Baltimore Orioles: Is fan decorum an issue in sports?


All Baltimore Orioles fans will remember “Wild Bill Hagy” with a fond smile whenever he’s mentioned. The “superfan” of course would sit up in section 34 of Memorial Stadium during Orioles games and spell out O-R-I-O-L-E-S with his body, and loudly root on the Birds during games. Yesterday I stumbled upon this article about the New York Jets’ version of Wild Bill, “Fireman Ed.” Ed Anzalone, a dedicated NY Jets fan and season ticket holder, has been pulling Wild Bill-like stunts at Jets’ games for years. The two are very similar in that their aim was to get the fans fired up in rooting for the team, however they never really crossed the line from fan to heckler in doing so. Ultimately, that’s a tough line to toe if you think about it, and both of them did it fairly well.

Wild Bill “retired” as a superfan circa 1984, which was when they stopped allowing people to bring their own beer into Memorial Stadium. Fireman Ed is retiring right now, as a result of “confrontations with other Jets fans.” So let me get this straight…he’s no longer doing his routine because his own fans are starting to get into it with him? Whoa…something’s just not right there. We see fights at sporting events all the time, generally the product of two people rooting for opposing teams, combined with alcohol. However…his own fan base is giving this guy a hard time? Again, there’s just something wrong with that. (According to the article, Anzalone will continue to go to Jets games and will continue to support the team, just not as “Fireman Ed.”)

This speaks volumes about fan decorum at sporting events. This happens to be an example out of the NFL, however all sports and all franchises are guilty of lacadasical approaches to security at times. I’ve seen fights at every stadium I’ve ever attended a game, and in every sport. (And some of those are one-offs whereby I happened to be in that town for the week and I decided to catch a game.) The sick thing is that over the past 5-7 years or so it seems that the decent people that are just going to the games to enjoy themselves are starting to get turned off more and more by some of the boorish behavior they see at stadiums. So they’re not going to the games any longer, which means that more and more of the people that are going are would-be trouble-makers.

Having said this, let me offer one caveat; if someone comes at you first, of course you have the right to defend yourself. Furthermore, when I say that the boorish behavior needs to stop there are also limits. In no way should someone cease to root for their team because someone rooting for the other side doesn’t want to hear it. I’m a Washington Redskins season ticket holder; I’ve seen snarky people who have complained about hometown fans being overly boisterous. Get real people. (And in saying that I mean the hometown Redskins fans were doing nothing more than cheering and the out-of-towners were getting annoyed.) However if it escalates to the point of fighting words or even violence, that’s where the line needs to be drawn.

I’ve never met Fireman Ed, and to be quite honest I’ve never really liked the Jets. However I always felt that Fireman Ed was a decent fan that tried to get the crowd behind the team. He never seemed like a threat to anyone, a nuissance, etc. For people to get in his face simply because the team isn’t doing well or he supports the quarterback nobody else likes is really bush league. It’s not as if he’s up there calling plays or working on strategy!

So what’s the solution? More security? Ceasation of alcohol sales? I’m not sure there is a solution short of people ceasing to be jerks. Unfortunately I see it all the time at Camden Yards and at many other ballparks. And it starts in the most innocent of manners; as an example if someone’s sitting in your seat when you arrive, politely show them your ticket and explain that those are your seats. Screaming”hey a*****e you’re sitting in my f*****g seats get the f**k out!” isn’t going to do anything more than cause the person to get defensive. (This obviously has nothing to do with the Fireman Ed situation, however it does illustrate how an honest misunderstanding can turn into a “situation” real quick.) And yes, I’ve seen that exact scenario unfold on numerous occasions in more than one sport.

Short of taking draconian measures, teams and stadiums can’t do much to stop this. However again, I’m calling upon the people to police themselves better. Is your own boorish pride really worth alienating a “fan icon” such as Fireman Ed to the point that he stops his act? As a collective group, sports fans have to be better than that!