The pity party began shortly after the last drop of hydrogenated oil dripped onto the injured man’s head. No big deal! Woe are we! Here they come to get us! What you actually see in that video there is a national vendetta!
It unfolded as it always does. First, a brazen act of disrespect. Then, a chorus of denials. In both cases, the participants represented a statistically insignificant sliver of the city of Philadelphia. And yet, here the rest of us are, left to deal with the consequences.
This, here, is for the deniers. It’s for the equivocators and the rationalizers, for the self-styled martyrs. It’s for the folks who are thinking, well, golly gee, it’s just a bit of spilled popcorn. Is that really what you saw? Watch the video of Westbrook limping off the court with 10 minutes left in the Sixers’ Game 2 win on Wednesday night. Watch him enter the tunnel. Don’t watch the fan showering him with popcorn from above. Watch his reaction. Watch the team of security guards struggling to restrain a guy with a sprained ankle. Did Russell Westbrook really look like a guy who got angry over nothing? Or did he look like the person you might become if this was how your shift at work had ended?
“Any other setting … a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head,” Westbrook said later, “you know what happens.”
Of course, we do. You, me, the 11,159 fans at the Wells Fargo Center who did not throw anything from the stands. Yet there are still those among us whose immediate thought is, “We don’t deserve what we’re gonna get!”
Just stop. Don’t do it. It’s counterproductive. Save it for the future Joe Buck reference. The best way to eliminate these incidents is to direct your angst at those who deserve it. The national media didn’t throw popcorn at Westbrook. Some ding-dong in a Sixers jersey did. He is the one who has made the fan base look bad. He is responsible for the narrative.
You’re not wrong to point out that every city has its popcorn dumpers and finger flippers and bottle throwers and news-van-overturners. They’re in Chicago, where I once watched a fan pour a beer on Shane Victorino while the ball was actually in play. They’re in Utah, where Westbrook has had a couple of high-profile run-ins with fans whose comments he interpreted as racial. They’re in Oakland, and Detroit, and Los Angeles, and New York, and anywhere else where sports are played and alcohol flows. Fan behavior isn’t a Philadelphia problem. It’s a problem with human nature.
“Philadelphia is better than that,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after the Sixers’ 120-95 win.
Granted, there reaches a point where it’s at least a legitimate question. Last season, we saw Isaiah Thomas go into the stands to confront a fan who had been heckling him. Three years before that, we had that iconic picture of a fan flipping Westbrook the double bird. That same year, Flyers fans earned the home team a delay-of-game penalty by throwing their Ed Snider memorial wrist bands onto the ice. Can you really blame outsiders for connecting the dots when they see so many of them?
On the one hand, I understand the pushback. This city’s fan base is overwhelmingly composed of people who have never thrown a beer bottle or insulted an opponent’s family. The vast majority of incidents cited as evidence of our structural flaw are nothing more than a product of alcohol and the law of large numbers. What else is there to be said besides what shouldn’t need to be said? Don’t throw things at fellow humans!
On the other hand, maybe it does need to be said, because we end up saying it far too often. That’s better than the scoffs, and the rolls of the eyes, and the preemptive claims of persecution.
“This was classless, unacceptable behavior, and we’re not going to tolerate it at Wells Fargo Center,” Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Wells Fargo Center, said in a statement released shortly after Game 2. “We’re proud to have the most passionate fans in the country and the best home-court and home-ice advantage around, but this type of behavior has no place in our arena.”
The legacy of this incident shouldn’t be the way it was used to unjustly smear us. Ban the guy for life. Hang his picture for all to see. Make an example of him. If you’re bothered by the mean things people say about our city, get angry at the ammunition. Perceptions can be shaped as much by reactions as they are by precipitating events. This was a dumb event, and it’s one dum-dum’s fault. Keep your TV off for a few days and let him own it.