Once again NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems intent on breaking with the head-in-the-sand approach of his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.
For years as drunkenness and violence escalated at NFL stadiums the league's policy was, uh, good luck with that.
But on Thursday Goodell announced he will be issuing a fan conduct policy that will hopefully forestall the nuclear option of banning alcohol at NFL games. After all, of the many revenue streams in pro sports, can any possibly be as lucrative as the stream of domestic beer selling for $8 a cup?
"We want everyone to be able to come to our stadiums, behave properly, enjoy this experience but don't ruin it for others," said Goodell. "We will be focusing on that, including the implementation of an NFL fan conduct policy which we will have out prior to the season."
If Goodell's new policy holds franchises accountable for the conduct of their fans — the way he will now hold them financially accountable for the behavior of their players — you can bet teams will crack down in a meaningful way.
Here's a taste of what Goodell might consider improper behavior. Or perhaps this. For more disturbing images of what Goodell might define as ruining it for others go to YouTube and plug in "Raiders Chargers fight."
McAfee Coliseum in Oakland and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego might as well be octagons for all the impromptu mixed martial arts that break out when the Bolts and Raiders throw down. But unconscionable fan behavior is not a recent development.
In 1995, when unruly Giant fans pelted the field and knocked the opposing equipment manager unconscious with ice-balls, the league might have thought it had a problem.
In 1997, when over 60 fistfights broke out at Veterans Stadium in a nationally televised game, prompting Philadelphia to assign a municipal court judge to the stadium on game days in '98, the league might have thought it had a problem.
In 2000, when that Raider fan stabbed a Charger fan, the league might have thought it had a problem.
In 2001, when Browns fans showered the field with plastic beer bottles, the league might have thought it had a problem.
In 2003, when three Charger fans beat a Jaguar fan into unconsciousness, the league might have thought it had a problem.
And on and on until Goodell inherited an almost league-wide problem.
But until now the NFL was loathe to admit that it had a drunken fan epidemic. So while it may be overdue, give Goodell credit for trying to improve his product by finally acknowledging one of its shortcomings.
Maybe Goodell decided to take action because of the collective effect of so much anti-social behavior. Or maybe it was the Mardi Gras North that broke out at Gate D in the Meadowlands last year where kids at Jets games got to witness men screaming at women to bare their breasts (and women obliging). Or maybe it was the two shootings outside the Coliseum in Oakland before and after a Raiders-Chiefs game last fall that forced his hand.
Cracking down on player misconduct has been a hallmark of the commissioner's early tenure (though Charles Grant's manslaughter charge and a shooting involving a gun owned by Marvin Harrison could not have been the offseason Goodell was hoping for after coming down hard on Pacman Jones and Chris Henry). But the fact is fans — you know, the consumers of the product — will have a lot more interaction with other fans than with the players. So Goodell's announcement is welcome news for the vast majority of football consumers who can take in a game — and, yes, even suck down a few brews — without wanting to assault anybody.
At an infamous 1999 game between the Raiders and Chargers in San Diego, Raider legends Ben Davidson and Otis Sistrunk were so appalled by the out-of-control fan violence they left the stadium. Think about that.
Davidson told the San Diego Union-Tribune after the game, "It's just a sad testament to our time."
Davidson was listed at 6-foot-8, 275 pounds in his playing days and Sistrunk at 6-4, 265.
Packers fans: Setting the example for the rest of the NFL. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Imagine how a dad might feel in those same stands with his 70-pound fourth-grade son. (One of the more chilling images in the YouTube gallery of fan violence is two middle-aged women shepherding a small boy away from the melee that had broken out around them.)
Thankfully, not every stadium becomes Thunderdome when an opposing fan steps foot in it. God bless Lambeau Field.
My friend Dan attended the NFC Championship game in Green Bay in his Eli Manning jersey. Not only did he emerge unscathed, he received a grudging Midwestern respect for making the trek and for the gritty performance of his team.
Check out this news report on how Giants fans were greeted in Green Bay. And not one woman implored to expose her breasts.
Oh, that all NFL cities could be Green Bay.
But the sad truth is that many NFL stadiums are about as family friendly as the strip clubs where the league's players so often get arrested. Goodell's fan conduct policy will be the first step to taking the violence out of the stands and parking lots and keeping it on the field where it belongs.