If you’re a sports fan, you’ve been there. Defending your territory and your team from those who want to bring it down. Team allegiances often pit friends against friends, or even complete strangers against one another. It’s simply imbued in our DNA. Without that passion, sports wouldn’t be anything more than another TV show, with a rotating cast of characters. But it’s not. It’s a living, breathing organism that can cause grown men to fall to their knees in sorrow, or spring to their feet in exultation. But at it’s absolute worst, in can burn and wound.
It was January 2nd, 2012. The NHL had burst onto the New Year’s sports scene several years earlier with the “Winter Classic”; open air combat between two teams, completely at the mercy of mother nature. It was an instant hit among hockey purists and newcomers to the game. This year’s game featured the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, on a sheet of ice at Citizens Bank Park in the city of brotherly love. However, love would be on short order that night.
Neal Auricchio is a Woodbridge, New Jersey police officer. He is a decorated war veteran after receiving a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in Iraq. He was at Citizens Bank Park that night with good buddy Mike Janocko, watching his Rangers topple the Flyers on the back of a two-goal game from fan favorite Mike Rupp. That really should have been it. A fan sees his team win a big game, goes home happy, no questions asked.
After the game, Neal and Mike decided to make the most of their time in Philadelphia, and decided to stop off and famed Geno’s for a classic Philly cheesesteak. Still decked out in their Ranger gear, they were in line when all of a sudden, they were sprayed in the face by a man whom Flyers fans paid to do so. Shortly thereafter, the three Flyers fans attacked Auricchio and Janocko, all while it was being captured on a bystander’s camera.
[youtube width=”590″ height=”315″ link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFrWDfNF_fw”]
The video clearly shows Auricchio, wearing the Ryan Callahan jersey, taking the worst of the attack. He was knocked unconscious by a punch to the head, and suffered broken bones in his face. Just this past week, Dennis Veteri, the only person charged in the incident, plead guilty to aggravated assault, simple assault and conspiracy. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for his participation in the incident. A pretty hefty price to pay for some sour grapes.
This incident is unfortunately one of many. Things could have ended far worse for Janocko and Auricchio. San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was brutally beaten at Dodger Stadium in March 2011, simply for wearing Giants gear. He’s still in a wheelchair and struggles with memory loss.
In the midst of the action, it’s easy to lose yourself in the game. Sports offer a welcome respite from everyday life. But it goes no farther than that. No matter if your team wins or loses, we all wake up the next day. The sun still rises, and life goes on. It should never be mistaken for a life or death matter. But there is always something to remind us that there is a dark side to being a sports fan, one that isn’t often exposed, but is shocking and horrifying when it is.
Photo Credits: CBS Philadelphia