On Punching Bags

These past few days have not been kind to the city of Philadelphia. Aside from losing Hall of Famer and all-around great guy Robin Roberts at the age of 83, the city has received two black eyes in the form of nitwit fans trespassing on the field of play. Many in the mainstream media used it either as a jumping-off point or directly as reasoning for a screed against Philly fans.

You see, Philly fans are a boisterous bunch. They hurl batteries all the time, and they absolutely hate Santa Claus (insert Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” crusade). Men laden in replica Phillies and Eagles jerseys stampede towards local malls to pelt Santas with snowballs. And when they’re done, they regurgitate yesterday’s lunch on the nearest kid.

Were you to believe the narrative painted by the media, you would have no choice but to believe that this is the modus operandi of Philly fans. Must not sleep, must annoy others.

Are Philly fans really as bad as the media claims? The Santa incident was in the 1960′s, the J.D. Drew battery incident was in the 1990′s, and the puke and trespass incidents came within mere weeks of each other after more than a decade without incident. In fact, 99 percent of Phillies games come and go without incident. 99 percent of Eagles games come and go without incident. 99 percent of Flyers games come and go without incident. And the Sixers don’t draw a crowd, so there is no chance for an incident. (Zing!)

Does fandom of Philadelphia teams or simply residence in the Philly area predispose one to act boorishly? I fail to see a correlation. After all, was it not New York football Giants fans who, during a Giants-Saints game shortly after Hurricane Katrina, pelted New Orleans fans with insults such as “Where’s your swimmies? I hope you have your swimmies!” and “You deserve what you got. New Orleans people are stupid.” How about the Mets fan who killed his mother because his team lost? Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad had “a well-worn Mets cap” in his Connecticut apartment. Are all New York Mets fans insensitive, temperamental, homicidal sociopaths?

As much as it pains me to admit it: absolutely not.

A fan in Oakland tossed a cherry bomb that burned an eight-year-old boy’s leg in 2003.

Then-Royals coach Tom Gamboa was assaulted by two fans — father and son — in 2002 who ran onto the field.

Then-Astros right fielder Bill Spiers was assaulted in Milwaukee in 1999 and suffered a black eye, a bloody nose, and whiplash.

Outside of baseball, former tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed by a Steffi Graf fan during a match in Hamburg in 1993. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson fought with Detroit Pistons fans in 2004.

Many other examples abound and there is no common sports-related thread linking them. Philadelphia isn’t even the only city that has field trespassers. They’re in Pasadena, Washington D.C., and even Minneapolis. The problem instead is a meme bolstered by the confirmation biases of millions of people. Most likely, you had forgotten about or had never even heard of many of the incidents listed above, but you will certainly not forget the Philly-related incidents. Philadelphia has a reputation and any little thing that happens becomes further evidence that the conclusions about the city are true.

The truth is, there are attention-seekers all over the country. Philly doesn’t have them in any greater numbers percentage-wise than any other metropolitan city. But because of the reputation, when a Philly fan gets out of line, it’s a country-wide incident. When a San Diego fan gets out of line, it’s yesterday’s news.

The media is mostly to blame for this as most sensationalize these events in an effort to inspire click-throughs or self-promotion (both on a company and individual level). Readers/viewers/listeners have no choice but to believe that Philly is a safe haven for malcontents given the way the issues are presented by the media.

A few days ago on Twitter, I wrote:

If you hate people because they come from different country, you’re a xenophobe. But it’s okay if you hate someone from a different city. ??

There is no basis for the habitual lashing Philadelphia gets in the media. It is outright ignorant and lazy. Rivalries are fun. City-to-city xenophobia is a different story. It is not necessary to paint with such a broad brush. Most Mets fans I have spoken with either in person or via the Internet have been kind people. I’m sure most Mets fans can say the same about their interaction with Phillies fans. Can we at least admit that?

We are better than this. If you truly think Philadelphia is a terrible city, send Mayor Michael Nutter a letter with your suggestions for improvement.