by Chris Bahn
Posted 4/18/2011 10:00 am
Updated 4 years ago
Mississippi State leftfielder Brent Brownlee left a few of Arkansas fans a memorable parting shot on Sunday after recording the final out in the Bulldogs’ victory. Brownlee didn’t flip the ball into the crowd, instead he actually flipped off the crowd on his way to the dugout.
MSU Bird-Dogs, eh?
Brownlee was apparently reacting to heckling that he endured from Razorback fans in a series loss to Arkansas. TV cameras caught what appeared to be a smiling Brownlee delivering the gesture, which prompted reaction from Arkansas faithful on Twitter. (Here's the uncensored picture.)
Word reached Bird Dogs, er, Bulldogs coach John Cohen, who released a series of statements on Twitter. Brownlee predictably has been suspended and he eventually offered an apology.
“Brent Browlee will be suspended for his actions after today’s game,” Cohen said. “… Brent is a model student-athlete who had a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to an unsettling situation. No amount of verbal abuse or threats of physical violence from fans justifies Brent’s reaction.”
Hopefully Brownlee’s “knee-jerk” reaction doesn’t lead to another. This incident feels like the sort that could prompt a review of policies for fans enjoying the privilege of watching a game beyond the outfield walls.
And that would be an absolute shame.
Hanging out in Baum Stadium’s Hog Pen is one of the uniquely Fayetteville ways to spend a spring night in Northwest Arkansas. It doesn’t get a lot better for fans than spending time in the Hog Pen, an area that can, at times, feel like Hog Heaven.
Grills and picnic tables are available. Coolers fully stocked with beer might not be encouraged, but they sure aren’t frowned upon. It can make for a relaxed and fun atmosphere, the sort that helped make possible a stadium record crowd of 11,103 two weeks ago.
A limited number of fixed seats and limited rules, make it the perfect atmosphere for a nine-inning party. Sometimes the fun includes taunting opposing outfielders.
No harm, no foul, right?
Consider a March 18 item from KFSM 5NEWS Sports in which Mike Irwin writes that a Delaware State outfielder endured racial slurs from Razorback fans. It got so bad that the player complained and got an apology the next day from Arkansas officials, including Coach Dave Van Horn.
Isolated, abhorrent incident? Perhaps.
But the more apologies and suspensions given out stemming from actions inside the Hog Pen, the harder it is for the folks in charge to look away. Suddenly, it becomes a lot easier to get restrictive. Would it be unreasonable for the school to begin restricting alcohol consumption and beef up security in the outfield after two public incidents?
An Arkansas public relations official did not immediately respond to a request Sunday night for comment and a clarification regarding policies in the outfield. Presumably, hurling insults at opponents isn’t encouraged. But like those red solo cups full of beer, it’s not explicitly outlawed, either.
So you get situations like Sunday where a fan with a head full of insults — and possibly a belly full of beer — taunts an opposing player. Then the player reacts back.
Granted, Brownlee should have known better than to do what he did. It was immature. Of course we don’t know what he put up with throughout the weekend. If his playing ability was in question, then he overreacted. If he truly was getting threats of physical violence, then it becomes more serious.
That’s where fans have to police each other. If you hear it getting over the line, let somebody know.
Heckling at the ballpark isn’t a bad thing. It’s tradition. It can be done with class and in a way that’s fun for the hecklers and hecklees. Check the crew on the third base side at Baum. The only thing they’re drunk on is their enthusiasm for baseball. And their insults are clean, but typically get the job done.
Beer at the ballpark doesn’t have to be a bad thing either. It also seems to be a tradition for folks at baseball games.
Combine the two and occasionally you get what happened Sunday. Hopefully, this is an incident everybody can learn from.
So put your fingers in the air — and cross them — that this ends here. Nobody wants a few insults and a couple of “knee-jerk” reactions to spoil the fun for everybody.