“To live is to war with trolls”

– Henrik Ibsen

With that quote, you’d think Mr. Ibsen to be the latest social media sensation, instead of the Norwegian playwright who wrote Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler, and many other classics before passing away 115 years ago. Safe to say, there are some things that time doesn’t seem to affect much. Apparently trolls and the warring they create are not new to our era or even our sphere.

Two weeks ago, when LeBron James was heckled by a courtside fan in Atlanta, said fan and her contingent were eventually escorted from a mostly-empty arena due to their extreme lack of decorum. The entire incident was treated with the requisite amount of humor after the fact, but for “Courtside Karen” and her group, the whole thing was no laughing matter. The proximity of NBA fans to the players has often been a hotbed, and with it a point of concern and contention that has occasionally made such interactions far more troubling.

The passions with which an organization and fan base can become incensed can create a quick and immediate flashpoint, whether between athletes and their peers, fans and athletes, or fans and opposing fans. Having been lucky to be a part of home game security for the Denver Broncos for two seasons gave an unfortunately up-close-and-personal view of the same. When those tempers start to really rise, you end up with situations so dire they bear names that stick. The Malice at the Palace, Ten Cent Beer Night, and the Nika Riots are all too familiar.

Excepting maybe that last one. Assuming you weren’t hanging around in Constantinople 1,500 years ago, you may have missed out on the Nika riots, in which fans of competing chariot racing teams got into a fight so brutal as to last a week and a half and claim over 30,000 lives. An ancient week-and-a-half long pissing match ended up costing nearly as many casualties as the American Revolutionary War. Soccer hooligans have nothing on those Constantinoplers… Constantinoplites… yeah. Trolls at war indeed, and long before Mr. Ibsen described it so aptly.

Colorado sports are also no stranger to such behaviors, whether the memorable 10,000+ fans that rioted after the first Denver Broncos Championship, the NBA’s last brawl, or the now-inexorable link between Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi. One-on-one, or at scale, the passions these competitions engender sometimes bring out the very worst in ourselves, and we show it for all the world to see.

In Justine Gubar’s book, “Fanatics: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan”, she examines the dark side of fanatics tendencies, and how we continue to engender more and more reasons to behave badly rather than behave at all. Gubar became fascinated with the topic in 2011, while on assignment by ESPN to investigate NCAA violations by a prominent school. When a booster with a radio show learned of the reason for Gubar’s local visit, he broadcast her purpose, name, and hotel location. After getting past the experience of being harassed, threatened, and stalked, Gubar became fascinated by the parts of of us that might make us act out so strongly. That same year, there had been several shocking moments of violence surrounding sport, like a preseason football contest between the 49ers and Raiders, and another after an Opening Day baseball game between the Dodgers and Giants. In the ten years since the book has been published, the list of incidents only mounts, and no professional league has gone unscathed by such behaviors.

It’s an issue that permeates our daily lives, as your brand of politics, pundits, religion, or brand loyalty seemingly all can incite enough passion from the person sitting across the aisle to unleash their very worst, even if they agree with you on 99% of any other things you might discuss. Show up in the enemy jersey, and apparently you’re only exacerbating the issue.

Surely this side of us cannot continue along this arc. What used to be an exception often seems to be becoming more and more the rule. The awards and notice for instances of sportsmanship and decency seem to not only be fewer and further between, but receiving far less attention than the tidal wave of boorishness our click-and-monetize society has proven we’re truly longing for. When we’re finally all allowed back out into the sunlight after this pandemic, will our time apart have taught us anything about how much better we can be, not only together, but to each other?

Hope it’s an amazing weekend, DNVR Nation. Be good to each other out there, no matter what the other guy’s jersey or bumper sticker may say. Tomorrow we live to play another day.

Mike Olson

Mike Olson is a weekly columnist for DNVR. The Colorado State University alum was born and raised in Fort Collins and has been writing about Denver sports for the last six years. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he has a healthy addiction to In-n-Out Burgers and a healthy aversion to the Lakers.