x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fans are off limits to player violence

Rick Rypien crossed one of the uncrossable lines in sport when he grabbed a fan by the jersey in Minnesota last week. Regardless of what the fan said, there is no excuse for getting physical.

It does not happen often, but when it does … well, you had better watch out for the backlash.

Rick Rypien, the Vancouver Canucks role player, crossed one of the uncrossable lines in sport when he grabbed a fan by the jersey in Minnesota last week. Rypien accosted the Wild supporter – who was seated in the first row behind Vancouver's bench, near a tunnel that Rypien was walking down after being ejected from the game – for only a second.

Regardless of what the fan said – he claims it was an innocuous "way to be professional" comment that set off Rypien – there is no excuse for getting physical.

The optics of player-on-fan violence is something that no professional sports leagues want to deal with, nor should they have to.

Rypien had barely let go of the fan's jersey before the puck pundits were predicting a lengthy suspension and debating the fan-player parameters.

The best guess was that Rypien would be banned for anywhere from 10 to 20 games as the league would want to send a forceful message that you cannot lay a finger on the paying customers.

In the end, Rypien will miss seven games. It is a sensible sentence, one that communicates to players and fans alike that the NHL will not put up with over-the-line behaviour.

At the same time, it is not an over-reaction, as a 20-game ban would have been. Rypien crossed the line - just - and he immediately realised and let go of the fan. The punishment fits the crime, and the message has been sent.

smccaig@thenational.ae