In light of citizens within the United States complaining about athletes exercising their First Amendment rights, I felt it was appropriate to do a Throwback Thursday (#tbt) article today. This article was originally published in May of this year.

Source: CrashCourse (PBS)

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”~Cornel West

Over the past few years, there have been a couple of heated exchanges between fans and athletes. These exchanges have taken place on social media, at arenas, at stadiums and in public. Typically, we fault the athlete for responding. But is it really the athlete’s responsibility for a fan’s poor behavior?

In 2014, a group called Kick It Out interview soccer players in Europe regarding racism and homophobia surrounding non-hetereosexual and minority athletes. Half of these players provided information of seeing abusive situations regarding these issues while playing with quarter of those actually being the victims of such abuse from fans.

During the year 2014 in Europe, Dutch fans threw bananas at a players, Nazi banners were displayed at the World Cup, and a Spanish team was fined for its fans taunting an opposing player with words as well as bananas. Since then, Dani Alves, Neymar and other celebrity soccer players have taken a stance on twitter and elsewhere regarding the issue.

Within the U.S., one of these heated exchanges happened between Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and a 49ers’ fan known as @battman_returns on Twitter. While Kaepernick may have gone a bit too far with his response, he had every right to defend himself on Twitter. Fans have the right to make complaints about an athlete or team’s performance as the ultimate employer of said professional athlete or team, but they don’t have the right to totally disrespect a team or player.

Whether or not Kaepernick should have responded to a “troll” depends on who one asks. Everyone needs to remember athletes are human beings like everyone else. They have some of the same needs and desires which means they also have feelings. Feelings get hurt, and when feelings get hurt, people lash out. Hence, Kaepernick’s response.

Jump to the here and now in the United States specifically to Boston, Massachusetts. Baltimore Orioles center fielder, Adam Jones, had a bag of peanuts and racists taunts tossed at him while in the dugout by Boston Red Sox fans. The truly sad part of this story is if Jones had not spoken out about this situation, then the Red Sox team owner may have never learned his own minority players had been subjected to this discipicable behavior as well.

Fans have every right to opine through social media. They have the right to express their elation or rejection of an athlete or team when the team performs badly or wins. However, if that fan attacks an athlete personally, then that fan should expect backlash from that athlete or the team. Social media as well as social interation has a way of bringing out the worst in society. Yet, it has so much potential to bring out the good. All involved–league, team, athlete and fan–need to remember that.

Just like teams, leagues and athletes have to remember that fans are like friends. There are good ones and bad ones. Fans come and fans go. There are bandwagon fans who cheer for a team because it is the “it” thing to do; those fans disappear rather quickly. But then, there are those fans who are loyal to the core of their very soul to a team. The New York fan who tattooed all things Yankees on his back is an example of that. Body ink is pretty much permanent.

The problem lies within what should the consequences be when the fan’s exchanges cross the line. This is a society issue as many in society have forgotten, or in some cases were never taught, there are boundaries that each individual has been granted as a birth right that another should not cross without permission. Therein lies the disrespect shown to one another.

And as said before, most of the time the league or team as well as society comes down hard on the athlete. But the fault actually lies with the fan who crosses the line, and those teams and leagues who do not proactively prevent and reactively respond to the bad behavior of fans.

This bad behavior is not a United States’ sports problem. It is a world wide sport problem that everyone needs to care about. The racist epiteths are occurring in Europe, the United States, in Africa, and every other continent in the world. People have the right to think whatever they want but that right does not extend to them behaving however they want.

It is not enough to simply warn fans before they enter arenas or stadiums. Buck Showalter had the right idea with wanting to remove the Baltimore Orioles from the field to demonstrate to fans that disrespecting a member of their team would not be tolerated. We criticize the lack of tolerance regarding racial diversity and yet tolerate–and thereby become part of the problem–racist actions and highly offensive speech.

Maybe, the European soccer leagues have the right idea with fining teams whose fans choose not to behave respectfully, and arresting people for hate crime activity like bullying, aka mobbing, another fan (Paris incident) or other racially motivated activities like tossing bananas on the pitch at Black players.

People love sports and obviously, sports loves its fans–or at least their dollar bills–so it needs to least start serving its fans again. Sports has been a leader–extending the olive branch amongst people, and it is time for the sports world to get it together, step up and fight this issue once and for all. For the record, the Boston Red Sox already appear to be willing to take on that fight. The Red Sox have taken the stance that they will revoke the tickets of those involved for at least a year . . . maybe even for life.

Source: Roland Martin (NewsOne)