In Washington, DC, Redskins fans are mailing “Fan Cards” to team headquarters and local media outlets, renouncing their fandom as a result of the actions of owner Daniel Snyder. In Cleveland, legendary fan “Dawg Pound Mike” is encouraging Browns fans to stay out of their seats for the opening kickoff of the team’s Monday night game against the Ravens next week. And in Oakland, it’s only a matter of time before Raiders fans think of a creative way to protest the dreadful state of the Silver and Black. Fan protests are alive and well across the NFL, but they’re hardly a modern phenomenon. Take a look back at a variety of history’s sports protests and then share your own additions in the comments.
For more than a century, ticket scalpers have drawn the ire of fans hoping to attend a game for a price somewhere close to face value. In 1908, scalpers almost put a stop to the World Series. In Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era, Steven Riess writes that Chicago Mayor Fred Busse was so angry that he hadn’t received tickets to the Fall Classic between the Cubs and Tigers that he threatened to dispatch police officers to prevent fans from entering Chicago’s West Side Park because of alleged building code violations. A league-wide World Series policy prevented teams from selling tickets to individual games, so Cubs officials had sold the tickets to scalpers before making them available to the general public.
Busse eventually secured some tickets, but some equally annoyed Cubs fans boycotted the games in Chicago. Given that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since, some of those protesters might regret their decision. [Image credit: ChicagoSportsStuff.com.]
The Saints joined the NFL in 1967 and went 20 years before finishing with a winning record. The team was the laughingstock of the league, even in New Orleans. In 1980, the Saints started the year 0-9, prompting fan Robert LeCompte to produce 5,000 paper bags for fans to wear to home games. LeCompte’s bags, which provided some anonymity for Saints supporters who were too embarrassed to be associated with such a sorry team, were decorated in black and gold and labeled “Aints.” The team’s ugly record was listed below the eye holes, which naturally featured painted-on tears.
According to the New York Times, Derland Moore, who played nose tackle for the Saints from 1973 to 1985, could’ve used one of LeCompte’s paper bags when he went out in public. “We were the league’s doormats,” Moore once said. “When I went out and people would ask me if I played for the Saints, I would say no.”
The 1978 New York Giants started the season 5-3 and were within a game of the division lead when things began to fall apart, just as they always seemed to for the G-Men at the time. New York hadn’t had a winning season since 1972, so it was no surprise that fans’ frustrations bubbled over after the Giants slipped to 5-7 with a loss to division rival Philadelphia. Following that game, an ad appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger prompting disgruntled Giants fans to call a phone number. Those who did were invited to a meeting to decide how Giants fans could best exhibit their frustration with the team’s ownership. “We wanted to do something that would truly get the Giants’ ownership to take notice,” Giants fan Peter Valentine recalled in a 1987 New York Times article. “Burning a ticket? Not enough. Staying away? There are a lot of no-shows late in the season when the weather is bad. What could we do that would really get attention?”
Valentine and his fellow fed-up fans chartered a plane to fly over Giants Stadium during a December game against St. Louis. The plane pulled a banner with the message, “15 Yrs. Of Lousy Football—We’ve Had Enough.” The second part of the message was a reference to Howard Beale’s famous line in Network, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” which was released in 1977. The Giants wouldn’t win another championship until the 1986-87 season.
In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in the midst of yet another losing season, their 15th in a row. A group of fans who were tired of the team’s hapless performance organized a pre-game rally outside of PNC Park to protest the team’s ownership. The organizers encouraged fans to attend that night’s game against the Washington Nationals and to walk out in protest after the third inning. According to newspaper accounts, only a few thousand fans of the crowd of 26,959 were seen leaving their seats after the third inning and only an estimated 100 actually left the ballpark, some of them to boos from other Pirates fans. “I totally understand the fans’ frustration,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said during the game. “I respect the people who are trying to make a statement.” An unusual offensive outburst from the Pirates in the form of a six-run second inning may have persuaded some fans to remain in their seats.
In August 1989, Yankees fan Nicholas D. DeCurtis wrote a letter to the editor of Newsday. His message? Boycott the Yankees. “Realistically, the only way that baseball can perhaps rid itself of this mean-spirited, greedy, egomaniac is if we fans boycott all future games at Yankee Stadium and send the Boss a message—loud and clear—that we are not returning until he unloads the Bronx Bombers, a once-proud and great franchise.” The Boss, of course, was George Steinbrenner, longtime meddlesome owner of the Yankees. Twenty years later, the Steinbrenner family still runs baseball’s proudest franchise and the Yankees have added five more World Series titles to their legacy. Now, more often than not, it’s the fans of other teams who write the letters protesting New York’s free-spending owners.
Facing the prospects of baseball strike in 2002, less than a decade after baseball’s last work stoppage, a group of fans across the county organized a National Fan Boycott on July 11, the day that the league resumed play after the All-Star Break. Web sites, including mlbfanstrike.com, were launched to promote the boycott, which urged fans to refrain from going to games, watching games, and purchasing MLB merchandise. “It’s time for the fans to take back the game,” Don Wadewitz, one of the organizers, told reporters. “If baseball stops again, a lot of fans aren’t coming back this time. We are fed up.” The protest was perhaps the most organized in the history of baseball, thanks to the advent of the Internet, but the boycott didn’t exactly go as planned. As one reporter wrote in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “…attendance around the majors was affected. It jumped by 2,000 per game. So much for replacing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ with The Funeral March.”
Some of the most effective sports protests take place across the pond among fans of European soccer teams. Recently, fans of the Halesowen Town FC promised to stay away from home matches until Morrell Maison and Kelly Gentles relinquished control of the team. It’s one thing to boycott a dreadful team and quite another to boycott a winner. Halesowen fans continued the boycott despite the club’s strong start to the season, helping put the club in a debt of more than 400,000 pounds. “People are still adamant they won’t support the club until Maison is gone,” said Gary Willets, one of the leaders of the boycott. “It’s a shame because we’re doing well and it would be nice to watch the team. But everyone is looking at the big picture right now.” The boycott was lifted in October after two groups made bids to purchase the club.
Sometimes a team has to be torn down before it can be good again. That’s what Philadelphia football fan Frank Sheppard thought of the hometown Eagles in 1968. “The really loyal fans of the Eagles do hope for a bad day,” said Sheppard, who helped organize a fan boycott for a home game against New Orleans after the Eagles started the season 1-11. Sheppard and other fans had grown so frustrated with team owner Jerry Wolman and coach-general manager Joe Kuharich that they took out ads in the local newspapers calling for their dismissal. “To hope for a loss is the best thing an Eagles’ fan could do,” Sheppard said before the game against the Saints. The boycott was a flop—57, 128 fans showed up—and the Eagles won, taking them out of the running to finish with the league’s worst record and the right to the No. 1 draft pick, which Buffalo would use to select O.J. Simpson.
Without fail, when All-Star teams are announced, fans, coaches, and sportswriters will clamor that someone was snubbed. In the case of the 2000 WNBA season, that someone was Phoenix Mercury center Brandy Reed. Mercury fans threatened to boycott the All-Star Game, which was being held in Phoenix, while Phoenix head coach Cheryl Miller grabbed a microphone following the final game before the All-Star break to encourage fans to go to the All-Star Game wearing black shirts in protest. WNBA president Val Ackerman stepped in and added Reed, who was sixth in the league in scoring, to the West’s roster. Crisis averted. If only it worked that way in baseball.
Back in 2005, Detroit sports talk radio station WDFN held a rally dubbed the "Millen Man March" to protest Lions General Manager Matt Millen's continued employment. Fans were encouraged to wear orange, which was the color of the Cincinnati Bengals, that day's opponent. Anti-Millen sentiment wasn't limited to football. "Fire Millen" signs were spotted at the games of Detroit's other pro teams, as well as University of Michigan and Michigan State basketball games. Millen lasted another few years before being let go following an 0-3 start in 2008.
More from mental_floss…
7 Major League Baseball Stadium Icons
8 Franchise Relocations That Fell Through
Toilet Paper History: How America Convinced the World to Wipe
11 Famous Actors and the Big TV Roles They Turned Down
Ben & Jerry’s Bagels? The Original Plans of 10 Fast Food Joints
What Happens to the Losing Team’s Championship Shirts?
31 Unbelievable High School Mascots