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Feelings of Insecurity

Times Staff Writer

She would prefer to say all the arrangements are wonderful, that everyone is doing their very best, and that she feels perfectly secure on and around a tennis court.

Monica Seles can say none of those things. How could she?

Today is the 10th anniversary of the event that shattered her world, the day in Hamburg, Germany, when an unemployed lathe worker named Guenther Parche made his way to courtside, came up behind Seles during a changeover, and stabbed her in the back with a five-inch knife.

The attack forever transformed the relationship between athletes and the public.

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Seles would never consider the court a safe haven again, sentiment most certainly shared by Major League Baseball players, coaches and umpires in light of several incidents this month when fans have come onto the field or struck players with objects thrown from the stands.

Seles returned to the tour in 1995, and since then has won at least one title each year. But of her nine Grand Slam singles titles, just one came after the attack.

Though security has been dramatically increased on a global basis because of her case -- not only in tennis -- Seles said during a March news conference at a tournament in Miami that not enough has been done.

“I don’t feel it’s sufficient, in a lot of ways,” she said. “Our accessibility to people, [they can] get to us on site, in matches, after matches, and not just me. I think it’s any of the high-profile players.”

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Serena Williams spent the better part of 2002 accompanied by a bodyguard because of persistent threats from a German stalker who was later apprehended by authorities at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in New York. Williams’ bodyguard even accompanied her to interviews with small groups of journalists.

The previous year, Martina Hingis, another former No. 1 player, was forced to endure a circus-like atmosphere in testifying against an alleged stalker, who was sentenced to two years in a Florida jail.

Seles’ statements aren’t surprising, not only considering her history, but what has happened since the Parche attack. At the 2001 Hopman Cup in Perth, she was sitting courtside after a match when a fan eluded security guards, got onto the court, tapped Seles on the back, startling her, and asked for an autograph.

Of late, fan-athlete interactions have not ended in such a benign way. The 10th anniversary of the attack on Seles comes in a month of several incidents, mere days apart, involving fan violence at Major League Baseball games:

* April 15, Chicago: At U.S. Cellular Field, a fan got on the field and tried to tackle umpire Laz Diaz, a former Marine. The game was between the White Sox and Royals -- the same teams playing when a father and son duo attacked Kansas City first-base coach Tom Gamboa, in September at the same venue.

* April 19, Oakland: A 24-year-old fan allegedly hit right fielder Carl Everett of the Texas Rangers in the back of the head, throwing a cell phone at him from the second deck. Everett was not hurt, but the individual was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

* April 24, Chicago. Padre third baseman Sean Burroughs said a cell phone, thrown from the stands at Wrigley Field, hit him on the right foot in the eighth inning.

A security guard admitted throwing it and apologized, saying he got angry and threw a friend’s phone. Misdemeanor charges are pending.

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Lawmakers are considering new legislation to penalize such actions by fans.

Two bills in California were in the works for months before these recent national incidents -- separate proposals by Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) and Assemblyman Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello).

Both were heard by the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday in Sacramento.

Under Cohn’s proposal, AB 245, fans at professional sporting events would face a $1,000 fine and/or a jail term up to six months for throwing objects at other fans or players. It was amended in committee on Tuesday and changed from a misdemeanor to an infraction, which would carry a penalty of a $250 fine.

“I’ve been quite disturbed watching fan behavior at all kind of games over the last year or so, and it seems to be escalating,” Cohn said.

“We need to highlight and the state legislature needs to go on record in introducing legislation and passing legislation specifically to do with fan violence.”

There is another element beyond the climate of the sporting event itself.

“We need to remember there are an awful lot of kids that watch these events on TV, and it sends the wrong signal,” she said. “If it’s acceptable there, it then becomes acceptable other places.”

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Calderon’s proposal, AB 259, introduced Feb. 4, would penalize assault or battery on an official, participant or spectator at a public recreational facility.

The penalty could include up to 12 hours of anger-management counseling. It received the support of the seven-member Public Safety Committee.

“It’s out of control,” Calderon said of the recent cases of fan violence. "[The bill] is not a cure for cancer, but we want to make some progress in the direction of the problem.”

There are no easy solutions, even 10 years after the Seles incident. The German legal system had none in the eyes of Seles; her attacker twice received suspended sentences and is now free and reportedly living with an aunt in Germany.

Aside from legal remedies, methods of controlling fans at games -- in Europe, they are separated from players by barriers -- may not offer a complete answer, either.

“Local government is going to have to find a way to make people feel safe,” Calderon said.

“A barrier is not going to stop violent behavior within the audience -- that’s why I believe you have to treat the symptom, you can’t do it preventively.”

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Net Impact

Ten years ago today, Monica Seles’ career was halted after she was stabbed at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany. After a 27-month hiatus, she returned to tennis. A look at her highlights before the stabbing and after:

BEFORE APRIL 30, 1993

* No. 1 in the world in 1991 and ’92 after winning Australian, French and U.S. Opens both years.

* Won eight Grand Slams (three Australian Opens, three French Opens and two U.S. Opens).

* Won 30 singles titles in first five years.

AFTER APRIL 30, 1993

* After spending remainder of 1993, all of 1994 and most of 1995 recovering, she returned to tennis and won 1995 Canadian Open.

* Won 1996 Australian Open.

* Has won 23 WTA tournaments (53 for her career).


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