By Brian Garland
It’s Sunday night in Foxboro. Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill scores a 75 yard touchdown to tie the Patriots 40-40. Hill celebrates and rushes to the endzone where fans watch in anger.
In the front row of Gillette Stadium, Hill sees fans draped in red, blue and white. Instead of booing the receiver who scored a touchdown on their team, the fans took it to another level. Three fans stuck out their middle fingers at Hill, and one more hurled a cup of beer at the receiver, landing all over his helmet and uniform all for scoring a touchdown.
Stadium rules strictly prohibit throwing objects at players, and it’s a result of history.
In 1979, an NHL brawl between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers escalated into Bruins fans reaching into the stands to fight the Rangers fans that attacked Bruins players. The Rangers fan identified by Bruins players as the culprit, John Kaptain, reached out and smacked a Bruins player with a program on the way out, causing the player to bleed from under his eyes. In response, Bruins defenseman Mike Millbury beat the fan with a shoe, leading to more fan-player altercations. Three fans received discipline by police in the incident, and Madison Square Garden added more security and fencing to protect fans and prevent them from throwing objects at players.
Most famously in 2004, a brawl between the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons led to Pacers players Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace reaching into the stands to face fans that threw beverages, garbage and insults at players. Footage clearly shows Jackson and Artest jumping over the scorer’s tables and into the stands, undeterred by arena security.
In seconds, ESPN’s cameras try to cut away from Artest, Jackson and Rasheed Wallace confronting fans and exchanging fists, all while bystanding Pacers players and coaches rush into their locker room to safety, holding their heads as mocking fans pelt the Pacers with popcorn and more beer like circus animals.
Local police handcuffed the tossers and evacuated the arena as Pistons PA announcer John Mason pleaded for fans to leave. Pacers and Pistons players were given lengthy suspensions for their involvements in the brawl.
The Pistons banned fans for life from games for throwing a drink on Artest.
This horror scene is known as “The Malice at the Palace”, and it was 9/11 for fan security in professional sports. From this day forward, new NBA provisions required extra security guards at all times, and other professional sports quickly followed.
This was the worst example of a fan-player fight, but it came with some of the best wisdom from the media the next day.
As many articles put, it’s cowardly for fans to throw beer and trash at players from the comfort and protection of their seats knowing they could not say or do such things to the player’s face without repercussion. It is the top responsibility of security to prevent and mediate threats to fan and players safety.
Back in Foxboro, Tyreek Hill pointed back to the fans and was quickly restrained by his own teammates. The game went on as usual, with the Patriots scoring on their next drive to win 43-40.
Foxboro police arrested the man who threw the beer, a 21-year-old from Mansfield, Massachusetts, and the Patriots are permanently banning the fan from attending future events at Gillette Stadium.
Tyreek Hill and his agent wanted to press charges, and local police charged the 21-year-old with disorderly conduct and throwing an object at a sporting event. His name deserves no mention.
There is a flat argument going around that defends the thrower on the account of Tyreek Hill’s history of domestic violence. Records show Tyreek Hill trapped and assaulted his pregnant girlfriend, even pushing her down flights of stairs.
There’s no other side to this: fans should not throw beer and objects on players. What Tyreek Hill did was horrible, and what the fan did had nothing to do with Hill’s deplorable past. This was no act of justice, the fan was angry that Hill taunted the crowd after celebrating a touchdown. After a few drinks, the man thought it was proper to throw a drink at the 5’10, 185 pound receiver, knowing Hill was in uniform and could not react how he did in another setting than the stadium.
In fact, Hill’s dangerous past is even more reason not to spill a drink on him. Self defense? Give me a break. How does spilling a drink on an alleged abuser make anyone safer? You were just upset he scored a touchdown, that was no act of justice.
It all comes down to respect. Nobody is a winner in this situation, and it ruins Patriots fans’ reputations. The less said about Tyreek Hill’s behavior the better, but that’s completely irrelevant to why the fan threw his drink.
Bottom line: greater security measures such as a clear wall that keeps fans in the on-field seating sections from throwing objects at players, so that similar events cannot happen again.
Tyreek Hill or not, watching cowardly fans treat human professional athletes like circus animals is disgusting and horrifying to see on national television. The paying fans owe players the respect to play their game without a beer flying in their direction for scoring a touchdown. No exceptions.
And if this was really about Tyreek Hill’s domestic violence, please give your time to supporting victims of abuse instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket just to throw beer. Community service to help victims of domestic violence would be a proper punishment for this man.
We are fortunate to live in a society that stands up to domestic abuse. We can educate ourselves and others about warning signs and help victims recover.
Fans, the NFL and this country need culture changes of their own, and each start with greater respect. Domestic abusers still play in the NFL, but that should change with the continued efforts of activism and peaceful protests.
I’m not commenting on whether Hill deserves a beer thrown on him, but that’s not important. Patriots fans who support the beer-thrower are fighting the wrong battle.
Brian Garland is the Sports Editor for The Comment.