Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fan speech and fan violence

The Dodgers begin a three-day series against the Giants in San Francisco tonight, with all thoughts on Bryan Stow, the Giants fan who remains in a coma after being assaulted by two as-yet-unidentified Dodgers fans following a March 31 Giants-Dodgers game in Los Angeles. The Giants have announced "World Series-level" security measures for the games. Meanwhile the Dodgers have been publicizing heightened measures (including using uniformed and armed off-duty police offers for security) when the team returns to LA on Thursday. This apparently includes reconsideration of a plan to offer (and to publicize) half-price alcohol at several weekend games, after media outlets and others lambasted the team.

My concern is that efforts to crack down on fan violence require cracking down on fan conflict. And that may, inadvertently or otherwise, lead to a crackdown on fan speech. Consider the statement from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck threatening the removal and arrest of fans who come to "antagonize" other fans or fans of the other team. But a lot of things may antagonize other fans--including my cheering too loudly for or against a team or cheering in a way that some fans do not like of wearing t-shirts or carrying signs critical of the other team. Even something as seemingly innocuous as "Remember Bryan Stow" could be seen as antagonizing or intimidating Dodger fans in the Giants' ballpark. After all, by all reports the only thing Stow did was wear Giants gear and root for them during the game. It is just too easy, in the name of preventing the outlying and unusual instance of violence, cut potential problems off at the start by steering the widest possible path and exercising a quick trigger against speech before any greater problems can occur. While that is a laudable goal, it likely will entail exercising a quick trigger against so-called "antagonistic" speech that is fully protected, in no way fighting words, and highly unlikely to lead to any actual violence.

But teams recognize that they will be criticized far more harshly if there is another instance of fan-on-fan violence than if they preemptively cut off the expression of some obnoxious fans.

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