Sports Law • Risk Management

January 16, 2011: Sharks Out of Water: Steelers Vs. Ravens

Yesterday, I went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. I was expecting to see a variety of sea life, including sharks, but the first sharks I encountered at the aquarium were in human form. It just so happens that the AFC Divisional Playoffs between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers were also yesterday. Since these two cities are just a few hours drive apart, the fans for the then, prospective game were all the more anxious for the showdown. This was evident by the signage I saw posted at the entrance to the aquarium.

The signage at the aquarium was a warning posted to Pittsburgh Steelers fans. The warning was that anyone wearing any Steelers paraphernalia should either put their items in a locker or check their items in the coat check. The warning went on to advocate that this precautionary measure was for the safety of anyone who entered the premises wearing the Steelers logo, thus implying that a Steelers fan might be subject to harassment by a Ravens fan.

Although the signage was more for entertainment purposes than out of a sincere concern for the well-being of the aquarium patrons, it alludes to a very real concern of how impassioned some sports fans can become over their beloved teams. A simple act of wearing a jersey or a hat with a stitched in team logo can incite jeers, taunts and violence from a rival team’s fan. This can be especially true on the day of an important game, such as the divisional playoffs, and if an opposing fan is in the city of the rival team, such as a Steelers fan being in Baltimore.

Ironically, the aquarium staff was permitted to wear Baltimore Ravens clothing that day. If you are in your own city and representing your hometown team en masse, there is a level of acceptability rather than hypocrisy in discouraging the wearing of a rival team's logo. So should athletic venues also discourage opposing fans from wearing sports gear representing a visiting team? Certainly patron safety and crowd control are key risk management issues in an athletic venue, but how often does a simple act of wearing or even cheering for a team prompt an opposing fan to become aggressive like a shark eating its prey? These out-of-water sharks are the ones to be most concerned about, but sometimes it is easier to protect the prey from exposing themselves to the predator than it is to control the predatory behavior.