I Am Gary Sheffield
Let's give credit where credit is due. New York Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield showed amazing restraint the other night when a probably drunk Boston fan stuck his hand in Sheffield's face or tried to punch him or just tried to make him miss playing the ball. I don't really care which one it was. I'm disappointed that instead of turning around and merely shoving the guy, Sheffield didn't turn around and ram the baseball down the guy's throat. It would have set an example and I think Sheffield would have had a legitimate argument for a ground-rule double.
Sports fans who decide that it's their duty to interfere with athletes deserve whatever punishment the athlete decides is appropriate. It won't be too long before we see some wacko running out in the middle of Tiger Woods' swing and tackling him. If Tiger decides the appropriate defense is hauling off and putting his four-iron right between the guy's eyes, I say more power to him. What happens when a stupid drunk racing fan decides that climbing the fence and running onto the track at the Indianapolis 500 is a good thing to do? Racing fans aren't exactly the brightest bulbs in the light store. If you're one of the drivers, do you swerve out of the way and potentially endanger your own life? Of course not; you run the guy over. You splatter him all over the track like a mushy grapefruit, hope your car can survive it, and wait for the yellow flag.
Sports fans are basically insane anyway. The more rabid they are, the more insane they are. Somebody who decides -- either due to alcohol or pure fantaticism -- that he should enter the field of play deserves whatever he gets. The only real problem with Indiana Pacers' guard Ron Artest running up into the stands to punch out a fan who threw a beer cup at him is whether or not he's going to assault the right guy.
Charles Barkley, the former "Round Mound of Rebound," long-time forward for the Philadelphia 76ers and a number of other teams, was notorious for punching one overeager fan in the nose and throwing another through a plate-glass window. Barkley was acquitted on the first charge and a jury rejected the plaintiff's lawsuit against him. Barkley has also been involved in other incidents and has been unapologetic about all of them, claiming that he doesn't have to tolerate abuse from overeager fans. I agree. If you're stupid enough to walk up to a six-foot six, two hundred and fifty pound athlete and call him names or interrupt his dinner, you deserve to be thrown through a plate-glass window.
Sometimes assault can actually be a family affair, as when a father-son duo ran onto the field at Chicago's Comiskey Park and attacked Kansas City coach Tom Gamboa in September of 2002. And then there's the incident in April of 1993 when Monica Seles was stabbed in the back by an obsessed fan. Her career was never the same after that. It's really too bad the father and son duo didn't run toward home plate because I would have enjoyed seeing one of their heads batted into center field. And it's really too bad Seles didn't see that nutty German coming at her. She could have put a two-handed forehand right in his throat.
A fan stupid enough to interfere in a sporting event by running onto the field, brandishing some weapon and attacking a player, or throwing a beer onto the court deserves whatever he gets. If the player is close enough to the offender -- like Gary Sheffield was in this latest case -- to deal out his own form of punishment, he should do it. I don't really care if the player thinks he's in danger or not. Slug first. Ask questions later. The sight of a too-rabid fan missing the lower half of his jaw because he took a punch in the face from a professional athlete might give other potential offending fans something to think about. And even if it doesn't, anybody who would attack a professional athlete or even think about interfering in a game isn't exactly contributing anything positive to humanity or the gene pool anyway.