Court Storming is a Recipe for Disaster

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Coach K’s delivery, after last night’s upset to Virginia, was sour-grapes-y and stressed. But he’s right: court storming is dangerous stampeding.

Court-storming often involves at least some pockets of wasted and belligerent fans; all it takes is one angry or mean-spirited person to decide to push or take a swing at their hated rivals, or scream obscenities at them (as happened to Coach K) and you have a problem. Add to this mixture a team of college students who have to keep a level head while being bum rushed from all sides by a hostile crowd in a moment of frustration, having just lost a game. Remember the middle-aged Iowa State fan who had to be held back by cops after the Kansas game? What if he’d gotten to run up and take a free swing at Bill Self?

Think of the infamous ‘black friday’ Walmart stampedes, where injuries and fights and even deaths have ensued–among mostly sober, mostly older people, many of whom are parents! Think of concerts, like the infamous Who concert where people were pressed to death against the stage. Or situations like the unfortunate stampede/pressing deaths at Italian soccer games that were on the cover of Sports Illustrated some years ago (I still recall how upsetting the cover image was). Or situations where security, stressed out and/or afraid themselves, go into Tompkins Square mode and make things worse (there was a particularly infamous incident, long ago, when when a MSG guard was on camera choking a young fan–no, really, choking)? Or the infamous recent incident where a kid in a wheelchair got bowled over? Larry Bird decked a guy who ran up on him in a court-storming incident, and Jared Sullinger once said he was spit on during a court-storm.

Think about your mental state after a particularly tough loss, especially when you’ve spent the entire game getting hectored, good-naturedly and abusively, by opposing throngs of fans. Now imagine being scared, jostled by a huge rushing swarm of people…or at the very least, not in the mood to be mosh-pitted. Then imagine some a-hole getting in your face and/or shoving you or knocking you down. A lot of people, in that situation–including a lot of otherwise levelheaded people–would someone’s block off, and then we’d have potential chaos as people rushed into defend/escalate/jump in, etc.

Independent of the unfortunate actions of the belligerent: people panic in stampedes, they get trampled and shoved over, and people and off balance and packed in throngs in those arenas. There are railings and slick courts, and lots of trip/slip/stumble hazards, and the alcohol factor will further impede people’s balance and reaction times…I’ve read plenty of accounts of people who were scared during court-storms.

The SEC banned court storming nine years ago, in a rare case where the SEC is actually socially ahead of the curve.  They already happen. I think if nothing else, the players and coaches have to be escorted off the court, and then if people wanna be on the court with their classmates, that’s cool. But safety has to come first, and huge crowds and a small percentage of angry, wasted clowns and railings and adrenaline and taunting and broad fan license for verbal abuse and competitiveness and youthful indiscretion and old-fool indiscretion and slick courts and mob mentality and potential panic…all of those in one huge mosh pit just makes no sense to me. When it goes really, really wrong–and it WILL–we’ll look back and be sorry we didn’t do something sooner.

Stampedes are something to be avoided, especially when throngs of hyped-up, exuberant college students with the inevitable small but dangerous percentage of wasted belligerents are involved. When it isn’t just a spitting incident, or a choking incident, or a swinging incident, or a cheerleader being carried off on a stretcher (yes, that’s happened too), but a fatality, then it will be too late to stop an absurd, dangerous and regressive mob action from recurring way too often.

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