Let Chaos Reign

COVID-19 has completely deranged the American sports fan, and chaos must ensue

May 27, 2021

Maddie Meyer/PGA of America

What do you get when you force an entire country's worth of fans to sit at home, away from their friends and favorite teams, watch anemic televised games with fake crowd noise, then unleash them back into the stadiums after a miserable pent-up year?

The answer is becoming clearer and clearer as restrictions loosen and crowds return: You get a group of unhinged maniacs let loose into the world, social skills eroded to almost nothing, ready and willing to make mayhem. It is delightful, it is glorious, it is dangerous, it is wild. Never in the history of our sporting culture have Americans been so much like Europeans, and I do not mean that in the sophisticated continental sense, but rather the "violent hooligan" sense. Anybody who claims to know where this is going is telling you a lie.

Earlier today, we wrote about Knicks fans shutting down 7th Avenue after they beat the Atlanta Hawks in literally one game. It's worth watching the video again:

Granted, Knicks fans have more pent up frustration than most, but still, this is a "my team just won the eastern conference finals" celebration AT MINIMUM. It is not a "we just evened up a first round series against the Hawks" celebration. There is something deeper happening here.

Or, take the incident on the 18th hole at the PGA Championship, where the excitable crowd seemed to be on the verge of massacring Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka out of sheer mob excitement:

Those were golf fans! Refined country club people! But give them a little alcohol and the stymied energy from a year of lockdown, and they were ready for a human sacrifice. And speaking of human sacrifice, this is what the NHL playoffs have looked like so far.

There are individual acts of madness too, like this Sixers fan throwing popcorn at Russell Westbrook as he left the court with an injury, sending Westbrook into a conniption:

Or some Knicks fan apparently spitting on Trae Young after his histrionics on Sunday:

These are early days, and we don't know how far this will go or how weird it will get. But it's clear that American fans are born-again sports virgins, and they're behaving like an 18-year-old who has never had a sip of beer being unleashed on a college campus for the first time. You don't know quite what will happen, but you know it will be chaotic and sloppy and potentially ugly.

And that's . . . well, not okay, exactly, but somewhat cathartic in a way that is understandable. Spitting on people or throwing popcorn at them is stupid and bad, but shutting down a major city thoroughfare because you just pulled to 1-1 in a first-round playoff series in which you're favored? Have at it, America! You deserve the energy release. Just try not to die.