The San Jose Mercury News reported that this annual exhibition meeting between neighboring teams will be canceled, for several years if not permanently — but that the league will not announce this decision. It will just allow the game to disappear from the schedule.
If it means fewer shootings and beatings, end the yearly matchup, by all means. It’s only a preseason game. But don’t let it die quietly. The league should kill it, loudly and publicly, while sending a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated. And that message should come from the top — specifically, Commissioner Roger Goodell.
So far, Goodell has been silent, but the NFL’s chief security officer, Jeffrey Miller, said Wednesday he’s made specific recommendations to the 49ers, who will implement them for their next game.
One change involves what Miller called “integrating” police and fans in the parking lots before the game. That, he says, will cut down on drinking, meaning fewer intoxicated fans will make it to the gate. Another is to clear the parking lot after kickoff of anyone who doesn’t have a ticket for the game.
There is more, but Miller said similar approaches have worked across the Bay in Oakland.
The league and the players just resolved a protracted lockout that ended with both sides getting a big piece of the huge pie that is the NFL. The fans? The fans got . . . a protracted lockout. But the NFL is so big and so popular that a lot of fans, including this one, were ready to forgive and forget. Just give us our football.
Do we really have to risk our lives to have it, though? The league has already acknowledged that large, flat-screen HD televisions make staying home a sound financial choice in these dire economic times. Throw in safety issues, and even more fans may decide to remain in their man- and woman-caves, saving the cost of concessions, parking, tickets and possible visits to the emergency rooms.
It could be argued that there have always been fights in the stands at football games — I’ve witnessed them on occasion at FedEx — and that the combination of YouTube and the plethora of video-capable cellphones merely give the appearance of more violence.
But beatings and shootings in parking lots? It wasn’t that long ago that Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten nearly to death in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium. Stow suffered severe brain injuries, though he has shown some improvement over the past five months. The Dodgers, with the LAPD, increased security in the aftermath, but there had been complaints by fans for years that the parking lots weren’t safe. Why does it take incidents like this for action to be taken?
I don’t think there’s any argument that teams are responsible for their fans’ safety while they are inside the stadium — and that covers the bathrooms, too. But that responsibility does not end when fans walk out of the gate after the game. First, they’ve paid often exorbitant prices to park in the team’s lots. Second, the teams allow alcohol consumption, both in parking lots and in stadiums. In fact, with booze being a major advertiser, you could say the teams are active partners in promoting alcohol consumption. Miller said police keep watch on parking lots after the games as well.
If the teams are complicit in the sale and consumption of alcohol but are unwilling or unable to guarantee the safety of its fans, then the league needs to take that responsibility.
If Goodell has time to scold and discipline the league’s players, he has time to fine and discipline team owners, too. According to Miller, he certainly has that power. So use it to send a message that owners had better make their parks and parking lots safe for paying customers, even the drunk ones. It would be the very least the league could do.