Football is a violent sport, but that doesn't mean fans should feel unsafe in the stands. The NFL has been trying to crack down on boorish behavior at the stadium, but the games I've attended this year still feel out of control -- and I'm in the press box. I can't imagine having to sit in the crowd.
Last week's Rams-Jets showdown at the Meadowlands hardly seemed worthy of a pregame celebration that rivals Mardi Gras. But legions of green-clad fans were already hammered when I arrived at the stadium by 11 a.m.
Walking through the stadium parking lot in business casual attire with a laptop strewn over my shoulder feels like breaking through a strike's picket line. Just because I'm not wearing a "Klecko" jersey and I appear to be sober instantly identifies me as an outsider. No one said anything specifically -- like in Philly a couple of years ago when a group of fans vowed to destroy my rental car after I walked away -- but it was easy to sense a low-grade atmosphere of hostility ... not to mention over-the-top drunkenness.
I don't understand how anyone can drag their kids into that kind of environment. While nothing beats the excitement of a live football game, is it really worth exposing them to a bunch of obnoxious fans who are using the game as an excuse to get loaded?
The Jets crowd drew national recognition last year when The New York Times reported that fans line up at halftime and chant for women to expose their breasts. That story, and an HBO Real Sports segment on excessive alcohol use at games, prompted the league to try to crack down. But there's little the teams can do. Giants Stadium, for example, is crawling with security. That might cut off some of the more obvious outlandish antics but, over the course of a game, any fan is guaranteed to run into some sort of improper fan behavior.
While the league has created a spectator conduct policy, the onus falls on the fans themselves to step up their games. Being loud and cheering for the team is great. Just don't say anything or do anything you would never do sober. Before you decide to curse out Bill Belichick from the top row of the stadium, just remember all the families who have to hear your tirade.
NFL fans have no reason to act like European soccer hooligans. Unlike soccer, the action on the field is actually exciting. The last thing anyone needs is your behavior to spice things up.