Tim Howard is an American sports hero, the man who has long protected the soccer net for our national team. He's a stingy, courageous, world-class goalkeeper. He's also extremely, and excessively, volatile.
A drunk, verbally abusive fan at a sporting event is not an American hero. He or she is an American problem, a problem that's gaining strength.
A combustible temper will cost you, and it's currently costing Howard and his Colorado Rapids. He's serving a three-game suspension for an obscene verbal altercation with one fan and a brief physical altercation with another fan during and after a 3-1 April 9 loss to Kansas City.
Howard is not blameless, and he realizes this truth. He takes responsibility for his actions.
But he makes a strong point.
Fans should take responsibility for their actions, too.
"It is not OK for an apparently drunk fan to get inches away from an athlete's face and yell obscenities at them," Howard said, explaining his postgame altercation in KC.
I would add this point to the discussion:
It's not OK for drunk fans to yell obscenities at athletes from a distance, either.
During my years as a Gazette sports columnist, I've spent most of my time in the press box. This is a quiet, calm destination, where much more labor is going on than the general public would expect. Journalists are tweeting and posting on Facebook and studying statistics and pondering postgame questions. The atmosphere is similar to a typical work office.
I escape this bland box during almost every game. At Air Force, of course, the atmosphere outside the box is reserved, partially because fans at Falcon games can't walk up to a concession stand and buy alcohol.
At most Bronco games, I depart the box at halftime and take a walk around the stadium. I'm startled, every time, by the number of inebriated (and stoned) men and women I encounter. These men and women are, literally, staggering.
I'm a Denver kid, a graduate of Denver South. A couple of times, I've run into plastered friends from the old days, and they can barely put a sentence together. This is the result of a long, diligent day of drinking that started at home hours before the game and aggressively continued at Mile High.
For all you drinkers out there, don't worry. I'm not going to start a crusade to halt liquor sales at your favorite sports venue. It's profitable, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying a beer or two during a three-hour sporting event.
But let's be realistic. Heavy consumption will lead to serious trouble. Howard is fortunate. His temper was only lost for a few seconds when he tussled with that Kansas City fan. No one was injured.
It's not always that way.
In 2005, I was sitting with my two sons in the third-deck seats at a Nuggets game at Pepsi Center. (I purchased, as I always do, our tickets.) In front of us, there was a game, but there was a mind-boggling drinking display, too.
A dozen fans were guzzling alcohol. At first, they were yelling revoltingly inventive and obscene messages at the opposing team.
Later, they started yelling the same messages at each other.
A brawl ensued. Punches to the face. Blood spurting. Fans pushing other fans over seats. Mayhem in the cheap seats.
My sons, in their early teens, were thrilled by impromptu violence. I was appalled.
For once, I wanted to return to the boring quiet of the press box.