Keeping Score

Why Boorish NFL Fans Are Going to the Shrink

Fans ejected from NFL stadiums must now take a conduct course in order to return

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Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

Two fans fight during the NFL season-opener game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in California on Sept. 10, 2012. Spectators who are ejected from stadiums must now take an online conduct course in order to return

If you go to NFL games and tend to act like a jackass, you might think about toning it down. Why? Because starting this season, if you get kicked out of a stadium for bad behavior, the NFL will be sending you to a shrink.

The virtual kind, that is. In order for ejected NFL fans to attend another game, they must complete a four-hour online “fan conduct tutorial” developed by Ari Novick, a psychotherapist from California. These sessions, found on fanconductclass.com, aren’t cheap: some teams, like the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions, are charging $55, while the New England Patriots charge $100. “If you can afford a ticket to an NFL game,” says Novick, “you can afford to take this class.” Proceeds above $55 are donated to charity; the Patriots, for example, give $45 of every payment to the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers. The class requires at least 70% of the questions on its final exam to be answered correctly to pass.

Enforcement of this policy may prove challenging. While season-ticket holders are fairly easy to track, if I bought a seat to a game via StubHub, who would know if I completed a course? If my face is on some kind of “Keep Out” list, I can try to disguise myself. But these end arounds carry a risk: if I’m caught sneaking back into a stadium, the cops can lock me up for trespassing.

So what does the class cover? Well, it gets pretty deep. It’s divided into a dozen chapters, with titles like “Communication Is King,” “Skills in Stress Management” and “The Cost of Alcohol Abuse in America.” One section, called “Gaining Skills in Empathy,” notes that “emotions are what allow us to grow in love. They are the object of poetry, art and music. Emotions fill us with a sense of connection to others. In many ways, emotions make life worth living. How we experience the world, relate to others and find meaning in life are dependent upon how we regulate our emotions.”

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That drunk in Section D will get in touch with his feelings.

It’s easy to roll your eyes. But Novick insists that loutish fans often need rudimentary lessons. “The program is designed to make people who don’t exercise good judgment think,” he says. To absorb the material, you must spend a set amount of time on each page. You receive frequent pop quizzes. “Which of the following is a specific assertive remedy to the harmful pattern of contempt?” asks one question. “A. Give and take praise, B. accept responsibility, C. learn how to listen, or D. express feelings openly.”

So, yeah, you should probably pay attention. (The answer, by the way, is A. Give and take praise.)

Four hours of this is painful. And that’s part of the point. “If you don’t have consequences to back up the rules,” says Novick, “rules fall flat.” At first glance, this policy seems a bit controlling. Isn’t getting kicked out humiliation enough? And now the NFL — whose product, by the way, consists of men mauling one another — is going to send me to my room for a four-hour lecture, for the right to spend my money how I want?

Still, the fan-conduct class is worth rooting for, because it can only help deter spectator foolishness. And if one fewer knucklehead starts a fight because he doesn’t want to spend $55 and a long afternoon taking a multiple-choice test, the whole stadium should give the NFL, and Novick, a standing ovation.

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