ALAMEDA — It was lurid, chaotic and, considering it involved one of the Raiders at his home stadium, a bit bizarre. Left tackle Donald Penn drove out of the players’ parking lot at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday, and proceeded to get into a shouting match with a fan, a guy so enamored with his team that he has a big Raiders tattoo on his left arm.
Many aspects of this piece of theater have been debated. The fan may have foreshadowed the meeting on Instagram, all but admitting he was trying lure Penn into committing assault. They may have had previous interactions. There may have been a bottle thrown.
In any case, the optics, as we like to say, were not good. In a video originally posted to Instagram and Twitter, Penn gets out of his car to confront the heckler. Both shout obscenities as yellow-windbreakered security guards, then law enforcement officers, attempt to form a perimeter. Fortunately (unless you’re the instigator and you were looking for a payday), the scene does not end in violence.
Penn declined to talk about the incident, or about fan behavior in general, after practice on Tuesday. He argued that it would only increase the profile of the dude in the video. Hard to refute his logic. Some of his teammates came to his defense, though.
“I love you bro! Way to keep a cool head!” Raiders punter Marquette King tweeted at Penn after the game.
“From what I have heard, something was thrown at his car,” wide receiver Seth Roberts told me. “… So I probably would have taken precautions to say something to the guy, because it’s a very expensive car. After a loss. So that’s pretty big.”
But I’m not really all that interested in what happened in the Coliseum parking lot. Donald Penn was frustrated after the Raiders’ third consecutive loss. One of the team’s supporters was equally frustrated and, who knows, maybe liquored up. Things escalated, then petered out. Whatever. But I am interested in the space between sports fans and the athletes they follow, and how the barriers in that space are being eroded.
Bad athlete-fan collisions are nothing new. Billy Martin was punching autograph seekers back in the 1970s. Tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed, for crying out loud, on a court in Hamburg, Germany, in 1993. And the ugliest, most prolonged example of fan-vs.-player, the NBA’s Malice in the Palace, happened 13 years ago.
But is it just me, or have things gotten worse lately? A little more frequent? A little unrulier?
“I just ignore ’em,” Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “I’ve got a great life, I’m in a great situation. I don’t let nobody get me out of my character like that, man. I’m 30 years old. I got a son looking at every move I make. So for me to go out and entertain some fan, who’s probably drunk, who’s probably just mad about something, I just don’t take the energy and the time to do that.”
It isn’t always easy to go high when they go low, though.
“I had a situation when we played Washington (2½ weeks ago),” Irvin said. “A fan behind me was talking to me the whole time, talking mess the whole time. I think in a situation like that, the security should give him a warning, and if he continues to do it, get him out of there. Back there talking about my family. It got personal. Started to get under my skin a little bit.”