooliganism, actually killed it.

The old days of the terraces – firm breeding grounds where you could stand where you liked and get yourself into little gangs to sing abusive songs, have gone. Big grounds are required to be all-seating. Football is now, in very sense, ‘multicultural’. Sky television bought the rights to football coverage in 1992, called Division 1 “The Premiership” and glammed it up like the NFL. There are more women, children, middle-classes and ethnic minorities going than ever before – a football match is basically much more like an American sporting occasion.

Chelsea FC – once home of the Headhunters – are now owned by a Russian billionaire, managed by a Portugese coach and have only two or three English players, and their fans are on average the richest in the country.

And the few remaining pockets of hooligan culture In Britain are now in the backwaters and the lower divisions, where the glamour and gentrification has yet to penetrate (Cardiff, Millwall and Stoke are the worst).

Meanwhile, the very worst football hooliganism in Europe now occurs in mono-cultural countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, and with the ‘Ultras’ in Italy.

Posted by: Brit at November 26, 2004 6:11 AM

nice post Brit........

No one likes us, No one likes us
No one likes us, We don't care
We are Millwall
Super Millwall
We are Millwall from The Den

Posted by: mickey at December 12, 2004 11:52 AM