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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.”


(Through Wednesday’s games)

Batting average

1. Sean Sullivan, Dartmouth, .540

2. Greg Cullen, Niagara, .510

3. Cesar Trejo, UNC-Greensboro, .507

4. Gage Canning, Arizona State, .494

5. Andrew Vaughn, Cal, .469

6. A.J. Priaulx, Presbyterian, .466

7. Logan Driscoll, George Mason, .465

8. Rylan Thomas, Central Florida, .452

9. Adam Frank, Fair-Dickinson, .450

   Drew Mendoza, Florida State, .450

Home runs

1. Andrew Vaughn, Cal 11

   Brett Kinneman, N.C. State, 11

   Albee Weiss, CSU Northridge, 11

4. Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State, 10

   Luke Heyer, Kentucky, 10

6. T.J. Collett, Kentucky, 9

   Kole Cottam, Kentucky, 9

   Will Dalton, Florida, 9

   Keegan McGovern, Georgia, 9

   Chandler Taylor, Alabama, 9

   Kendall Woodall, Coastal Carolina, 9

That same day, New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall was filmed vehemently arguing with an Eagles fan before a game at Philadelphia; the fan claimed Marshall spat at him. The week after that, the Washington team played at Kansas City, and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (a former Raiders quarterback) reported that Chiefs fans called him a racial epithet several times as he left the field after losing; he was caught on video flipping them off. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had a similar complaint — and an additional one: peanuts being thrown at him — after playing at Boston’s Fenway Park in early May.

There’s one obvious reason the filters have come down in recent years: social media. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram are the video games of the iPhone age, blamed for all of our bad behavior, though they are probably more reflections than root causes. That said, social media allow professional athletes to interact with huge numbers of fans in a way they never could before.

This direct contact is a huge benefit to both parties. But yeah, it can be a problem, too. People now feel entitled to say pretty much anything they want to anybody they choose at any given moment. It’s just a click away.

“They come at me all the time,” Roberts said.

“People say all kinds of things on Twitter,” Raiders right tackle Marshall Newhouse agreed. “We’ve devolved into a society where that stuff is like encouraged, because they realize there are not many ramifications, there’s no consequences.”

Newhouse said that if the tweets cross “a certain line,” his solution is the same as if he’s facing a Broncos defensive end: Just block ’em. But Roberts admitted that he occasionally pokes back. As did King, the punter, on Monday morning.

The day after the Ravens loss, someone with the handle @BroncoSiemian tweeted at King: “get any personal fouls this week Tbh? Haha, (bleeping) pathetic idiot.”

The punter tweeted back: “I got one wit ur mom…”

Juvenile. Ill-advised. And perfectly understandable human behavior. It’s hard to sit in the lotus position and let every personal attack go unanswered, just as it was hard for Donald Penn not to get out of that car. Everyone has his/her limits, especially when you’re already in an irritable state.

There’s another difference between the fan experience now and, say, 10 or 20 years ago. It’s harder to prove, but Newhouse feels it as much as I do.

“I think it’s gotten a little worse. But, in general, public discourse has gotten worse, so I think those things go hand in hand,” he said.

As our society has largely decamped into two warring and equally uncompromising factions, civility has left the building. I’d like to blame our president, who has certainly hastened the trend with his crudeness and his appeal to latent fears and hatreds. But again, Trump is a product as much as a producer of this bile.

As Newhouse said: “That’s just the 2017 we’re living in right now.”

And what a 2017 it is. Be careful out there, sports fans, and athletes, too. The Malice in the Palace was bad enough. A Choke-Down in Oaktown is the last thing we need at the moment.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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