We’re less than halfway through the season, and already two videos have hit YouTube containing extraordinarily violent scenes at football stadiums. One took place at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in Week 3, and the other was from Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium. Both incidents involved people falling on the ground after getting hit, and both also featured an all-too-familiar sight in recent years: 49ers fans throwing punches with intent to harm.
I didn’t post the videos of either fight to boost site traffic, because watching both left me feeling ill. Plus, there’s a thin line between information and glorification. The videos have both been removed from YouTube, anyway. The one in Arizona showed about a dozen fans, both teams represented about equally, tumbling down stairs while kicking and punching each other, with blood droplets sprinkled all over the floor once security finally got a handle on it. (That’s not a knock on security — from the looks of things they were on the scene pretty quickly, but it’s tough to stop that many people from fighting when they’re swinging their arms wildly and falling on top of one another.)
The one from two days ago was even worse — two fans throwing multiple punches at another 49ers fan’s head, possibly because there was a disagreement over an open stall. Then the two assailants started in on another guy, who protected himself by covering his head while lying facedown on the floor. The first victim ended up unconscious on his back and is in serious condition, and the attackers were later arrested and charged with felony assault.
It’s easy to feel powerless in times like these. Making the decision to never attend football games for reasons relating to personal safety is completely understandable. But for those who care about the environment at 49ers games, both home and away, as well as the fan base’s overall reputation, we need to do something to stop this horrifying trend. Ryan Sakamoto of NinerFans.com wrote about how fans need to help each other in these situations, and I agree. Niners Nation lead editor David Fucillo and I communicated a lot on this subject on Monday, and we came to the conclusion that we can’t stay silent on this. This isn’t just a situation where every NFL fan base has some bad apples, and 49ers fans are being unfairly scrutinized. Nope, it’s gotten bad. Really, really bad. And it’s been this way for too long, going back to the mid-2000s. I’m sure Fucillo will have something to add (update: he most certainly did) — here are my thoughts on what can and should be done.
Step One: Admitting there’s a problem
Remember when 49ers fans would smugly point across the bay and say, “I’d never take my wife and children to a RAIDERS GAME.”?
Those days are over. The Black Hole might not be a comfortable place for Broncos fans or those who don’t like seeing grownups wear costumes and makeup on days other than Halloween, but one doesn’t need to wear a kevlar vest and helmet to go to the restroom at the Coliseum, either.
Two vicious cretins ganged up on someone in a Levi’s Stadium men’s room and knocked him out cold, proving that the violent culture of Candlestick Park didn’t stay in Hunters Point when the 49ers moved south.
I saw multiple fights in the stands at Candlestick over the past few seasons. Before one game I was inching along the road between the parking lots. The couple in the car in front of mine were drinking, and the guy in the passenger’s seat started yelling and gesturing at a fan tailgating to our right. The fan in the parking lot (wearing a Raiders jersey and a red bandana under his hat) gestured as if he either had a weapon or was ready to walk over and start fighting. Luckily nothing occurred, because I was stuck in a traffic jam. A fan was stabbed about an hour later on Harney Way, near Jamestown Road.
Then there was the 49ers-Raiders preseason game in 2011:
An assault victim and a shooting victim remain in serious condition after a violent night at Candlestick Park Saturday, according to officials at San Francisco General Hospital.
Three people were hospitalized after two men were found shot in the parking lot at around 8 p.m., and another man was beaten unconscious in a bathroom inside the stadium between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.
Based on the incidents mentioned earlier, the opening of Levi’s Stadium hasn’t “priced out the thugs.” Many seemed to think that the only way to get rid of Candlestick’s reputation was to leave Candlestick, but the problem runs much deeper.
Step Two: Don’t just stand there, do something
And “something” doesn’t mean pressing record on your phone and yelling “Worldstar!” It’s totally understandable for an innocent bystander to steer clear of a fight — unless you’re a trained officer or martial artist, being a Good Samaritan can be extremely dangerous. But filming the violence, then pointing the camera at yourself and saying “Wow” (like the person who recorded Sunday’s restroom attack), and uploading it to YouTube isn’t helping. Police officers and security personnel are there for a reason — even if it means leaving your place in line, try leaving the restroom to flag someone down.
Since the Rebolleros were apprehended, it’s possible that someone did just that. But crime is more prevalent where criminals feel safe. I walk down McAllister and turn left on Market whenever I walk to Giants games. That particular corner is clearly a spot where drugs are sold, based on the men who post up there and the skinny, trembling people with terrible complexions who haunt that area — it’s a very active spot, with at least 30-50 people milling about most days. Yesterday there were two cops standing on that corner, and they were all alone.
Most fans, whether they root for the 49ers, Raiders, Giants, Dodgers or Cowboys, aren’t violent criminals. This isn’t about blaming ALL 49ers fans, but innocent fans need to help whenever they can if they want this reputation to go away. Watching and saying “wow” tells criminals that what they’re doing is either OK, or too scary for others to prevent.
Step Three: the 49ers need to get in front of this issue
It’s bad publicity, and calling attention to fan violence generally isn’t an integral part of a fun (and expensive) entertainment experience, but this has gone on for way too long. It’s time for scoreboard messages before and even during games, after most fans have gone through security lines. Officers should be stationed within 100 feet of each restroom, if not directly outside. Numbers for security are on signs throughout the stadium, but perhaps there should be more. If we can order food from our seat at Levi’s, quick access to security should be just as easy.
A lot of these measures are already in place to an extent. The 49ers don’t foster a more violent environment than other teams, and the fan base wasn’t always this way. But the reputation isn’t just annoying or embarrassing, it might also be attracting like-minded thugs to join the “Niner Gang.” And at the risk of sounding like an old man, maybe #bangbangninergang isn’t the greatest hashtag if we’re trying to reverse this trend. And we can’t talk about violence at 49ers games while ignoring the gang element. Gangs will never be eradicated, but aren’t there enough great things about football without having to celebrate a truly problematic part of society? Football is a violent game, but there has to be a way to keep the criminal element out of stadiums and parking lots.
This is all about keeping people safe. Along with the audiences of Niners Nation and Ninerfans.com, I’m hoping the 49ers supporters who read this site keep in mind that there’s some work to do. It’s not about vigilante justice, but having the backs of fellow fans, no matter what jerseys they’re wearing. If you see a problem, try to solve it in any way you can. Avoid dangerous situations. If you see anything suspicious, alert the authorities. We need to protect ourselves and each other, and hopefully with added attention and a stronger focus on cleaning up this senseless behavior from the few jerks out there, we can prevent further tragedies, reverse this trend and scrub away the “violent fans” label.