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Thursday, July 29, 2010
Can you say heckler's veto?

I need to find a better explanation behind this: A fan wore a LeBron James Miami Heat jersey to a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive (ne Jacobs) Field last night and, when fans in the area began chanting shouting profanities and throwing debris at him, he was escorted from the stadium. Fortunately, in the days of pervasive video, we can watch it happen (although I did not see any debris being thrown).

If there is a concern for violence, the police are supposed to halt the people who are threatening violence, not the guy who is doing nothing more than engaging in speech that pisses them off.  And, yes, this guy was no doubt being deliberately provocative; free speech exists so people can be provocative. Unless there was something going on (and I cannot find more-detailed accounts explaining security's decision or action), this looks like a living example of a heckler's veto.

Update: A report from a Cleveland sports blogger about the incident, including a conversation he had with the fan (a Florida-born, Sandusky-residing factory worker named Matt Bellamy).


I think a similar explanation is the "law of the stadium", if you will.

I remember going to a Patriots-Dolphins game in old Foxboro Stadium (which had bleacher rows for seating) with my brother and some friends and there was this guy sitting near us, by himself. The game was sold-out, it was a pretty exciting game, and it was snowing the whole time; by the third qurater, people were pretty drunk and celebratory.

This guy would have none of it. He claimed that he had bought four tickets so he could have more space on his bleacher row, which was otherwise jam packed with people. Every time people would get near him, or those from behind would place their feet on his bleacher row, he would remind them of his tickets. He couldn't have adopted a more annoying approach to attending the game.

Eventually his right to the seats was lost when people from behind decided to pour beer on him, repeatedly. Others threw snow at him. Neither seating attendants nor security guards were near us.

He left the seats and didn't come back. He may have had a technical right to the seats, but the informal rules--or "laws"--of the stadium trumped.

Maybe something similar happened here, although the fact that the security guards actually facilitated the heckler's veto takes it to another level.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 7/29/2010 10:21 AM  

Good post. The "law of the stadium" I think a lot of fans (especially visiting fans) have to deal with. I have. Sad, but it demonstrates the fine line between the civil fan and the fan who is one step away from prison. I can see this happening in Philadelphia, but Cleveland? Just another example of the anger out there. Be safe: stay home and watch the game. Cheaper too. Oh, and the food is probably healthier, too, based upon recent studies.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/29/2010 10:26 AM  


There certainly is something to informal norms--and certainly is worth exploring. Sports-and-anthro folks have done some good studies on the norms that develop. Although I would hope that the informal stadium norms would include acceptance of rival fans and rival voices. I spent a lot of time in the left-field bleachers at Wrigley (because right field sucks). The law of the stadium was that there was good-natured trash talk, but otherwise full acceptance of Cardinals fans, Mets fans, Reds fans, etc.; that was part of the fun. Maybe that's just kindly midwesterners.

Normatively, though, what you are describing sounds an awful lot like mob rule. If enough people don't like a person (for how he is acting or what he wearing or who he is cheering for) and act out against him violently or aggressively, he loses his "rights." I would hope there is still a social compact in the bleachers.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/29/2010 11:18 AM  

Remember, this was a guy wearing a jersey of a (former) Cleveland player whose name is now little better than mud in Cleveland--and I suspect mud would get a standing ovation next to LeBron James right about now!

If you are going to wear a LeBron James jersey into a Cleveland facility for the next little while, the best advice would be: DON'T! Or be prepared to face the consequences...and don't cry or complain about it, or sue over it: You done it to yourself.

He might have had better luck if he had worn a Bulls #23 jersey in there.....?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/29/2010 4:25 PM  

So some messages or ideas are just so unpopular that you lose the right to police protection if you express them? That seems perverse.

I have no problem with other fans heckling the guy (although throwing things, if that happened, is beyond the pale). My problem is with the decision of security to remove the Heat fan from the stadium.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/29/2010 6:12 PM  

We were all just, well, witnesses.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/29/2010 8:11 PM  

You are 100% wrong- Left field sucks!

Anonymous Pokerface -- 7/31/2010 1:57 PM  

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