I recently revisited “Catching Hell,” the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that explored the infamous Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship game. The main storyline chronicles the immediate and irrational reaction of Cubs fans to that devastating moment where a foul ball is almost caught for a crucial out by Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, but is missed due to the reaching arms of front row guests, ultimately being tipped by the hands of guest Steve Bartman.
With no video display board in the ballpark, the swell of hostility travels through the streets outside the ballpark, through replays on radio and TV, and through phone calls from fans at home to fans in seats. Around the 52-minute mark of the film (included above), we are given a glimpse of fans reaching fever-pitch and venue security evacuating a bewildered Steve Bartman.
I lived in Chicago that year and recall most of the pop-culture aftermath; the endless replays, the commentary, local radio rants, threats, and the smash-hit Halloween costumes. Fast-forward to today, where I work with and for venue managers, and I am completely enthralled by the focus of the venue staff, and the highlights of their efforts to keep Bartman safe that are included in Alex Gibney’s film.
“I had never seen that reaction before to one fan in the ballpark, ever … There were fans jumping down from their seats, getting in our faces, trying to stop our progress.”
– Security personnel from Wrigley Field
The venue team finds themselves in that intersection of careful planning and chaos, surrounding Bartman as tension escalates, leading Bartman down a thought-out escape route, disguising him, barricading him from aggressive guests, and ultimately guiding him all the way into the personal residence of a security team member.
It’s a layer to the story, and most venue security stories, that largely goes unseen. The preparation, training, and focus that they alone bring into the unpredictable atmosphere of live events.
As a consumer of these events, this film rekindled my gratitude for the tremendous effort so many venues undertake to keep us safe. As a member of the staff at IAVM, I look at our programs like The Academy for Venue Safety & Security, our Crowd Management Conference, and the active-shooter training that we include at many of our conferences, and feel extremely proud to be a part of the shared effort by our members and colleagues to excel at keeping guests, and scapegoats, safe.