The Effect of Toxic Fans

As a kid, I first became exposed to toxicity in fans in Kansas. Growing up in rural Kansas, most inhabitants are Chiefs fans. They sport the Arrowhead logo on their pickup trucks, proudly wear Chiefs red and chant the tomahawk chop on Sundays. Yet, as a kid, I was overwhelmed by the large collection of people who spent much of their time talking trash about their own team. I was surrounded by “Debbie Downers”. Talking trash about the Chiefs was about as commonplace as talking trash about the government. Just like the Government, the Chiefs couldn’t do anything right, despite the fact they were consistently in the playoff hunt. I couldn’t take it. I had enough. I don’t do well with consistent negativity. In less than a year I became the outlier in my community and chose the San Francisco 49ers as my team. This was a quick decision as I became aware of football in 1988 and started to watch consistently in 89 and 90. While I still watched the Chiefs, I usually went out of my way to avoid the toxic conversations that usually occurred throughout the 90s.

With the advent of the internet and social media, the average person has an instant platform to say whatever is on their mind with little to no consequences. Social media has taken toxic fandom to a whole new level. Millions of disgruntled fans become the ultimate keyboard warrior as they bang out their displeasure with how their team does business. They cite to their own experiences in Madden to explain how the team could be doing better, as if a video game is the guideline for success in business and football. This is the benign toxicity. Now fans have decided to become criminals. They set up dummy accounts, hack the private social media of players and coaches and cause general mayhem on numerous sports talk pages. Some go as far as to announce false news in the name of a player or coach creating unneeded stress and anxiety for the affected. Worse some hackers will also send death threats. What effect does this have on sports? What effect does this have on the players and coaches?

Let’s consider the contract negotiations of Deebo Samuel for a second. When the rumors started to swirl that Deebo wanted more money offered on his contract, fans decided to send death threats. Deebo isn’t the first player to deal with this. Raheem Mostert was sent multiple death threats by so-called fans when he went down with injury last year. The discussion about Deebo leaving the team and requesting a trade didn’t occur until after the death threats surfaced. Mostert isn’t on the roster anymore and it isn’t because the Niners could not afford him. Did the death threats play a factor? There are a multitude of other factors surrounding Deebo’s personal decisions about his contract and where he will ultimately play. However, toxic fandom is playing a role in that decision as well. Who wants to play for a team whose fans are willing to send death threats over a contract dispute?

People think social media allows them to say whatever they want without any real consequences. Yet, there are always consequences. Those consequences could come from missed employment opportunities, to lost friendships. In the case of Deebo, he may leave the Niners. He may leave the Niners in part because the fans are not as faithful as they appear.

Toxic fans are not limited to just key board warriors. Toxic fans come to games too. Toxic fans have been known to act out at games. They get in fights. They endanger others. They are unruly. Usually, the consequences of such behavior results in the removal of the fan. In extreme cases, fans have murdered other fans at the conclusion of games.

I remember watching the 49ers defeat the Rams at LA Memorial Coliseum, on their way to Coach Shanahan’s first Super Bowl. 49ers fans filled the stadium. Only about 25% of the fans attending were supporting the Rams. When the Niners won the game, I observed some of the fans yammering away about how the Niners performance wasn’t good enough. In other cases, I saw fans giving hapless Ram’s fans unneeded grief over the win. As I observed a fellow Niner fan berate the Rams and Rams fans, the phrase “act like you have been there before” popped into my head. What is a matter with people? Where is their perspective? The 49ers have five Super Bowl Rings and seven appearances. Only three other teams in the NFL have five or more wins.

As a society, we are drunk on instant gratification. We want everything now. We want it done our way. We want it done our way all the time. Most importantly, we as a society want to do what we want, when we want with absolutely no consequences. Perhaps that is why America’s incarceration rate is exponentially higher than the rest of the world.

The good news is that there is a relatively small number of toxic fans out there. Going thru life, I have learned several things on this subject. One, every team has its own group of toxic fans. Two, sometimes the smallest percentage of idiots can create the most problems for the group. The NFL has gone overboard to legislate behavior of fans, in large part due to the small population of idiots causing problems. Fans are entitled to have an opinion. They are entitled to exercise their free speech in stating their opinion. In doing so, fans need to consider the second and third order effects of their free speech and how it is executed. For me, I will constantly focus on the positive and keep a realistic view everything else regarding the teams I support. There will always be toxic fans and toxic people in life. I hope that most of us learn to ignore them and keep our eye on the prize, whatever that is.

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