Nick Collins Apologizes — But What About the Bears Fan?

NFL players get fined for responding to unruly fans. But what happens to the unruly fan?

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have the longest-standing rivalry in the National Football League, and although players from each team probably couldn’t care less about the 90-year grudge, it’s still a game that brings out intense emotion.

The Bears and Packers added another chapter to the NFL’s oldest slugfest on Monday night when Chicago eked by Green Bay 20-17 on a late field goal. The upstart Bears moved to 3-0 while the Packers — overwhelming favorites to win the NFC North — fell to 2-1.

According to WITI-TV FOX6 Milwaukee, as Packers safety Nick Collins was exiting Soldier Field through a tunnel, a Bears fan spat on him and called him the N-word. Collins, caught on several cameras, reacted to the fan by throwing his mouthguard and shouting back:

On Wednesday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered support for Collins:

“I think fans sometimes forget we’re human. And then some fans think that because they’re behind the rail, or gate, or stadium fence, that that gives them the right to do whatever they want … Fans would probably counter with, ‘Hey, I bought the ticket, I can say whatever I want.’ … I really don’t think that’s right.”

Collins was apologetic for his role in the incident, saying:

“This is a situation that I could have walked away from but (in the) heat of the moment, things happen. Both sides (were) out of line. It was just a situation I shouldn’t have been a part of. I should have just kept walking into the locker room … I’m a grown man. I’m a big boy. And like I said before, I shouldn’t have put myself in that position. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the hype and the emotion from the game.”

Collins will likely receive a fine from the NFL while the Bears fan has a story to tell his buddies. That’s not right.

I don’t condone violence, but this is where the NFL, and more importantly, society gets it wrong. Collins is forced to apologize for responding to the incident when he had nothing to do with starting it. For that, he’ll be about $10,000 lighter come the weekend. The NFL can’t hold the Bears fan responsible, but an example should be made. How about a lifetime ban from Bears games? How about the Bears fan is no longer allowed at Soldier Field, period? How about he gets a second chance to stand toe-to-toe with Collins, spit in his face and call him the N-word? (Somebody watch the door, please.)

I don’t go to football games. Or at least, I avoid them when I can. Too much testosterone, alcohol, buffoonery. It’s an unhealthy mix that too often boils over into altercation. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll tailgate. However, the modern football fan is too emboldened, too entitled. Four hours in a stadium seat swigging from a flask can only mean bad things. I’d rather watch at home and stay away from drunken boneheads.

Players cross the line and the league reacts swiftly. Rightfully so. However, the NFL should do more to ensure unruly fans aren’t negatively affecting the experience for anyone else, players included.

UPDATED Apparently I’m not alone on this. Mark Craig, NFL reporter for the Minneapoli Star Tribune, writes, “In my perfect NFL world, a fan who spits on and/or hurls racial slurs at a player would face the consequences of the player having the legal right to deliver a good, stiff punch to the fan’s over-served snout.” I completely agree.

What Winning and Losing Really Means

If ever there was an image to depict the 49 years of failure by the Minnesota Vikings, this is it. Will the 50th season be any different?

I was living in Portland, Ore. when the New Orleans Saints defeated my Minnesota Vikings in last year’s NFC Championship. Famously, the Vikings dominated the Saints for four quarters, but committed turnover after turnover, including a costly interception by quarterback Brett Favre just as the team was positioned for a game-winning field goal attempt in overtime:

I don’t want to relive it, but many Vikings fans will tonight when The Purple seek revenge against the Saints at the Superdome.

Back to living in Portland. I was as traumatized as most, but lucky for having lived and worked in a city that was largely apathetic to the NFL. If I’d lived in Minnesota, I doubt I would’ve gone to work. Misery loves company and all, but we fans of Minnesota pro sports have played that card too often. I would’ve spent the week in bed.

Last night, my girlfriend and I attended a Minnesota Twins game. (I went because the company I worked for was offered a spot in a suite. Beth went because upper deck tickets were just $4.) I got into a conversation with two women in their 30s who remember (fondly) the Minnesota Twins winning the 1991 World Series. One was at Game 7 while the other missed school to attend the World Series parade. That’s all I needed to hear, because it made me realize that’s all we Vikings fans really want: A celebration to break up the monotony. Something positive for a change. We want a parade.

As a sports fan, I’ve hedged my emotional investments after countless heartbreaks. You might argue it’s me getting older, wiser, more sensible, and realizing pro sports are merely entertainment. I don’t disagree.

However, I believe pro sports also bring about civic pride. There’s a reason we wear the team gear outside of season, kind of like a proclamation — This is where I’m from. This is what I’m about. A city like Minneapolis has a billion things to be proud of, but we can’t brag about our lakes, the arts scene and our best bicycling city title. Nothing could make us stick out our chests like a Super Bowl win. It’s not about pride in our town, but pride in our city. It just so happens pro sports are the best measuring stick.

I’ve argued, time and time again, sports matter because they don’t matter. We live at a time where everything matters — the economy, the housing market, the BP oil spill, the wars, etc. (And I don’t mean to underplay other issues using an et cetera, but that list could go on for days.) All the world’s seriousness stops outside of the stadium, never crosses the sidelines and can’t stop us from ejecting off our coaches when our favorite team scores a touchdown or hits a home run. That’s the beauty of it. The best part about pro sports is our team can lose and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

The Vikings are five-point underdogs tonight. It’s possible the Saints throttle the Vikings and we’re left with the cold reminder brilliant seasons like last year’s are rare. It’s also possible they’ll go down to New Orleans and level revenge and have the Greater Twin Cities teeming with hope come Friday morning.

Either way, it’s better to be here, in Minneapolis, no matter suffering or celebrating. Although celebrating would be nice for a change.