And when he suffered a concussion this past Sunday, Chiefs fans cheered.
After the game, a 9-6 loss to Baltimore, Kansas City offensive lineman Eric Winston scolded fans with one of the best post-game soliloquies I’ve ever heard.
“Boo him all you want. Boo me all you want. Throw me under the bus. Tell me I’m doing a bad job. Say I gotta protect him more. Do whatever you want. Say whatever you want,” Winston told reporters. “But if you are one of those people, one of those people that were out there cheering or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it’s sickening and disgusting. We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Coliseum. This is a game.”
Fandom is a tricky equation. Ticket prices are high. Fans are asked for time, money and dedication, even when times are tough.
But the entitlement of the ticket cannot come with a loss of humanity.
I have heard that those cheers in Kansas City were a comment on our national discourse – how it has become full of conflict and mutual disrespect.
I would buy that if I had not been in hundreds of press boxes over the years. I would buy it if I hadn’t heard those kinds of cheers before or if I hadn’t heard comments made buy ardent fans who find their way to press box seats.
I’ve heard the snide “call an ambulance” or “hope he’s dead” lines when an opposing team’s star player goes down with an injury. I’ve heard press box announcers switch off the microphone and implore their team to continue to “run the offense” (translation, run up the score) late in the game despite a 60-point lead.
Fan is, after all, short for fanatic and sometimes fans get carried away.
Winston just called them out – and not as an overpaid, spoiled athlete, but rather as a human being.
The folks in Kansas City may not like what they heard, but they needed to hear it.
So do a lot of people.