Take me out to the ball game!
Take me out with the crowd! Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I never get back!
It’s springtime, which means Baseball season is just getting started. Not only is your family planning on attending a Texas Ranger’s game next weekend, but your son just told you he wants to play little league baseball this year.
But what could Major League Baseball (or any professional sporting event) and little league have in common? Unruly fans (or parents). You know the ones – the ones whose team, or child, can do no wrong, and the umpires can do no right. The ones everyone hate to sit by, and everyone likes to beat.
These fans can have a negative effect on the children, the team, and the game as a whole. They can ruin a fun family outing or make your 7 year old feel like quitting. You find yourself wondering, is there anything you can do to combat this unruly behavior? Are there any legal consequences for their behaviors? Can you face legal consequences for failing to act?
Unfortunately, there is no law specifically aimed at the annoying spectators at little league games, or major league games for that matter. However, they may still face punishment if they cause too many problems. For example, starting fights or getting into other spectators’ faces could spell trouble for these overeager game goers.
A person can be charged with disorderly conduct if they use profane or abusive language in public, by making offensive gestures in a public place or by threatening another in a public place. Therefore, the parent or fan who is cursing at the umpire, or your child, may be committing a Class C Misdemeanor.
Simply using profane or abusive language alone is not a criminal violation, however. Remember that pesky 1st Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech? Yeah, the same one our forefathers fought for which gives us the right to speak out against injustices. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. This means the speech of those overeager spectators may be protected; just because they’re yelling obscenities or making obscene gestures doesn’t automatically make their conduct “disorderly.”
—See U.S. Const. amend. I
So what makes their conduct rise to the level of disorderly? If their words or actions tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace their conduct is considered disorderly and they are in violation of the law. Therefore, if a parent makes an offensive comment regarding a child, and it is so offensive that it causes a fight to ensue – the person who made the statement is probably exhibiting disorderly conduct.
So What if You do Nothing?
Under the law you have no legal duty to stop, or try to stop, the person causing a scene. In many instances, attempting to do so may only make things worse; trying to stop another person from causing a riot may in turn cause enough of a scene to put you at risk of being guilty of disorderly conduct.
So What Can You do?
You should be alert to the atmosphere around you. If another parent or fan is taking it too far, let someone in charge know. They are better equipped to handle the situation in an effective and low key manner. Remember that calling attention to the undesired behavior may not always be helpful. Allowing the proper people to take action can save everyone a lot of embarrassment and pain.
Also, remember that it is just a game. Whether you are watching your own child play ball, or at a big sporting event with your family, keep in mind that it’s all for fun and entertainment. No game should be worth starting a riot over.
And then, Play ball!
–Authored by Emily D. Walterscheid
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Criminal Law Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479