In my life, I’ve watched many acts of violence take place in the name of sport.
Hockey is an obvious culprit, with its fistfights and bloody noses.
However, any dedicated football fan knows the stomach-dropping feeling of seeing a player splayed out on his back after a hard hit. The fans watch as a swarm of trainers and coaches surround him, and then, amazingly, the player gets up and limps to the sidelines.
The spectators burst into applause. Today is not the day they must witness a career- or life-ending injury.
When I settled in at Memorial Stadium last Saturday, I knew a degree of violence and perhaps even injury could be part of the action. The nature of football is such that fans have come to accept this.
What I saw Saturday shocked me to the core, but it was not part of the game.
During the first half, I watched in silent fascination and horror as a state trooper sprayed a spectator in the face then whacked him repeatedly in the abdomen with a baton.
Football has its power dynamic, as does law enforcement. Linemen use the force of their bodies to down their opponents, just as police can use force to overwhelm a law-breaking citizen who won’t cooperate.
You’ll find no argument from me that the trooper Saturday believed he was doing his job, enforcing the law and preserving the peace.
According to the initial report, the unruly suspect had brought alcohol into the stadium. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree trespassing and resisting arrest.
But what I, and perhaps other fans, saw in the corner of the end zone was a man milling about, his shirt draped over his shoulder. He appeared to be intoxicated, but I never once saw him try to touch the officer who approached him.
I saw the two men standing face to face, their feet planted firmly in the turf, their bodies telegraphing their stubbornness.
I hope that I will never in my life be so intoxicated that I would amble onto the field during a football game. I would like to think that alcohol would never make me break the law or behave stupidly.
I would also like to think that a state trooper’s first move in subduing me would not be to spray me in the face, then strike me multiple times with a baton.
Just as there are rules in football, there is an implicit agreement between citizens and law enforcement officers.
We trust them to protect us from harm, and we assume they will not abuse their power to fulfill that mission.
On Saturday, the tactics used to subdue the fan seemed to exceed the severity of his crime. Unlike in football, there was no referee to blow the whistle or toss a yellow flag.
Nothing I could do on Saturday would have stopped what happened. The raw violence of it stuck with me for days. It seems to me that a penalty needs to be called here.
Does it take spray and a forceful clubbing to subdue an intoxicated man?
At least 71,000 people were at Saturday’s game, and I’d reckon a lot of them were paying attention to what happened.
Maybe some turned away, refusing to let an overeager officer and a drunken man spoil their homecoming experience.
But for those of use who watched as the confrontation unfolded, the image will likely be seared in our memories.
Taylor Combs is a graduate student at the MU School of Journalism.