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Robin Wilkey Headshot

My Fellow Sports Fans, We Have Lost Our Way: How Violence Is Killing America's Favorite Pastime

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On Wednesday night as my boyfriend and I drove to dinner, I suggested that we get tickets to a 49ers game sometime soon. He winced.

"I don't know," he said. "I've heard those get pretty crazy."

I laughed, teased him about getting old, and made a mental note to ask my brother instead.

Three hours later, a 24-year-old Dodgers fan was stabbed to death near AT&T Park, home of my San Francisco Giants.

For San Francisco sports fans, this story is disturbingly familiar.

In 2003, a 25-year-old Giants fan was shot and killed outside of Dodger Stadium. In 2011, three people were hospitalized after a 49ers-Raiders game when one man was beaten unconscious in the bathroom and two men were shot in the parking lot. Later that same year, EMT and father of two Bryan Stow suffered permanent brain damage after a beating at a Dodgers game. Both teams shared a moment of silence during the following game, and Giants and Dodgers fans swore such a senseless tragedy would never happen again.

And yet here we are.

It hasn't always been this way. Years ago, a Dodgers t-shirt elicited an eyeroll, a little trash talk, a laugh and some friendly conversation about what the season was looking like. There was an occasional scuffle, some stoic stares and warnings, but no shootings, no stabbings, no beatings that ended in brain damage.

One could argue that the violence at American sporting events pales next to the football hooliganism that has bloodied enough soccer fans around the world to fill a stadium. While true, I doubt such reasoning would offer consolation to Robert Preece, the Dodgers security guard whose son, Jonathan Denver, was killed by a Giants fan on Wednesday night.

A sports reporter once wrote that baseball trains us for the heartbreaks of real life without imposing any actual consequences. That's the beauty of the game: there's always next year. But there is no next year for Jonathan Denver. And this is what's robbing the sport of everything good.

Sadly, it's the same story with football.

To me, the 49ers game is a to-go cup of mashed potatoes at Tommy's Joynt before catching the express bus to Candlestick. It's sitting in my grandfather's seats -- the same place I sat 20 years ago when he was still alive -- and remembering for a moment what it felt like to be with him. It's Joe Montana and Dwight Clark and "the catch." It's Jim Harbaugh cradling a sobbing Vernon Davis. It's screaming at the top of my lungs at every turnover and hugging the stranger next to me at the unexpected last-second touchdown.

But in the past few years, it has become something else. Even inside the stadium, long before the parking lot altercations, games are marked by fist-fights and thrown beer bottles. In the past few years, we have lost our way.

As my family grows larger and the next generation is born, my heart aches at the thought that going to the game is something my children might not be able to experience. But that ache is nothing compared to what Bryan Stow's children will not be able to experience; what Jonathan Denver's parents will not be able to experience.

Certainly such instances could be avoided. According to witnesses, Denver was fighting outside of a bar and Stow had been trash talking throughout the game. (His greatest offense: bad-mouthing the Dodger Stadium hot dogs.) But emotions will always run high and some adults will always act like children.

So what do we do?

Should we consider legislation like Assembly Member Gatto's AB 2464 that would establish a banned persons list for anyone who commits a violent offense at a sporting event? Should we ban alcohol at stadiums? (Considering Coors Light is an official sponsor of the 49ers and Anheuser-Busch is the first name on the MLB sponsor list, I don't see this happening anytime soon.)

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know what I would like to say to those individuals. To the guy who killed a Dodgers fan while wearing a Giants hat; to the men who robbed the Stow kids of any opportunity to play catch with their father; to the fans who claim the Bay Area, yet beat up their brothers just across the bridge: For such impassioned fans, you sure know how to ruin the sport you claim to love so much.