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DO I HAVE A CASE?

The Fan That Heckled Lebron

“You’re a bum” is one of the first “heckler phrases” that I heard when I went to a baseball game. Of course, I have been known to heckle umpires or referees with such expressions as, “If you had one good eye, you’d be a Cyclops“. If you know Greek mythology, then you know that a Cyclops only has one eye. Another thing I’ve been known to holler is, “Hey ref, you’re missing a good game”.

I start this blog out with the admission that I have been guilty, on occasion, of a bit of heckling. It has always been my belief that a certain amount of heckling is part of the experience of a game. Why else would you be called a fan, if you are not truly fanatical.

Avid NBA Washington Bullets’ fans (that’s before they were renamed the Wizards) probably remember a famous fan heckler, that used to sit right behind the opposing team, at Capitol Centre. Robin Ficker comes up as a listing when you google “Washington Bullets’ famous heckler”.

It still makes me chuckle when I think about the time that Ficker sat behind the Phoenix Suns’ bench and heckled Charles Barkley. He had a stick with a large plastic piece of broccoli hanging from it, and he just kept screaming, “Charles Broccoli, Charles Broccoli”. Barkley was so impressed with his “heckling” that he flew him out to the 1993 NBA Finals and bought Ficker a ticket, right behind the Chicago Bulls bench, to heckle Michael Jordan.

Now, dial forward to the athletes of today. It brings into question the rights of a fan, when they purchase a ticket to a sporting event. Usually, there is some kind of language on the back of the ticket that gives the facility or Stadium certain causes for removal, based on conduct of the spectator.

Causes for removal could include the expected reasons of using a laser pointer; setting off fireworks; failure to surrender a sign that might block the view of other fans; or, smoking in seating areas.

There is also usually a paragraph that includes some kind of the following: “abusive language directed toward players referees or other fans, disorderly conduct, abusive language, and public intoxication”. Does this language put a limitation on allowable heckling?

It used to be that, just hollering at players or fans, did not constitute a violation of any of those provisions. In fact, the Washington Bullets/Wizards never took action against anything that their famous heckler shouted or did, except that when they moved from Capitol Centre, to downtown D.C., and into their new home at the MCI Centre, they advised Ficker that all tickets behind the bench had already been purchased. They did provide him with the ability to still purchase season tickets. They just were not close to floor level.

On Friday night, while the Miami Heat were in Detroit, Lebron James and a fan exchanged words. (story here) James claimed that he heard the fan/heckler, mention and insult his mother.

James walked over to the fan and said, “I don’t care what you say to me. I don’t give a (expletive) what you say. But don’t be disrespectful.” The exchange took place during the first quarter and was picked up by the TV microphones. At no time was it alleged that the fan ever used any curse words.

When James said that to the fan, it was in earshot of the man’s two boys, who were also sitting court side with their father. Shortly thereafter, security advised the man that he would have to stop heckling the rest of the game, or he and his sons would be escorted from the game.

This brings us to the age old question of what you are entitled to do, when you purchase a ticket. The story does not say exactly what the man said. I suspect that the fact that he attacked James’ mother, or whatever he said, is probably considered to be going over the line from a judgment viewpoint. I’m not sure that it should qualify for cause, as a breach of his ticket purchase. The definition of heckling includes “trying to embarrass or annoy”.

I did find it interesting that no one seemed bothered that James used profanity in front of the man’s sons and also on the TV microphone. I guess that’s why Nike used to advertise that “we are all witnesses”. Maybe James believes he can do whatever he wants. Of course, no one was paying to see the heckler.


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