Silence has not served the National Football League well.
For years the league downplayed its problem with domestic violence and lightly penalized its offending players. That all erupted in a blaze of scandal and bad publicity when a video camera caught Ray Rice decking his then-fiancee in an elevator.
Now NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is clinging to a job and reputation in steep decline.
Another sort of violence lurks beneath the surface of this league, and last Sunday reared itself in two stadiums — University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Brawls broke out in the stands between spectators that turned far too dangerous as people tumbled over seats and down cement stairs.
The crowd videos are cringe-worthy. Punches land sharply on faces. People fall several feet onto hard seats and sharp corners as those around them gasp. In Glendale blood spatters the concrete. Fans nurse bleeding wounds. Glendale police arrested two men on assault charges and stadium security expelled a number of other people involved in the two fights that broke out in the upper decks of the Cardinals stadium.
The NFL has long known it has a problem with crowd violence. Last December, at least three people were stabbed outside of the Denver Broncos’ stadium as fans poured out into the parking lot following a loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Former NFL defensive end Akbar Gbajabiamila wrote at NFL.com in 2012 that even players are concerned about the safety of their family members in the stands.
“Fans can be brutal no matter what venue you go to,” he wrote. “When I came into the league in 2003, I was warned by veteran teammates to tell all of my family and friends to wear neutral colors to road games in order to deflect unnecessary attention that might cause them to be harassed.”
Anyone who has frequented NFL games in the past decade can speak to the declining spectator environment — encounters with beer-swilling low-lifes who tease and taunt and finally bully those around them. The most dangerous people at football games are not the huge men playing a violent game, writes CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel. “The true danger is us. We are the thugs, and we are everywhere.”
The NFL has been quietly trying to address the problem, he explains, with liaisons to each franchise focused on crowd security as teams coordinate with stadium guards and local law enforcement. Most NFL teams post a phone line for fans to text stadium personnel of any problems or concerns, Doyel reports. And the league is actively gathering information at all stadiums and studying the findings.
The league operates quietly on this front because it doesn’t want to alarm its customers, Doyel says.
— The Arizona Republic,