Tuesday, August 23, 2011

End The Madness

The mayhem at Candlestick Park before, during and after the annual 49ers/Raiders exhibition game may finally force The Powers That Be to confront some uncomfortable truths. Kudos to 49ers boss Jed York for taking a few first steps (at least verbally). But there's more to be done.

Let's look at a few issues:

The parking lot If there's a real-world equivalent to the dystopian world depicted in the movie Blade Runner, it has to be the Candlestick Park lot. What a hellhole. It's been that way for years, during both 49ers and Giants games. It's an invitation to lawless, thuggish behavior.

The stadium Candlestick Park itself is a dump. No amount of lipstick is going to make this pig look good. The "broken window" theory says crummy surroundings breed bad behavior, and this place is perfect proof.

The exhibition game ripoff It ought to be illegal, but the NFL (and the other big pro sports) force season-ticket holders to buy tickets to meaningless exhibition games--at full price! Think of that as a 25% surcharge on your season-ticket plan (8 regular-season home games plus 2 exhibition games). These tickets often wind up unused or dumped at bargain prices. The result: the usual crowd stays away, and the replacements? Well, you saw what happens.

The socioeconomic gap I'm trying to be delicate here. But suffice it to say that many of the customers at Saturday's nightmare are not exactly the same folks Jed York hangs with in his spare time. Don't just blame the 49ers (or the Raiders): when the cheap seats are $74 and the parking is $30, the NFL is on an ice floe, floating away from the mainland of its fan base.

Stadium culture in general The Bay Area needs to own up to an ugly fact: crude fan behavior is not new here (let's not forget the flying bottles at Kezar Stadium), and it's not getting a lot better. A willingness to let the lowest common denominator rule can't be a good thing. Look, I'm no prude, but even I am put off by T-shirts and bumper stickers that casually invoke the F-word.

Too much booze It starts with the "pre-heat" in the parking lot (or even before) and continues right on into the stadium. NFL games have become, for many, more than just a buzz. And it's not just at the stadium: bars and restaurants pack 'em in on NFL Sundays. It's a tricky issue, because limiting alcohol sales inside the stadium simply convinces many to pound 'em back faster before they enter.

The 49ers, Raiders, police and NFL are saying all the right things. In particular, the promises to run DUI checkpoints near Candlestick Park and ban "tailgating" after the kickoff should help. Maybe Jed York is right to call for an end to the faux "rivalry" of the 49ers/Raiders exhibition game.

But everyone in this picture needs to think bigger. The NFL and its wealthy players (and the broadcasters who make bank on pro football) could spend a few of their spare millions funding a serious, no-B.S. campaign that could reset expectations of fan behavior. Think back to the powerful message sent by Giant Jeremy Affeldt and Dodger Jamey Carroll after the Dodger Stadium attack on a Giants fan. NFL players need to be doing the same.

Beyond that, it's time for the billionaires who run pro football to take a look across the parking lots and realize the people out there are, in many cases, from a very different part of society. The kind of anger and nihilism that leads to what we saw Saturday night is scary when you see it up close, but it should be a call to action when it's seen in a broader sense.

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