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Michelle Turnberg, Published October 02 2011

Turnberg: Passive spectator won’t do

In the final moments of the first half, the most exciting play I’ve seen in a long time happened during the Bison/Gopher game at TCF stadium.

With seconds to go, Gopher quarterback Marquise Gray drops back to pass. No one’s open as Bison defenders close in. In a panic he fires the ball toward a glut of NDSU defensive backs. Colton Heagle makes the pick. He takes off, bolts downfield 30 yards, and as he’s getting pulled down by a Gopher player, he flips the ball in the direction of teammate Marcus Williams. Williams scoops up the football in stride and continues the mad dash down the sideline … 52 yards later … the first half is over. Williams scores the touchdown off the interception; 15,000 Bison fans go berserk; 30,000 Gopher fans sit in stunned silence. This is when it really gets interesting.

A college-aged girl in front of me was cheering wildly along with the rest of the Bison fans. A man, I’d guess to be in his 70s, reached across my row and grabbed her by her hooded sweatshirt. He pulled her so hard she fell back into her seat and rapped her head on the chair back. He angrily told her he had warned her to sit down. The girl was shocked, scared. The man was upset because she had been on her feet when that crazy final play of the half took place.

I have been to a lot of sporting events and have never seen such behavior. What struck me as even more surprising is the man thought assaulting the woman was OK, even warranted. “I warned you!” he told her, shaking his finger in her face. Then he stormed off during halftime.

The girl was not being obnoxious. I didn’t see her doing anything out of the ordinary. She was simply cheering on her team during an exciting play.

I asked her if she was OK, and she was, but visibly shaken. The crowd around us started to take sides. You could see how a small incident could spark something bigger, especially when emotions run high. Most people agreed the man was out of line, and fans continued to stand, jump and cheer.

Many things happen at games that cross the line of civility and respect. Usually, it is out-of-control fans that go over the top and ruin it for others. There are obnoxious drunks, streakers and the ones who throw objects onto the field. In this case, a young fan was not crossing the line, and she got whacked by a man who was intolerant.

There is nothing like the atmosphere of a live sporting event. Standing up and cheering at games is part of the experience. It’s a chance to show support for your team. It’s why being at the stadium is so exciting.

And if it’s a close game or there is a great play, people stand, cheer and get a little crazy. Isn’t there more to being a fan than just being a passive spectator?

But if you don’t want anyone in front of you blocking your view, buy front-row seats, or better yet, watch from the comfort of your living room recliner.

Turnberg writes a Sunday column for The Forum.