Breaking Down: Portland Thunder vs. Road Crowds

In the last two Portland Thunder away games, there have been incidents where a player (or his equipment) initiates contact with the opposing crowd. Neither have been quite to the level of the Ron Artest Interactive Fan Experience*, but some are making it out to be a Thunder-related problem.

The situation reminds me of how Matthew Dellavedova has been getting pilloried as a dirty player by people unfamiliar with sports (and a media that likes creating narratives) after an event where Al Horford yanked him backwards over a player who had fallen, then Horford elbow-dropped him because when Dellavedova fell over Horford’s teammate, he had the temerity to fall into Horford’s legs (of course, this is what happens when a guy is pulling you toward him and you fall backwards over someone).

In this weekend’s game of Opposing Fans vs. Portland Thunder, Thunder wide receiver V’Keon Lacey caught a pass and turned the play upfield, where he was pulled into the wall by three or four Predators fans. After they successfully pulled him into the wall, stopping the play, one continued to hold him while another fan aggressively ripped at the ball. Lacey gave the guy ripping at the ball a push afterwards, getting himself ejected for the rest of the game.

You can’t call someone dirty or someone else out of control when others are the aggressors in the incidents. Dirty is Al Horford dropping an elbow to Dellavedova’s jaw (or leaping on him, then yanking on his arm and pulling him backwards until he falls over someone, for that matter). Fans are out of control when they’re reaching over the padding to tackle players.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Lacey, especially after his former teammate, Quincy Butler, got kicked off the team for actions that were more harmful and less provoked, but were also a complete accident, rather than intentional retaliation directed at a fan.

Player Quincy Butler V’Keon Lacey
Location Philadelphia Orlando
Incident Responded to a bad ejection call by throwing helmet; accidentally struck a fan. Responded to fans assaulting him on the field by pushing one; got ejected for pushing the fan.
Intentional? No Yes
Did the fan deserve it? No Yes
Damage Unknown; fan did leave game None
Reputation None; second AFL game Thunder’s top healthy WR
Result Kicked off team; anything beyond that is unknown at this point. ???

Will Lacey be fined, suspended, or even let go? Butler had zero capital built up in the league, so even though his incident was an accident, he was gone immediately. Lacey, hopefully, has built up enough goodwill that he’ll avoid a knee-jerk reaction punishment extending beyond what he’s already served.

One thing is for sure: Every one of the Predators fans involved should have been ejected from the game and have their season tickets revoked. Of course it will never happen, since front-row season tickets are expensive, the fans would want their money back, and every AFL team needs that income.

Unfortunately, this is where the league is right now – players, and the game itself, are less important to teams than a few out of control fans.

*Reference shamelessly stolen from the internet
**Thanks to shock_fanatic_06 on for finding video of the game online and thanks to Thomas O’Brien for uploading it to YouTube.