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You know the old bromide: Buying a ticket gives you the right to yell anything you want.
But it shouldn't. Not when it's cruel. Not when it's inhumane.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was knocked to the ground for several minutes in the fourth quarter of his team's home loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, and the Kansas City fans cheered. Not just a few, either. Hundreds and possibly thousands were clearly thrilled Cassel was rendered incapable of playing.
It was enough to move Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Winston to call an impromptu news conference in the locker room and send a clear message to those who were happy about his teammate's head injury.
"When you cheer," Winston said, "when you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel – it's sickening. It's 100 percent sickening. I've been in some rough times on some rough teams, I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there."
Jeering is one thing. Cassel has played poorly – he turned the ball over three times Sunday – and he might have cost his team a shot at the game, won 9-6 by Baltimore. Booing those errors is certainly within the so-called "rights" of the ticketholders.
When a man has an injury that may hurt his long-term quality of life – and his family's well-being? That's never, ever justified.
"Boo him all you want," Winston said."Boo me all you want. Throw me under the bus. Tell me I'm doing a bad job. Say I gotta protect him more. Do whatever you want. Say whatever you want. But if you are one of those people, one of those people that were out there cheering or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it's sickening and disgusting. We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Coliseum. This is a game."
Sure, it wasn't the entire stadium. It doesn't reflect the entire city of Kansas City, made up mostly of good people. Undoubtedly a sizeable part of the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium was just as appalled as Winston. That shouldn't make anybody sleep any better, though. Nor is it valid to say the fans were merely cheering for the backup, Brady Quinn.
When fans make enough noise in support of an injury, it sends a message about an entire city. It's not a fair message, but it's a message nonetheless. This is far, far worse than Kansas City fans booing New York Yankees infielder Robinson Cano for the selections he made for the American League Home Run Derby this summer. But now you have two unsettling fan reactions making national attention in one year. And now you're risking the kind of reputation Kansas City fans don't want. And don't deserve.
Specifically, it's the kind of reputation that led a national writer to tweet that Kansas City would name a street after Haloti Ngata, who put Cassel out of the game."Not cool," is how Ngata described the fans' reaction, and it applies to any reaction other than silence, worry, and prayers. That's the only proper response, no matter how much money you shelled out to see the team. Cassel is substandard, not subspecies.
This kind of thing has happened elsewhere. Saints fans will remember Jim Mora using almost the exact same words as Winston in the 1993 season when quarterback Wade Wilson went down with a knee injury and hometown fans cheered."Those are some sick, sick, sick people," Mora said of those who applauded Wilson's misfortune. "Mentally sick."
Fans can actually do something to stop this. The anonymity of the crowd cloaks and protects this kind of heartlessness, unless a fellow spectator points out the behavior. This was the genius of what Sam Wyche said in his famous PA announcement in 1989 when Cincinnati fans started chucking debris onto the field during a December home game against the Seahawks.
Wyche took the stadium microphone and blared, "Will the next person who sees anybody throw something onto this field, point 'em out, get 'em outta here? You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!"
Throwing trash onto the field is not the same as cheering an injury, but it's similarly depraved and inexcusable. (Sorry, Braves fans.) And it will go on unless someone decides to do some public shaming. It was Wyche in '89, Mora a few years later, and Winston on Sunday. Good for them. But fans can help, too. Point 'em out, as Wyche declared.
Winston closed his remarks with a comment that should give Kansas City fans – and all football fans – chills: "This is a game that's going to cost us a lot down the road," he said, referring to the possible long-term damage caused by playing football."That's OK. We picked it, we deserve it and I don't want your pity. But we have a lot of problems as a society if people think that's OK."
[NFL winners/losers: Michael Vick is best option at QB for Eagles right now]
Let's all hope Cassel is OK, not just for himself, but for the consciences of all who felt some positive feeling when he was laid out for the world to see.
Boo the guy. Fly a banner over the stadium calling for his benching. That's fine. But if you don't have a shred of human decency, don't bother showing up. An empty seat is a far better representative of civic pride.
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