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Unruly NFL fans sent to online behavior class

Thursday - 4/19/2012, 12:45pm  ET

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Football fans fight in the stands during a preseason NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders in San Francisco. A zero tolerance policy on fan conduct will send unruly fans to an online class. San Francisco and Oakland are not yet taking part in the program. (AP/Ben Margot)

Meera Pal, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In line with its zero tolerance policy, the NFL isn't afraid to eject drunk and rowdy fans from stadiums around the country. But now unruly fans have an opportunity to repent for their sins.

Fans who are ejected from a game or banned entirely from some stadiums must enroll in a four-hour online class designed to teach proper fan behavior, in order to re-enter the stadium.

FanConductClass.com was created by licensed psychotherapist Ari Novick and is designed to "create the most enjoyable, safest environment for fans when they are attending games," he says.

The class is purely educational and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychological counseling, Novick says.

The program began in 2010 as an online alcohol awareness class designed specifically for MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Novick was contacted by Daniel DeLorenzi, director of security and safety services at the Newark-based sporting venue home to the New York Giants and New York Jets.

"From that pilot, we turned the class into more of a fan conduct class because fans who are ejected often times are ejected for alcohol-related issues, but sometime they're ejected simply for disruptive behavior that violates that stadium's code of conduct policy," Novick says.

Repentant fans looking to get back into the good graces of the NFL choose a specific stadium online and pay a $75 enrollment fee. Once they complete the class, they must submit a certificate of completion to stadium officials.

The four-hour class covers topics such as the specific code of conduct for the stadium, alcohol abuse risk factors, consequences of disruptive behavior and better communication skills.

"I think alcohol is a big contributing factor to why we see these problems break out at a specific stadium," Novick says. "I don't think it's the only reason why but it's certainly a big part of it."

In 2011, the fan conduct class spread to seven more NFL stadiums. For the 2012 season, the class will be offered to all NFL stadiums. Most stadiums have been approached already to participate, DiNunzio says.

To date, the stadiums participating in the online fan conduct classes:

  • Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots)
  • Cleveland Browns Stadium (Cleveland Browns)
  • Georgia Dome (Atlanta Falcons)
  • Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers)
  • Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts)
  • MetLife Stadium (New York Giants & New York Jets)
  • Ralph Wilson Stadium (Buffalo Bills)

"We're making sure fans are held accountable when they violate the NFL's code of conduct, which is simply a technical way of saying they're infringing on another fan's right to enjoy the game, to have the NFL game-day experience they anticipate having when they visit one of our stadiums," says Raymond DiNunzio, director of strategic security programs for the NFL.

He says fans who attend NFL games are expected not to:

  • Get overly intoxicated, drunk or disruptive
  • Use foul language
  • Make obscene gestures
  • Verbally or physically abuse other fans

DiNunzio says the online classes will be added to the league-wide "Best Practices," which are recommended to each football club.

While adopting the practice is left to the discretion of each club, DiNunzio says the league does review each club's code of conduct. Each stadium is evaluated and rated on fan conduct and stadium safety.

Annual reports are provided to club owners. Not participating in the fan conduct class may not have a penalty, but a poor club rating could result in a club-imposed penalty, DiNunzio says.

"We determined that to implement it league-wide would be a great benefit for the fan experience because we believe it is an outstanding deterrent to abusive fan behavior," he says.

Representatives from the Redskins did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

"The NFL is competing with technology for attendance at our games and we're trying to make sure games are available to the diverse population of the NFL fans. We want to make it a family-friendly environment," DiNunzio says.

The league tracks all arrests made inside and outside of the stadium, the number of fans who are ejected and the number of complaints filed.

DiNunzio says an average of 30 fans were ejected from a single game and a little more than 7,000 fans were kicked out during the 2011 season.

He adds that each stadium enforces fan bans in their own way. At MetLife Satdium, he notes there are "squads of people who wander the stadium."

"Some of those people who have attempted to return to the park and refused to take the class, they've been rooted out by the squads and arrested for trespassing," he says.

Novick says he hopes to expand the program to include other sports arenas and leagues. This year, in addition to including all football stadiums, the online classes will also be available for fans at two soccer stadiums: PPL Park and New York Red Bulls.

Of the hundreds of fans who have graduated from the online class and received a certificate of completion, Novick says he has not had any repeat offenders.

"This is all part of a bigger solution to addressing disruptive fan behavior," Novick says. "This is not the NFL's answers to all problems that happen at the stadium. It's a component or piece of how to address that very important issue.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)