When police used a Taser to subdue a 17-year old fan who ran on the field at a Philadelphia Phillies game Monday night, they did the right thing.
No, I'm not kidding. And before you accuse me of condoning excessive force against a teenager who was just trying to get his 15 seconds of fame, let me present my two-word argument:
Gamboa was a first-base coach for the Kansas City Royals from 2001 to 2003. Every day, he stood near first base while the Royals were at bat, serving as an extra pair of eyes for baserunners. For about 90 minutes every game, he stood with his back to the stands, at peace in the knowledge that his safety was secure on the field.
Until September 19, 2002, when a drunk father and his son decided it would be good sport to jump out of the stands and attack Gamboa from behind. William Ligue Jr. and his 15-year old son knocked the stunned coach to the ground and beat him until they were restrained by Royals who streamed out of their dugout to come to Gamboa's aid.
Though Gamboa sustained only minor cuts and bruises, the incident underscored a longstanding sports truth: The "getting close to the action" fans so appreciate represents a constant safety risk to athletes and coaches.
In almost every major sport, the physical boundary between fans and players is miniscule. Soccer stadiums have only a low wall separating an often drunken crowd from the action on the field. In golf, only perfunctory "ropes" keep the gallery and golfers apart.
In economic terms, it makes sense. The closer fans can get, the more they're willing to pay. People routinely shell out thousands of dollars for NBA "courtside seats," and the New York Yankees charge a small fortune for seats just steps from the dugout.
With the economic windfall comes a heightened security risk for everyone on the field. Though there are police and security personnel who can be ready at a moment's notice, they can't patrol the entirety of any athletic venue. In other words, if a guy polishes off 10 Bud Lights and decides he wants to streak across the baseball field, he's going to run for 10 to15 seconds unobstructed before security gets to him. And during that time, he could reach almost any player on the field.
So every few years, someone with violent motives gets a clear shot at an athlete—or a first-base coach—and attacks, often with devastating results. In 1993, women's tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed by a German fan while she sat next to the court in between games. Ranked No. 1 in the world at the time, Seles missed 28 months and was never the same player even after she recovered. In 2004, Vanderlei de Lima was leading the marathon in the Athens Olympics when a deranged Irish protestor burst from the crowd and tackled him; de Lima fell out of the lead and eventually finished third.
Fans attacking athletes is anathema to the spirit of competition and destructive to sports. More than that, it violates the idea that everyone should feel safe in their workplace. In no other profession is it acceptable for a random outsider to drunkenly run across the office naked; it's absurd to even picture it. Yet fans who run onto the field are lionized by the crowd and given a slap on the wrist by law enforcement.
Which brings us back to TaserGate and why the cop who dropped Steve Consalvi did the right thing. Yes, Consalvi is just a teenager. But the younger Ligue—who got in his share of punches on Gamboa back in 2002—was only 15. Yes, Consalvi was completely sober and had no violent intentions. But the people pursuing him couldn't have known that. All they knew was he was trespassing on the field and evading their pursuit, and at any moment he could endanger one of the players.
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