In Wake of Beckham Incident, Players and Fans Need to Take Step Back Athletes are used to being booed. It’s part of the job description.

But just because fans buy tickets to sporting events doesn’t mean they can say whatever they want in the stands. There is a line that should not be crossed. Players follow a trash-talking code, and fans should adhere to certain heckling guidelines.

Comments about a person’s family — anyone on someone’s genealogical tree — are off limits.

The same goes for race and religion.

And obscene personal attacks.

Still, fans have a right to express themselves. It’s called the First Amendment. Take that away, and we might as well be living in Iran.

That’s why players need skin like a rhinoceros to survive in the celebrity jungle.

David Beckham seems to have forgotten this during his time across the pond. In his first game back with the Los Angeles Galaxy after a five-month loan to AC Milan, Beckham (No. 23) let criticism from the “L.A. Riot Squad” — the Galaxy’s merry band of revelers — get the better of him during an exhibition against the Italian team.

Go Home Fraud 23.

Here Before. Here After. Here Despite 23.

23: Repent.

Those were the signs fans hung in mockery of the soccer superstar, who sought a permanent transfer from the Galaxy to AC Milan and hopes to return to the Serie A club next season. First, he has to finish this MLS season, but he almost didn’t make it through Sunday’s game. At halftime, before heading to the locker room, Beckham confronted the fans giving him the business and allegedly challenged the angry crowd to a fight.

One fan leapt out of the stands and was arrested for trespassing. The hardest hit Beckham took was to his reputation. It wasn’t the first time — in 2000, he flipped English fans the bird after a loss to Portugal. While this incident wasn’t the Malice at the Palace, it wasn’t a Manny lovefest, either.

Nobody wants to relive another ugly brawl involving players and fans. Anyone who loves sports doesn’t want to risk life and limb at the old ballgame. We’ve come a long way from that dark day in sports history. Now is not the time for player and fan behavior to regress.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. 

Players need to rise above the moments of abuse, focus on dismantling the opposition and not let the yahoos inside their kitchens. Fans must avoid the low blows, voice their opinions in an appropriate manner and take the high road.

Call it civil entertainment — the sign of an evolved society.

Soccer might rank somewhere between curling and synchronized swimming on ideas of a good time for many American sports fans, but with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa less than a year away, we can all learn something from the beautiful game.

Whether playing or watching, show some class.