Anger in NFL’s stands should ice beer service

Sports facilities around the country will have to change the way they do business as a result of a temper tantrum on Sunday.

Fans at a National Football League game in Cleveland threw plastic beer bottles at players and officials on the field. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt despite some cuts from the partially filled missiles. Ice and paper cups were also tossed.

The fans became enraged when a replay call went against the home team in the closing minutes of the game, ending the Cleveland Browns’ chances of pulling out a come-from-behind win. To top it off, the replay’s timing appeared to have been in violation of NFL rules, although league officials later said it was handled correctly.

Ohio’s fans are not particularly known for their ability to keep a sense of perspective on the place of sports in their lives. Team officials played into the obsessive mentality of their cash-paying customers. Browns President Carmen Policy said he liked "the fact that our fans cared." He also said, "Our fans had their hearts ripped out."

Any illusion that Cleveland was the only problem lasted just a day, however. A Monday night football game in New Orleans showed that living in the Big Easy isn’t enough to keep fans level-headed. After calls went against their team, New Orleans fans threw their plastic beer bottles on the field.

Again, nobody was seriously hurt. But the two dangerous incidents in two days send a message. Most of the emotion at sports events can be healthy, but a crowd of 40,000 people has the potential to turn into a mob.

The mellow Northwest is no exception. Crowds at the University of Oregon football games have a reputation for offensive if not dangerous conduct. Consider the "greeting" for Alex Rodriguez’s return to face the Seattle Mariners last spring. While some Safeco Field fans merely booed in an embarrassing fashion, others threw play money and a bit of garbage. And that was after months of opportunity to cool off.

Sports facilities cannot continue selling fans bottles of beer, even plastic ones, with the assumption the fans are smart enough to hold their bottles. Fanatic believers in the hometown team are perfectly capable of deciding to terrorize and endanger the folks on the field. Banning plastic beer bottles will make lines go more slowly, forcing attendants to return to the practice of pouring all drinks into a cup. The slowdown may reduce alcohol revenues for teams. But unless public safety and liability concerns are minor matters to sports franchise and stadium owners, the fans in Cleveland have trashed the deal for everyone.

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