At CenturyLink, plenty of drinking and trash talk but few bullies
There's lots of beer-drinking at Seahawks games and up to 75 fans are removed at every game for bad behavior. But many fans Sunday said they've never felt threatened at CenturyLink Field, where Hawks fans talk a lot.
Seattle Times staff reporter
I was a pretty good high-school football player and consider myself an accomplished beer drinker, but I've only been to one NFL game. It was in the 1980s at the New England Patriots' old Foxboro Stadium and fans around me were barbaric: drunk, profane, mean. I was never tempted to attend another NFL game.
But following talk of drunken boorishness at last week's Seahawks-49ers game — including some among fans on seattletimes.com — I was assigned to CenturyLink Field to check out behavior Sunday during the game against the St. Louis Rams.
After touring tailgate parties, walking far reaches of the stadium and interviewing some two dozen people, my reporting was consistent: No fans, even those wearing Rams gear, said they've ever felt threatened at a Hawks game. Yes, there is drinking. Certainly, trash talk. But fans say only a tiny percentage of fans ever resort to bullying or violence.
Mostly, they dismiss jabbering between fans as good-natured ribbing. "A lot of chirping," said Tim Loosier, a Packers fan, whose "Cheesehead" prop was stolen during a game this year. Loosier said he ran down the thief and got his "Cheesehead" back without incident.
"Seattle fans talk a lot. They have no personality until they get to a sports arena when their team is good, and then they have a lot to say," said Kelsee Mikesell of Spokane.
Andrew Cary brought his 7-year-old son, Tyler, to the game Sunday. Cary, a season-ticket holder, said Tyler has been coming for years without incident. Andrew's brother, Nick, called last week's game an anomaly. Like others, he ascribed its wildness to several factors: It was a night game, two days before Christmas — encouraging more drinking, and it was against rival San Francisco.
Rachel Smith of Bellevue wore a Rams sweatshirt to Sunday's game and said she's never felt unsafe at a Seahawks game. Make no mistake, there is belligerence. At a game last year, a fan knocked out a Seattle police officer, and this year Bellevue officers were disciplined for their profane bullying actions as fans at a game.
The Seahawks remove 50 to 75 people every game out of a crowd of 67,000, said Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin, mostly for language and drunkenness.
"We say our stadium should be PG rated," McLoughlin said, noting that the team has voluntarily adopted an NFL program that requires ejected fans to take a four-hour class on behavior if they want to come back. McLoughlin acknowledged the program works best on season-ticket holders, who tend to self-police their sections and not be the worst actors.
At each game, 1,100 people work in security and customer service, McLoughlin said, including 100 law-enforcement officers hired by the team. Both he and Seattle Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said they don't think fan behavior has gotten worse.
Still, there is a lot of drinking — at nearby bars, tailgating parties, even Safeco Field, which has opened on Sundays this year to serve beer at discounted prices.
In some cases, rules appear to be broken.
CenturyLink's north parking lot, for instance, holds the sanctioned tailgating area. No alcohol is to be consumed in open areas there.
Yet plenty of fans were quaffing beer out of plastic cups Sunday. Team monitors and police look for underage drinkers and open containers. But as a matter of practice, they don't peer into plastic cups, said Lance Lopes, general counsel for the Seahawks.
While technically a violation, Lopes said he doesn't see such discreet drinking as a problem. "If it's a problem at the North Lot, then it is across the street at the bars and at Safeco."
Whitcomb agreed: "Drinking from a bottle brazenly is different."
Deirdre Dewitt, 22, is an Oakland Raiders fan. Sipping beer from a plastic cup in the North Lot, Dewitt said she's never felt harassed at a Seahawks game.
Her father, Kevin, a Seahawks fan, said he's even experienced kindness at Seahawks games — from Raiders fans, no less. One time he recalled, his car was out of gas near the stadium. "Raiders fans pushed me a block-and-a-half to a gas station."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff reporter Lynn Thompson contributed.