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June, 2000.  A well-publicized fight in the wee hours following a Sox game leads to yet another media feeding frenzy.  WSI's Leonard Pierce offered this advice to on-air radio personalities, members of Chicago's media, and baseball fans in general.
Safety Concerns at Comiskey?

by Leonard Pierce

A Chicago sports radio talk show host, Bill Simonson was involved in a fight just a few blocks north of Comiskey Park following the June 9 game.  The papers and airwaves are again filled with questions about the safety of fans attending games in the neighborhood surrounding Comiskey Park.  Sox fan Leonard Pierce gives his perspective on security, street smarts, racism, and stereotypes.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and so too is reaching broad conclusions as the media inevitably will on this story. 

The headlines of the assault on Bill Simonson, host of ESPN Radio's "The Huge Show", couldn't have come at a worse time, and it's the last thing we Sox fans need to happen.  The team is playing exceptional ball and the crowds are returning to the ballpark for the first time in years.  Make no mistake:  Simonson is the victim here and deserves a full airing of his grievances with the local Chicago police precinct.  What I'm focusing on is the wider story of Comiskey safety.  This story is big; although it's been with us for years, the Simonson attack simply places it on the media's front burner due to his role as a member of the media.  Moving quickly to chew on this fresh meat, the press again reaffirms the omnipresent racism and classism that our great city is sick with.  What a terrible event for those actually hurt in the fight, but perhaps the biggest losers of all are those that had nothing to do with it -- Sox fans.

Comiskey safety has been a simmering topic for years amongst Sox fans and Chicagoans in general.  The news of Simonson's attack has broken open the whole debate; it has touched off a lot of talk amongst my friends and I, both Chicagoans and ex-Chicagoans.  Here are a few personal observations:

*  First, the idea that people should, in general, be afraid of going to White Sox Park with their families is foolish.  The layout is clean and efficient, specifically designed to prevent trouble.  On game days the neighborhood is blanketed with traffic cops and private security (many of whom are well-trained off-duty police).  Transportation is easy too, with the elevated train station a block away along with a ten-lane expressway.  I've never had one bit of trouble -- ever.  Sure, most of the Chicago police are there for traffic control, but their presence by itself makes the whole area far too dangerous for would-be trouble makers.  It's a big city and much safer marks can be found far away from the ballpark.  Thieves and gangs know that; so should all of Chicago's baseball fans.  

*  Second, though he is definitely the aggrieved party, Simonson may have played a role in his own downfall.  I'm certainly not blaming the victim (although we know big fat nothing about the case other than what he has told us), but the fact is, there's no neighborhood in all of Chicago (or New York, or LA, or in any big city) where you wouldn't feel somewhat ill at ease walking around past midnight -- especially if you are wasted.  Simonson admits to consuming 6-7 beers, enough to hamper anyone's good judgment.  I myself try not to walk around my neighborhood too much in the wee hours of the morning, and (a) I live in a "good" neighborhood and (b) I'm pretty intimidating to a lot of people.  The fact is, South Side or no, you're tempting fate by walking the streets of the big city past midnight in an intoxicated state.

*  It doesn't hurt to follow the U.S. Marine Corps' instruction:  "Be Smart, Know Your Surroundings, and Act Like the Natives."  I went to buy some smokes in the Robert Taylor Homes (the notorious public housing high-rises) just east of Comiskey before Saturday's game; despite having a guy who thought I was "white" offer to call me a cab (making me feel really, really lame and yuppified) I didn't feel at all threatened.  However, I know the south side, I know Bridgeport, and I know where I can and can't go and what I can and can't do. It was the same deal when I lived in the north side neighborhood of Lakeview and was deep in Latin Kings turf.  I knew them, I liked them, and they didn't screw with me as long as I played by the right rules.  In places I don't know, I get in and out quickly and quietly.  I'm willing to bet Simonson didn't do this, but instead went deep into Bridgeport and acted like he was still within walking distance of his downtown high-rise.  Indeed, he has since confirmed that the fight broke out when he intervened between some kids who appeared ready to fight each other.  You're drunk, amongst belligerent strangers in a strange neighborhood -- and now you feel qualified to mediate a fight?  If you're looking for a Good Samaritan award, call a cop.  Don't be surprised if their behavior towards you isn't what you expected. 

*  Finally, I can't help but note the not-so-subtle racial and class elements that inevitably accompanies all this Wrigley vs. Comiskey hype, our ballpark of course being the more "dangerous" one.  And yet, as everyone knows (or least should know) it's at Wrigley Field that you're more likely to get your car vandalized, get shoved around by some shirtless frat-boy rowdy, have beer or piss dumped on your head, get fag-bashed, or have some yahoo scream threats at you from an alleyway.  There simply isn't a large security force to prevent it, because Wrigley's neighborhood was never intended to handle the swarm of fans who descend upon it each game day -- or worse, game night.  Police reports show that there have been only 4 serious crimes reported in Comiskey’s immediate neighborhood since opening day, contrasted with 25 in Wrigleyville!  In spite of this, it's White Sox Park's neighborhood that's portrayed as  "troubled" and a "bad area".  Could this be because Wrigley is in an affluent, upper middle-class white neighborhood, while Comiskey is in a poor, working-class black/Irish neighborhood?  

I know this much --  despite living on the north side, I have endured far more hassle near Wrigley -- especially during or after a night game -- than I ever went through at Comiskey.  But it seems when whites (especially wealthy whites) gather in groups and get rowdy, it's dismissed as boys will be boys...but if anything happens at Comiskey, people ignore the specifics and talk about gangs, and drugs, and blacks, and Mexicans, and the poor drunk Irish, and blah blah blah.  When whites talk about Comiskey safety concerns, they invariably refer to the projects south and east of the ballpark.  The Simonson attack happened north of the park in white Bridgeport, but the story's headlines (e.g. "Fan Beaten Outside Comiskey") only serve to reinforce the misplaced stereotypes.  Even Simonson and his friend Ron Bell, discussing their attackers, said that they only approached the gang of creeps who eventually attacked them because they were "well-dressed, middle-class, college-age" kids -- had they been "thugs" or "punks" (what do you think they mean by that?), they would have steered clear.

The whole sad event reminds me of an essay I wrote when Marilyn Lemak killed her children in suburban Naperville a while back.  I was infuriated by the media coverage focusing on the disbelief that such a terrible thing could happen in a rich suburban (unspoken:  white) neighborhood where people have million-dollar mortgages.  The sense of outrage that such a thing could happen there is totally absent in any article about crime in the inner city or on the south side, with the implication being clear:  when affluent whites do something violent, it's shocking and abnormal; but if blacks or poor whites do something violent, well, that's just the way they are; what do you expect?  No big deal.

The stereotypes and the media's headlines don't fit the reality of the actual event, but the damage is done just the same.  After a senseless beating, Comiskey Park is itself the victim of ignorant attacks, and we Sox fans and our team are truly the big losers.


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