Stadiums and arenas are becoming the landfill for America's most obnoxious, crude, rude and wasted fans. Game-day civility has become a rumor. Manners have vanished.
Not long ago, at the Carolina-Chicago playoff game at Soldier Field, I saw four drunk Bears fans stagger toward a couple of middle-aged guys wearing Panthers jerseys. The Bears fans dropped a cluster of expletives on them, called them homosexuals, laughed and moved on.
And this was 10 minutes before kickoff.
It's getting harder and harder to go to a game, any game, without needing ear cotton, boxing lessons or a direct line to stadium security. People all have their own fan horror story. Or stories.
Time to dispel the 10 most common fan myths:
Dude, my ticket pays their salaries. So if I'm dipping into my wallet, I'm ripping into the players and coaches.
Dude, your single-game $32 Cubs ticket doesn't even pay for a shin guard, much less Kerry Wood's $9.5 million salary. So why don't you do us all a favor and suck on a pine-tar rag.
Buying a ticket gets you through the turnstile and into a seat. It isn't a three-hour contract to set a stadium record for f-bombs.
"People have a sense of, 'If I fork out that type of money, nobody should be able to tell me what to do,'" says Edward R. Hirt, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University. "It's become, 'If I want to be a jerk, really boo, get on someone's case, I really have a right to do that.'"
But you don't. Cranking up the crudity just because you bought a sports ticket makes as much sense as putting a 10-spot in the collection plate, then berating the priest because you didn't like the homily.
But without me, there is no team.
Yeah, the teams love your money. In some cases, ticket sales support player payrolls, especially in the NHL, where the television contracts pale in comparison with, say, the massive NFL broadcast rights fees. And, yeah, the 3.1 million fans who came to Wrigley Field last year provided much of the revenue necessary for a payroll that reached nearly $90 million.
But not every major league club draws more than 3 million, and even those that do have to depend on more than your Visa card. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in sports) drew 3.4 million fans last season, but ticket sales accounted for just 40 percent of team revenue.
And at BCS champion Texas, your ticket purchase means squat when it comes to the Longhorns' bottom line in football. That's because Texas has those 66 stadium suites that rent for as much as $50,000 per season, plus those ABC rights fees (as much as $500,000 for some games), plus those Stadium Club donations (minimum four figures), plus those priority seating fees for foundation members. Says a UT athletic department official: "In our case, it's actually more likely that [the average ticket buyer] is helping to fund a scholarship in track or swimming as it is in paying Mack [Brown's] contract.''
So it turns out you're not exactly a co-CEO. Quit acting like you own the place.
We're the 12th Man. Our team needs us.
Your team needs you to spend lots of money and disrupt the other team's snap count. That's it.
Those 12th Man banners and flags are wonderful, they really are, but let's get something straight: You're not the one who knocked Nick Goings into the land of CAT scans; that was Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. And safety Troy Polamalu and the Steelers didn't need the 12th Man's help as they won three consecutive road games to reach the Super Bowl.
The referee deserved it. He cost us the game.
No referee deserves to be hit in the back of the head with a half-full plastic beer bottle. If caught, the bottle throwers should have to spend five minutes in a very small room with NFL ref/weightlifter Ed Hochuli.
I sit in the Bob Uecker seats. I'm so far away from home plate I need a connecting flight to reach the field. So, trust me, the players can't hear a word I'm screaming.
No, but the dad and his 7-year-old kid to your right can hear you just fine. So can the elderly couple to your left. And the mom and her two daughters in the row in front of you are going to need new ear canals by the fourth inning.
I'm not saying to sit on your hands. But maybe everybody in Section 604 doesn't need to know exactly where you think Barry Bonds ought to stick his bat.
I sit near courtside. The players and coaches know we're just ragging on them in good fun.
Sure they do. That's why, if it were legal, they'd like to beat you to a fine pulp, pour the pulp into a FedEx envelope and overnight your remains to the next of kin. But they can't, so they pretend not to hear a 5-6 cosmetic surgeon with a rent-a-date tell them how to D-up on Kobe.
There should be a rule: You can only rag on Peyton Manning for throwing an interception if Manning can rag on you for, say, misslicing the honey-baked ham at the deli. ("Cut ... that ... meat, you worthless piece of minimum-wage slime.'')
It's a ball game, not a Washington think tank.
I'm not saying fans should wear tweed and discuss Chaucer between innings. Cheer. Boo. Enjoy an adult beverage or two.
But it is only a game, not the Battle of Stalingrad.
If the players trash talk, so can I.
The players are actually playing in the game. You're shelling salted peanuts and making sure your daughter doesn't lose her American Girl doll. So maybe it's time you quit acting as though you have to stop Dwight Freeney.
If they don't want me to drink, they shouldn't sell beer.
Teams want you to drink. They just don't want you to need a liver transplant by halftime.
Teams make a lot of serious money on beer and liquor concessions. A cup of stadium brew that costs you $7 might cost them 50 cents or so. So let's not pretend a pro franchise wants you to conduct an AA meeting at the game.
But if you're spending more time in front of a beer stand or urinal than you are watching Dontrelle Willis pitch, then maybe you ought to be at a bar, not a ball game.
I love beer. I'd like to date a keg. But there's nothing worse than sitting in front of four lugs whose blood-alcohol levels are so high they think A-Rod is a car part.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.