Column: MLB To Enact Fan Code of ConductSeptember 7, 2017

Column: MLB To Enact Fan Code of ConductIn the aftermath of a racially charged incident at Fenway Park earlier this season, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the league would adopt a Fan Code of Conduct beginning with the 2018 season.

On May 1, in a game between Boston and Baltimore, several fans hurled racial slurs and peanuts at Orioles’ centerfielder Adam Jones, who is black. The incident was quickly denounced by the team and Jones received a standing ovation from Red Sox fans and players prior to the following night’s game.

MLB immediately began canvassing member clubs to determine what procedures were in place to address this and other incidents of inappropriate and boorish behavior. Turns out all 30 teams have some form of code of conduct that governs fan behavior at the ballpark, although the details of each vary in content, scope and enforcement. Effective next season, that will change.

Details of the universal code of conduct are yet to be determined but Manfred indicated that no recommendations will be made until MLB determines what each club is currently doing. A league source indicated that by adopting a league-wide policy, MLB is seeking to establish a set of minimum behavioral standards and consequences that are uniform across the league, something that isn’t the case today.

MLB won’t be the first professional sports league to adopt a uniform policy. In fact, they will be the last of the four Major League team sports leagues to do so. The NFL took the lead on the issue in 2008. According to the league, their fan code of conduct is “designed to set clear expectations and encourage a stadium environment that is enjoyable for all fans.” Teams are permitted to add additional provisions to the standard code based on local circumstances or preferences. At the beginning of each preseason, teams are required to communicate their code of conduct to season-ticket holders and fans through mailings, online, in-stadium signage, and other messages.

The NFL code requires fans to refrain from:

Behavior that is unruly, disruptive, or illegal in nature.
Intoxication or other signs of alcohol impairment that results in irresponsible behavior.
Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures.
Interference with the progress of the game (including throwing objects onto the field).
Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel.
Verbal or physical harassment of opposing team fans.

The policy goes on to say that, "Event patrons are responsible for their conduct as well as the conduct of their guests and/or persons occupying their seats. Stadium staff will promptly intervene to support an environment where event patrons, their guests, and other fans can enjoy the event free from the above behavior. Event patrons and guests who violate these provisions will be subject to ejection without refund and loss of ticket privileges for future games."

Specific consequences and prompt enforcement, similar to the language found in the NFL code, are the keys to any code. Without those, the words are meaningless. Other leagues agree. The NBA mandates that fans who don't comply with its standards of behavior are subject to ejection, revocation of season tickets and possible arrest or prosecution if they're found to be in violation of city ordinances. The NHL code prohibits, among other things, "abusive language or obscene gestures" under penalty of ejection.

Most MLB teams combine their fan code of conduct with policies and procedures. For example, in their Fan Code of Conduct posted at the entrance to their ballpark, the Los Angeles Dodgers include prohibitions against tailgating, smoking and bringing alcoholic beverages into the stadium, activities that would ordinarily lead to the incident endured by Jones.

On May 2, one night after Jones reported being the target of racial intolerance, the Red Sox issued a lifetime ban to a white man who was overheard using a racial slur to describe a Kenyan woman who had sung the national anthem. That’s the kind of swift, definitive action required for a fan code of conduct to be effective.