My first major league soccer game at RFK Stadium between D.C. United and the Tampa Bay Mutiny left me in fear for my personal safety. If the players on the field behaved the way the fans did, they would have been ejected from the game.
D.C. United General Manager Kevin Payne dismissed a stabbing in the crowd that day as an "unfortunate" incident [Sports, Aug. 9], adding that "fans did a good job of policing themselves." Somehow I doubt that Sergio Santino, the stabbing victim, would agree. Neither alcohol consumption nor "rowdy" behavior was being curbed in the crowd.
When I arrived at the RFK parking lot prior to the game, I saw no police officers. The lot was littered with trash, cigarette butts and broken glass.
Inside the stadium, disrespect, rudeness and vulgarity were the order of the afternoon. Profanity flowed as freely as alcohol, and plenty of booing, jeering and vulgar gestures were reserved for the home team.
One fan yelled out "get that trash off the field" while an injured D.C. United player was being aided on the field. A fan threw a dirty diaper at United star Marco Etcheverry when he missed a penalty kick.
Flying objects included cups, bottles and paper. A plastic cup full of ice was hurled at fans in front of me. Moments later a program, flung from the deck above, nearly hit me in the head.
I moved to a different section at halftime to escape the drunken rowdiness of the fans, then watched as an irate fan and his family approached two members of the "Event Staff" to request assistance in controlling an agitated fan. The staffers did not even acknowledge the man and his family, and they left the stadium angry and unassisted.
As the game ended and the crowds were leaving, a highly intoxicated fan grabbed my leg and attempted to pull me out of my seat and under the guard rails. I was luckier than Sergio Santino, and I escaped without harm. But in that moment I wondered how many intoxicated or otherwise impaired drivers were being dumped onto D.C. streets and the corridors of Virginia and Maryland.
What should be done?
Officials should review their alcohol policies and public safety measures, starting with outside the stadium. Fans arrive at the game already intoxicated from tailgate parties, so the parking lot seems a logical place for police to begin controlling the drinking that leads to rowdy behavior inside the stadium. By eliminating alcohol consumption before the game, fans' drinking could be limited to what they consume during the game.
Inside the stadium, alcohol sales should be limited to the corridors outside the seating sections, which would mitigate some of the rowdy behavior in the stands. Likewise, ending alcohol sales at halftime would allow fans to sober up instead of becoming more inebriated and rowdy as the game winds down. Most of the violent episodes I saw occurred in the second half or after the game. Designated drivers should be promoted to encourage sober fans to be responsible for their intoxicated riders.
D.C. United and its fan clubs also should take some responsibility for this situation. Why not host promotions that appeal to churches, youth soccer leagues, schools and families? I suspect that more responsible fans are being kept away by the excessive alcohol use and indecent behavior of fans.
I would never take children or visitors to a D.C. United game. Maybe the answer for responsible fans is to boycott D.C. United until its owners demonstrate an ability to protect the public's safety and promote a more responsible use of alcohol by fans.
-- Sarah Lockwood