It wasn’t all that long ago that everyone in the world knew that Oakland Raiders fans were the worst-behaved people on earth. That’s because Los Angeles Raiders fans were the worst-behaved people on earth, and before that Oakland Raiders fans were the worst-behaved people on earth.
So went the stereotype. For a good long while, the Raiders enjoyed the image – you fight us, you fight us all – and since many football fans typically need only a few drinks to believe any old martial crap they’re fed, those fans actually wanted to be part of the violent, stupid fun.
The crown (well, the garbage-bag hat), though, has been usurped by 49ers fans. They are now the worst by acclimation, and apparently getting worse by the day.
First, though, a disclaimer. Like any absolute statement, this is more wrong than right. Not all Raiders fans were violent intimidating brutes; most weren’t, in fact, but it only takes one idiot’s fist to hit you in the face for wearing the other team’s jersey while another is cheering him or her on to convince you. And if you pile enough incidents in one easy-to-sort heap, you get a stereotype.
The 49ers are now that team. If you’re wearing the jersey – the traditional red, the hard-to-find white, the tedious maroon, or the preposterous black – you’re guilty by purchase, because enough of your compatriots have precipitated or extended brawls, gang-ups and bathroom felonies to wreck all your reputations.
And no, it doesn’t matter that you’re likely just a fan who wants to get along, watch your team and get back to your normal lives. Just as you all used to be wine-and-cheese dilettantes back in the day, even though you might well have hated chardonnay and were lactose-intolerant. The latest episode, at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Los Angeles, merely adds to the unpleasant legend.
So what do you do? Well, for now, maybe you should retire the jersey – if not because you don’t want to be considered an antisocial criminal on the hoof, then because you don’t want to get punched yourself, or captured on cellphone and condemned by fashion choice. Now that the stereotype is on the other mannequin, maybe changing colors from Nike red to casual whatever is simply the way to go.
And what should the team do – other than throwing out new product line and calling it a day? Quintuple their efforts to change the jersey’s image, through better enforcement at the stadium, and through relentless indoctrination anywhere else. The Raiders did this seven years ago when their problem was, if anything, considered far worse, and since then incidents at the stadium have dropped considerably.
And if you're the city where all this fun happens? Well, Santa Clara's city council is considering several options, including more police at the stadium and halting alcohol sales after halftime. Councilwomen Lisa Gillmor and Teresa O'Neill have suggested they might be in for approval of the latter, O'Neill telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “I know they make a lot of money off of alcohol sales, but if people have an hour and a half (without alcohol) maybe they will cool down a bit.”
Of course, Santa Clara police chief Michael Sellers told the Chronicle he doesn’t foresee a second-half alcohol ban making much of a difference, so it's still on the team and its customers to undo the damage done by their fellow customers and brethren/sistren.
And of course, this will be the moment when you say, “That’s because nobody goes to Raider games” or “That’s because nobody wants to be a Raiders fan,” which will be snarky and convenient and elbow-in-the-ribs-to-your-pal lie. Fine. Say what you wish, because you think it wins you bro points with your pals. It’s still you that’s the thug by association now.
And that’s the point here ultimately. This is a cheap stereotype just like Raiders-fans-are-thugs was a cheap stereotype. It doesn’t have to be true to be a thing, it just has to be anecdotal enough, and the 49ers fan has reached that stage now. Red with three white stripes on each sleeve is now a call to rumble, whether you’re wearing Charles Haley or Joe Montana or Steve Young or Jerry Rice or Patrick Willis or Frank Gore or Ronnie Lott. And no, they’re not particularly proud of you for dragging their names into this.
If you don’t want to be that guy, be the change. Don’t wear your jersey, or if you must, go out of your way to not be an ass to a guy in another jersey. Give ‘em a brat off your grill. Buy ‘em a bevvie. Have your kid play catch with their kid. It may not make for the proper ferocious heading-out-to-battle theme, but you’re not heading out to battle. You’re eating, drinking and yelling at large men who can barely hear you. In fact, your team isn’t heading out to battle either. Soldiers head out to battles. Football players, well, play.
And if you don’t want to own that team, work a lot harder to separate your jersey from random stupid violence. Over-usher and security-guard at the stadium, and have them move about in visible groups. To be sure, call the Raiders and ask the person responsible for changing their team’s image, “How did you do it?” It took awhile, trust me, and a lot of people didn’t buy it, but the Coliseum, upholstered port-a-potty though it might be, is still a hell of a lot safer than its newer concrete cousin down the 880. Ingress and egress still stink, but it stinks in Santa Clara too, because teams haven’t yet caught on to the funneling-everyone-into-one-line-just-pisses-people-off theory of crowd management.
But a start is that, a start. Retire the jersey you bought, at least for awhile, as a way of saying, “I can start with me,” or figure out ways that the jersey can mean something other than “I’m going to kick your ass or you’re going to kick my ass but either way this is going to be bad.” Raiders fans did it. You want to keep up the rivalry? Beat them at that one.