Tom Sorensen

If you’ve got to stand for something, make it an exciting NFL game, not a right hook

The most famous punches thrown in Charlotte in a decade were thrown not in a boxing ring at Grady Cole Center or CenterStage@NODA. They were thrown at the Carolina Panthers-Philadelphia Eagles game last week at Bank of America Stadium.

The perpetrator was arrested. According to a Washington Post analysis, arrests at NFL games have been trending upward since 2011.

Because of the graphic violence and the 36-year age difference between 26-year-old who threw the punch and the 62-year-old he hit, the Panther punch-out became an international story. I read about it in the UK’s Daily Mail.

A friend from Philadelphia who attended the game talked about how violent Charlotte fans are. She was slightly sarcastic. But she said the stereotype people apply to fans of the Eagles apply to other fan bases, too.

We’ve all offered an opinion, sometimes with a shout, sometimes with a shake of the head, about the Bank of America violence. I want to talk instead about what led to it.

The 36-year-old and the woman he was with stood the entire game. The 62-year-old asked them to sit.

I don’t understand standing for no other reason than to stand. I’ll get up when I’m moved by a play. Then I sit. But to stand when the game begins and to remain standing until you leave accomplishes what?

The phenomenon is broader than sports. My favorite singer of all time is Robert Plant, and I last saw him in 2011 at Ovens Auditorium. Robert walked onto the stage and the man in front of me stood up.

The man did not appear to be in good shape, and he was old. To put his age in perspective, he was as least as old as me. To put his age in perspective, he was old enough to go on tour with the Eagles.

So what did the man in front of me get out of it? Did he want to show Plant that he supported him? Since the fan already was there, Robert might have inferred that. We had good seats. Standing wasn’t going to improve the man’s perspective.

Some people want to be part of an event. Maybe standing makes them feel closer. Maybe since they paid for the ticket they feel entitled to do anything they choose. Maybe they think they’re supposed to stand.

The Carolina-Philadelphia game Thursday was big-time – national TV, two 4-1 teams, beneath the lights in downtown Charlotte. Maybe the violent fan that stood the entire game wanted nothing more than to inspire his team. He wore a Cam Newton jersey. Maybe he wanted to inspire Newton.

I asked Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera two summers ago if there was one Panther more than any other who gets excited before a game. I figured there were several candidates. There was one.

“Cam,” Rivera immediately said.

So let’s review. Thursday night. Charlotte. Loud crowd. Big game. Bright lights. But what if Newton wasn’t into it? What if, as he ran onto the field, he said, “You know, I just can’t get excited about this one”?

Then he looked up and saw a man and a woman standing.

And he said, “Whoa, I changed my mind. Let’s get this started!”

And then what if Santa Claus and the Eastern Bunny showed up at Bank of America Stadium with the Tooth Fairy and the Great Pumpkin and Han Solo and Captain James T. Kirk. And what if when the game ended Han and Kirk flew everybody away in a great big spaceship to a land where a man doesn’t throw a series of straight rights at an older guy because the older guy asks him to sit? Or, heck, what if the older guy doesn’t have to ask?

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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