Pitch Invasion Could Lead To Sports Tragedy
By John Ventola
Watching Kansas State’s home upset of Kansas in Big 12 basketball, and the crowd storming the court following the final horn was not one of college athletics finer moments. Sure it happens, and it seems to happen more and more at football and basketball games across the country. Sadly, it will probably have to take some costly tragedy before this growing, senseless tradition is curtailed.
Basically a phrase used in soccer, cricket, or rugby playing countries, pitch invasion is commonly called field rushing, or storming the field or court, when an individual or crowd runs onto a playing area to celebrate a big win, or upset of an opponent, here in the United States. Problem these days is too many athletic victories are overhyped, and “fan-atics” put too much emphasis on winning, and ways to celebrate the victories.
Granted Kansas State and Kansas is a big rivalry, but the Wildcats have managed to upset the Jayhawks three times in their home arena in Manhattan since 2008 and each time the student body and fans stormed the court. The Monday game’s aftermath was frightening as Kansas coach Bill Self and K-State coach Bruce Weber were pinned against the scorer’s table by the joyful mob before they could take a few steps for a post-game handshake. The court went from the referees and ten players there to a couple of thousand on the hardwood in just the blink of an eye. Kansas players, Self, and his staff, had to push and shove their way to their locker room.
Professional, college, and even high school football have had their share of “field rushing”. Seems youngsters play copycat very well and just as you see young athletes trying to emulate their heroes, young fans just follow what they see and hear, and the rushing/storming can be seen frequently on ESPN, or other television outlets. Ditto on storming the court for pro, college, and, yes, high school basketball teams. Why can’t fans enjoy the moment, leave the stadium or arena, and then celebrate, without endangering others. Oh, I forgot, the Instant Gratification Generation. Now!
Not trying to be a doomsayer in this blog, just pointing out the reality that there has been so much of this type of unrestricted fan control for years, and luckily there has not been a real tragedy because of the zaniness of what amounts to a flash-mob invading playing fields and courts. And tragedy could be lurking at the next playing field, or court, celebration.
Soccer in Europe has been scarred with many pitch invasions, probably the most famous being the Hillsborough disaster, which resulted in 96 deaths and 766 injured. At Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, the Liverpool and Nottingham Forest clubs were playing in April, 1989. Near the end of the contest, people tried to move toward the fenced in area around the field. Panic ensued and people were crushed against the fence. Seventy-six young males were counted among the dead, only fourteen of the deceased were announced at the hospital. Most died of compression asphyxia while standing. Today you still hear of soccer matches where injuries or deaths have occurred because of a lack of fan control.
How do you think Bill Self and Bruce Weber felt when that rush of humanity pinned them where they stood, temporarily preventing them from moving to a safer position, or area.?
Being a long-time LSU season ticket holder with seats directly behind the north end zone goal posts (where the Tigers come out the tunnel), I have seen a few “rushing the field” incidents in my years. During Coach Gerry DiNardo’s era, LSU defeated Auburn 12-6 in what was deemed “The Comeback Game”. When the final whistle blew, a nearby friend kissed her husband, stood and watched for the players’ celebration, but we were all shocked as students and fans ran onto the field, got onto the goal posts and starting pushing the uprights back and forth. Yes, they came down. Problem, while standing there, I witnessed the right upright come down on a young man’s head and bust it open like a hammer into a ripe watermelon. Security and medical folks put him on a stretcher and took him into the LSU locker room. Funny, do not recall any follow-up on that young man in any media reports. Now LSU has big time security on field minutes before the end of a game, and the PA announcer repeats warnings about going onto the field.
Section 10.5 of the Southeastern Conference By-Laws lays out penalties for the fourteen conference schools for any “field rushing”. There is a $5,000 for the first offense, $25,000 for the second, and $50,000 for the third. All schools have had at least one fine. In fact, SEC newcomer Missouri has been in the league only three years and it has two, both occurring when they won their last home games of the 2013 and 2014 seasons to clinch going to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
Kentucky, guess they figure their basketball revenues can cover any football extracurricular expenses, was fined three times in two years. And they were saved more money when a primed crowd, started to the field at the beginning of the game’s final play, and had LSU’s Devery Henderson haul in Marcus Randall’s last play pass for the Blue Grass Miracle game-winning touchdown in 2002. Best example ever of clutching victory from the jaws of defeat. It was somewhat funny to see the questioning, dazed looks on their faces as they slowly realized the Wildcats had lost, and tried to make their way back into the stands to go to the exits. Of course, if I had matriculated in Lexington, and had been clad in blue and white that day, I am sure it would not have been as enjoyable.
Auburn’s famous runback of a final play 57-yard field goal by Alabama in 2013 resulted in an on field, what just happened, celebration. Even if it was a third offense, I am sure there were enough War Eagle fans willing to ante up for the cause.
Any school that goes without an offense for five years, has their slate wiped clean, according to the SEC By-Laws.
There have been individuals who have taken it upon themselves to share the glory with a celebratory athlete. I can remember Bill Mazeroski grasping his cap as he rounded third base while being pounded by a fan after his 1960 World Series clinching homer. Hank Aaron even had company before on his trot around the bases when he broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record. The guy was patting Aaron on the back when he got to second base. The fan had to be sitting on go, close to the field, waiting for Aaron to work his magic. Security caught him around the shortstop position.
In 1976, yes our 200th year as a nation, some lunatic and his 11-year old son rushed out into the outfield in Dodger Stadium with an America Flag, lighter fluid and matches. Chicago Cubs centerfielder Rick Monday picked up the flag as the clumsy duo tried to ignite a fire, and handed it to a Dodgers player, as security arrested and took the crazy father-son team to jail.
Later that same year, Chris Chambliss hit a pennant-clinching homer against Kansas City to send the New York Yankees to the 1976 World Series. He was engulfed by fans before reaching home plate. There was even some question whether or not Chambliss touched home as fans blended in with Yankee players in the home plate area. After things calmed down, he left the locker room, went to home plate, and stepped on it to make it official.
Guess that was a warm up for the Bronx rowdies as the very next year they were in rare form. Reggie Jackson hit three homers in the deciding sixth game of the 1977 World Series to topple the Los Angeles Dodgers, his last, and longest of the game, coming in the bottom of the eighth-inning. Jackson returned to his right field position for the top of the ninth inning and initially acknowledged the cheering crowd. He left the field and ran to the Yankee dugout to put on a batting helmet when fans starting hurling cans and other objects. When the Dodgers made their third out, Jackson, the Series MVP, was forced to bulldoze some fans just to make it to his dugout. If Marshawn Lynch sees the tape of Jackson’s dugout jaunt, he will be impressed.
I personally hooked on with a group of Ron Guidry fans to see the three World Series games played in New York in 1978. REG-GIE was back, Billy Martin was back–again. And Ron Guidry, “Louisiana Lightning”, had a magical 25-3 season. The Dodgers won the first two games in LA before the Series shifted to Yankee Stadium on a Friday night. Guidry pitched, Graig Nettles fielded, and the Yanks along with their boisterous crowd prevailed. They won Saturday and Sunday also, so their home season was over, with the final two games in LA if needed (Yanks won the title in six). While sitting in our hotel rooms that Sunday night, a group of guys showed up with a large chunk of Yankee Stadium outfield sod, carefully cut out and rolled up as a precious souvenir. I just sat there, and shook my head!
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