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gary washburn

There is no place for fan violence in the stands at our sporting events

Boston Globe Today: Sports | September 22, 2023
Watch today’s full episode of Boston Globe Today: Sports from September 22, 2023.

There used to be other considerations when pondering whether to attend an NFL game. There were the exorbitant ticket prices, parking, the $15 hot dogs, and the $22 beers. You had to decide whether you wanted to pass on the luxury of watching the game on a widescreen TV with your preferred snacks in favor of needing binoculars to catch those pivotal plays.

Those are no longer significant concerns. The most critical and pressing concern has become safety. Are you safe at any NFL game? Do you dare wear a jersey of the opposing team, realizing you will be jeered or even confronted? Do you trust that those fans around you will keep their composure for three-plus hours?


Fan safety has become the foremost problem because some of us don’t know how to act when we attend a game.

The Patriots and rest of the NFL community are reeling after the tragic death of New England fan Dale Mooney, who died at Gillette Stadium during Sunday night’s loss to Miami because of a medical issue that occurred during a physical altercation with a Dolphins fan. He was 53.

Every week on X (formerly Twitter), we see videos of fan fights at NFL games.

Grown men take haymakers at each other, arguing over who has the better team or sour grapes about losing or even something as minor as stepping on a foot while passing in a row or spilling popcorn.

While fights may be entertaining morsels for social media minds that love to watch others misbehave for amusement, it isn’t funny. What’s more, it’s dangerous and can be deadly.

The NFL culture of five-hour tailgating filled with alcohol, table diving (Buffalo), tackle football games in the parking lot, and other escapades has led to this behavior.

Years of watching NFL gladiators crash into each other to prove their physical superiority have made a generation of fans think they can do the same when they attend a game. Some of us paint our faces, put on costumes, and become an alter ego once we pull up to the stadium filled with beer.


NFL Sunday is the one day we don’t have to live conventionally or follow rules. We want to live out our delusions of football grandeur.

And this is not to absolve the female fans. There are plenty of women who act foolishly at NFL games, pushing other fans, instigating fights, or tossing beer in the middle of the scrums and then ducking behind another onlooker. This is not a male or female problem but a people problem, a conduct issue, a matter of respect and safety.

Most of us have to go to work on Monday, face our coworkers, and actually serve as a role model for our children. Normal life does resume when the clock hits zero and the Patriots win or lose.

Maybe it’s as simple as imploring people to stop fighting at NFL games. Stop with the obnoxious statements to rival fans when your team is winning. Stop trying to instigate altercations over a football game. We all love our teams. We have all followed our teams since childhood. It’s a lifetime bond. It’s a long-term commitment.

But none of us are on the team payroll. We are not paid to be fans. Winning a fight at an NFL game does not make you the heavyweight champion of Gillette Stadium. It makes you a fool.


We come to the stadium with our masculinity and bravado brimming. We’re ready to see the bone-crushing hits. We’re ready for our team to reign supreme so we can take that walk to our cars bursting with pride.

But we can’t attach our personal pride and stature to a football game, regardless of how much we adore our team. We can’t view a fan wearing the jersey of the opposing team as our unquestioned enemy. We all have jobs, families, responsibilities, and more important priorities.

If your primary goal is to whip somebody’s butt once you to get to the stadium, you should take yourself back home or listen to the game on the radio in the parking lot. There are too many other fans there to have a good time, then get home safely to resume their lives.

Do we take our sports too seriously in Boston? That’s a legitimate question, and with the emergence of legal sports betting, the passion is not going to subside any time soon.

But we have to find a way to control our emotions, be more respectful of each other, and ignore those snide remarks from rival fans, because it could be a matter of life and death.

NFL games aren’t as fun anymore. Alcohol consumption has become too much of a priority, which leads to bad decisions and boorish behavior. It will require a collective effort to stop this trend, and it has to start this Sunday.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.