Offsides: Bill raising penalties for interrupting live sports, concerts streaks to Senate floor
Image via AP.

Yuri Andrade AP Tampa Bay
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Twin bills hiking penalties for fans who run onto football fields and concert stages — and even steeper punishments for those who pay them — are now nearing floor votes in the Senate and House.

The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously for SB 764. The bill would make running uninvited into an area where a live sports or entertainment event is ongoing a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,500 in fines and a year in jail.

The same penalty would apply to people who throw objects onto a field or stage, or attempt to strike players, coaches or entertainers. Any money gained from those interruptions would be subject to seizure by the state.

The legislation also would add language to state law allowing any person or business that pays someone to interrupt a live event to be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and five years in prison for the first offense.

That charge would not apply to someone who merely encourages or dares someone act the fool for attention.

“In recent years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of incidents in which a person interrupts a sporting event by running onto the field or interrupts a concert or performance by jumping onto a stage. At the same time, other people and some companies have encouraged or incentivized this behavior,” said Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon, the bill’s sponsor.

Under current state law, people who interfere with live sports or entertainment events are subject to charges of simple trespassing and fines of $500 or less. There is no ban on the books presently for incentivizing such behavior.

The Senate Rules Committee was the last panel SB 764 faced before going to a full chamber vote. An identical House version of the measure (HB 319) by Monteverde Republican Rep. Taylor Yarkosky is now also poised for full consideration.

Asked by St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson would be charged if a person released an animal onto the field during a game — the person or the animal — Simon indicated the animal would be free of liability.

“What a fantastic question,” he said, laughing. “We’re going to charge dogs or cats for running onto the field — or squirrels.”

Disrupting events and harassing players to gain brief notoriety are hardly new phenomena. Records of people doing so in the nude — an act called streaking — date back to 1799.

But there’s been a disturbing rise in a few less time-tested trends: people paying fans online to run onto fields and stages, fans setting up conditions so they’ll make money off the misdeed, and players and entertainers taking it upon themselves to stop them.

Take the Super Bowl in 2021, said Simon, a former NFL player. That year, Boca Raton man Yuri Andrade interrupted the event in Tampa and later claimed to have done so after placing a $50,000 wager that the game would have a streaker.

Police charged Andrade with misdemeanor trespassing and booked him into county jail, but he got out a day later. He faced a maximum penalty of $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail.

Instead, Simon said, Andrade’s “penalty for breaking the law was 100 hours of community service.”

Andrade’s brief brush with fame earned him verification on Instagram, where he has close to 200,000 followers.

In that case, no one was physically hurt. But it happens. In January 2022, a Kansas City Chiefs fan interrupted a game on a $1,000 TikTok bet. The incident went viral when Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs knocked him down.

A similar instance occurred Oct. 3, when Bobby Wagner of the Los Angeles Rams tackled a gamegoer at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. That person and the animal rights group he was protesting for, Direct Action Everywhere, later filed a police report accusing Wagner and fellow Rams linebacker Takk McKinley, who helped Wagner in taking down the fan, of “blatant assault.”

Sometimes it impacts the wrong person, like in July last year, when a security guard accidentally hit Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello while chasing down a fan who jumped on stage in Canada.

“These athletes (and entertainers) are now getting roped into this,” Yarkosky said while discussing his bill last month. “We’re seeing in the news that they’re taking people down. They’re getting injured, and to add insult to injury, then these perpetrators are suing the premises, the owners of the arenas, they’re suing the athletes, and it’s just out of control.”

Yarkosky clarified that the bill is not meant to target celebratory traditions in sports, including when people run onto a field after a game to rejoice in a victory. To ensure that sort of thing isn’t affected, the bill’s amended language specifies that the penalties apply only between when a venue opens to the public for an event and at the conclusion of the game or performance.

If enacted and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the legislation would become law Oct. 1.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Dr. Franklin Waters

    March 30, 2023 at 2:15 pm

    Again, this state government has time for stuff like this, but not for addressing insurance rates, the high cost of living, and Florida’s incredibly high rate of inflation.

    Inflation in Florida, under DeSantis, is some of the highest in the country. But whatever. Lets waste time going after a complete non-issue like streakers. Only in Florida.

Comments are closed.


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