Sports

Stop putting athletes in danger to manufacture camera-friendly moments

Fans getting too close for comfort with Phil Mickelson on Sunday.

Fans getting too close for comfort with Phil Mickelson on Sunday.
Image: AP

Do you remember Monica Seles?

For those who don’t, she was one of the best tennis players in the world in the early 90s, having won eight Grand Slam titles by the summer of 1993. And she hadn’t even turned 20.

And then, on April 30, 1993, while competing in a match in Hamburg, Germany, a crazed fan of her rival charged the court and stabbed her in the shoulder.

It took Seles a little more than two years before she was able to return to the game, the emotional wounds greater than the physical ones. And though she did win one more Slam in 1996, her game was never the same. Stands to reason, as her life was never the same.

I bring this up because of what I saw yesterday at the PGA Championship, where fans engulfed Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka as they walked up the 18th fairway at Kiawah Island, S.C. Seeing fans swarm golfers is nothing new. Arnie’s Army marched behind Palmer in the 50s and 60s.

And of course we saw the fans swarm around Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Tour Championship.

And it’s that moment that I want to talk about. The scene was electric, and the image of thousands surrounding Tiger was something golf desperately needed. The game’s greatest player returning to prominence, and the fans completely caught up in the moment. It had the look of controlled bedlam as fans got within feet of Tiger, yet didn’t lay a finger on him.

You can’t tell me golf didn’t want that moment again with Phil. You know it absolutely did. Yet, this time, the fans overwhelmed security and got their hands on both Mickelson and Koepka. One fan grabbing Phil above the shoulders.

“I’ve never had something like that,” said Mickelson. “It was a little bit unnerving, but it was exceptionally awesome, too.”

Said Koepka, “It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one gave a shit, personally. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool.”

Translation: It wasn’t fine.

And let’s not forget that there’s still a virus out there. Having fans swarm behind golfers looks great on TV, but 2021 should have been a year it wasn’t possible.

There was a time when fans flooded baseball fields and basketball courts after teams won titles. Both MLB and the NBA put a stop to that as it clearly put players, seen plowing through out-of-control spectators, in danger. It still happens in college football from time to time, but there are two obvious differences there: College football players are wearing pads, and they’re not 50 years old. When Notre Dame fans rushed the field in South Bend last November, near the height of the pandemic, we criticized that as the bonehead move it was, too.

Golf fans are clearly rowdier today than in Arnold Palmer’s day, I don’t think there’s much debate about that. And when you throw in the growth of sports gambling throughout the country, it’s just a matter of time before something disastrous happens. When a crazed fan takes matters into his/her own hands.

The PGA had better be thinking about giving up this photo op today, before a player gets seriously hurt, or worse.

Have we all forgotten Monica Seles?

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