Last week I went to a baseball game, Orioles v. Blue Jays, while traveling to Baltimore for a work-related expo. Given my lack of familiarity with Camden Yard’s layout, I let my coworker pick out the tickets and, much to my delight, he scored us two tickets that were just six rows back from home plate…slightly left of center. Admittedly, I’ve been to a lot of sporting events but seldom have I ever been so close (I guess I’m cheap!) as to hear the “snap!” of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt and to see the players’ facial expressions rather than just their general forms. And overall it was an awesome game and experience. But there was one thing that made me feel somewhat awkward …the fan insults or heckling.
The insults themselves were no worse than I’d typically experienced at other sporting events but the proximity to the players was now much more “intimate”. Just six rows of seats, in fact, separated the professional baseball players in the on-deck circle from my experience of the fans hurling insults their way. “You suck Bautista!” “What kind of stupid name is Barney?” “You play baseball like a girl!” They just kept coming and it made me feel embarrassed to be associated with the crowd (and what if you were watching the game with your young daughter when this last insult was cast? How do you explain what that to your impressionable daughter?). These were people after all…confirmed by the fact that I could see their faces and mannerisms from just six rows back! These men had lives, insecurities, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, etc. In most other situations outside of this construct, such behavior is not tolerated. So why then did these fans feel that it was acceptable to act in such a way just by virtue of the fact that they were in a group setting at the ballpark? Sure, there are probably a handful of them that would act that way normally (jackasses being what they are), but my guess is that most of the insult-hurling fans are decent people that will head back to the office or job site the next day to act as fine, upstanding members of our community.
Why Does It Happen?
Mob mentality, or herd mentality, is not a new phenomenon. There have been many studies that lend credence to the reality of its existence…and even more actual examples of it in action (think looting, etc.). My understanding of the topic is that when individuals are in large groups, they tend to feel more anonymous, which can lead to feelings of diminished personal responsibility and self-awareness. When these feeling ensue, people are then less likely to follow the normal social conventions and etiquette. Obviously not all group gatherings devolve into bouts of insults and name calling. So what characteristics or situations would tend to support such negative behavior? In my reading, the following play a big part:
- The size of the group (church group or football stadium)
- The relative anonymity perceived by the members of the crowd (assigned seats in an opera hall or the Million-Man-March)
- The like-mindedness of the group members (loose affiliation or strong unifying cause)
- The level of emotional arousal around the event or gathering (a day at the beach or a football match)
Good question…who cares? I guess I do for one. I’d like to think that we’re better than that…that we can aspire to elevate our behavior to a higher degree. It’s one thing to express frustration about a missed ground ball as you watch the game from your couch, and quite another to do so within earshot of the player that committed that error. The former doesn’t degrade and belittle another human being, nor does it illustrate a fundamental lack of compassion and empathy. This actually dove-tails nicely with one of my previous posts, Parenting Paradox: Raising “Sheeple” or People?, in which I express the importance of following one’s own moral code when making decisions rather than relying on the behavior of others to guide such decisions.
If you wouldn’t be comfortable having your behavior displayed on public television, viewed by your Mom, or seen by your coworkers…then there’s a good chance you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
There are exceptions to every rule…but I think this one should catch about 98% of the total. Agreed?