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April 20, 2011

Contractual Matters

Supporting Stow

by Jeff Euston

Among its many charms, baseball can serve as a refuge from the real world. Sadly, the real world occasionally intervenes.

On Opening Day, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, Giants fan Bryan Stow and his friends were attacked by two men in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium. The apparent motive? Stow’s group not only had been rooting for the San Francisco nine, but Stow had dared to wear a Giants jersey for his visit to Chavez Ravine.

The details are ugly and sickening, heartbreaking and grotesque. During the game, Stow’s group was the target of verbal taunts, as well as food and empty cups thrown by fans nearby. After the game, Stow and his friends tried to leave quietly but were trailed by two men looking for a fight. The friends became separated in the parking lot. One friend lost teeth after being punched. Stow—a 42-year-old father of two— was struck, then kicked repeatedly as he lay on the pavement before his friends and other onlookers were able to reach him.

Now, nearly three weeks after the attack, Stow lies in a medically induced coma at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. A portion of his skull was removed to allow his brain to swell. Earlier this week, doctors had reduced his dose of sedatives in hopes of easing him out of the coma. But a series of seizures prompted doctors to resume heavy sedation to allow his brain more time to recover.

It’s far too kind to characterize the perpetrators of this attack as simply “unruly fans.” Witnesses reportedly told authorities that the attackers were drunk and spoiling for a fight. They apparently had targeted Stow’s group for much of the game. For them, the action on the field was clearly not the main event.

Unfortunately, that sort of violent element at the ballpark is nothing new. Baseball has a long history of fan violence, much of it tied to drinking. There were near-riots at “Ten Cent Beer Night” at old Cleveland Stadium in 1974 and “Disco Demolition Night” during a 1979 doubleheader at old Comiskey Park. Two years ago, a fan died after being struck and hitting his head during an altercation after an Angels game. More recently, we’ve seen minor controversies arise when authorities used a Taser gun to subdue a fan on the field at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia or a baton while apprehending a fan in the stands at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It’s all collateral damage, the price of serving alcohol to thousands of fans every game, 81 times a year.

But if we have reached the point where we need “family-friendly” or “alcohol-free” sections at the ballpark, what does that say about the atmosphere in the seats where the rest of us sit? Is it so wrong to expect fans to adhere to one standard of good behavior, regardless of where they park or sit? And is it too much to ask clubs to provide sufficient lighting in parking lots when fans pay upwards of $15 for the privilege of parking their car?

After a tentative reaction in the days immediately after the attack—including a club official defending a half-price beer promotion—the Dodgers have ramped up their response.

  • The team held a fund-raising drive for Stow at Dodger Stadium, collecting $61,000 while the club was on the road. Former manager Tommy Lasorda made a personal donation of $5,000, and Tim Lincecum of the Giants contributed $25,000.
  • Players from both the Giants and Dodgers appealed for civility in an on-field address to fans during their three-game series in San Francisco. Pre-game announcements spelling out a fan code of conduct were made as well.
  • The Dodgers hired former LAPD chief William Bratton as a consultant to advise the club on new security measures, which include new lighting structures in the parking lot and the stationing of uniformed LAPD officers at freeway off-ramps, at stadium entrances, in the parking lot and in the surrounding Elysian Park area. In addition, security personnel will use license-plate readers, elevated observation posts and closed-circuit television cameras to monitor safety. The team also canceled the half-price drink promotion.  
  • Commissioner Bud Selig dispatched a task force to review the security changes, beginning with the Dodgers’ eight-game homestand, which runs through Thursday.
  • On Tuesday, the Dodgers hired Los Angeles business leader Steve Soboroff as vice chairman, responsible for improving fan experience at the ballpark. The club is in the process of selecting a permanent head of security, a position that has been vacant for four months.

These are positive steps, and any proactive measure that can head off an incident before it turns violent deserves consideration. Each team in baseball owes it to its fans to conduct a similar review of security measures at its own ballpark. And it’s now past time for Major League Baseball to follow the lead of the NFL and NBA and adopt an official industry-wide code for fan conduct, rather than addressing the issue as an individual club matter. But sadly, no new policy can undo the violence done to Bryan Stow and his family.

Authorities are offering a reward of $150,000 for information leading to the arrest of Stow’s two attackers and the woman who drove the car as they fled the scene. The LAPD has issued a Community Alert describing the suspects and urging anyone with information about the attack to come forward. Despite a capacity crowd of 56,000 and multiple witnesses, no arrests have been made.

“We would like to use this as a rallying cry to stop unnecessary violence in our greatest pastime and all other sports, not only here but abroad,” wrote John Stow, Bryan’s cousin, via Twitter early Tuesday morning. “This would be one of the greatest gifts you could give to us, especially Bryan.”

What can you do? You can offer prayers and support through the Twitter account @Support4Stow. If you’re so inclined, you can help defray the costs of his treatment by making a donation through the website the family has created to update his progress and interact with well wishers.

More generally, you can take action if you’re at the ballpark and witness a situation with the potential to spiral out of control. Speak up. Find an usher or stadium security. Use the ballpark’s security phone or text line. If you see someone who needs help, do whatever you can to diffuse the situation, help anyone injured or identify the instigator. In other words, be a good citizen. Bryan Stow—who makes his living as a paramedic when not rooting for the Giants—probably would do it for you.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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