Examining the Dangerous Behavior of Sports Fans

graphic by Amelia Coleman

graphic by Amelia Coleman

Annabel Andre and Sanwi Sarode

Soccer, ice hockey, and motorcycle racing are known to bring in the most sports riots following an event, according to Science Direct. The New York Times found these riots have often wreaked havoc in streets, resulting in injuries, sometimes deaths. Along with these riots come an influx of negative emotions, according to the National Library of Medicine, that can be intensified if betting and drinking is involved, making sport riots a dangerous affair. 


According to the Washington Post, intense fan identification with a team is the main reason sports fans feel the need to riot after a game, whether it’s in commemoration or anger. Once a fan becomes loyal to a team, researchers from Harvard University and other acclaimed colleges have found that fans tend to feel as if it’s their duty to celebrate or protest on the team’s behalf after an intense game, similar to how one feels the need to defend their own family. These researchers have also found that sport riots take place due to the tendency of fans to associate their own self-worth with the performance of the team they support, as stated by the Washington Post. As a result of this personalization, the team becomes an extension of the fan, so when a fan’s supported team loses it feels like an attack on themselves.


Sports riots are also brought on by the behavioral changes that occur when one becomes part of a mob. Once in a mob, people take on the behaviors of the people around them–known as “mob mentality–which continues to build as more people join the group. According to the New York Times, what may start as a small group of rioters could quickly triple in a short amount of time due to the causality of mob mentality, leading riots to turn dangerous. For example, following the 1984 World Series, and the Detroit Tigers victory over the San Diego Padres, fans of the Tigers rioted in celebration of their win. According to The Baltimore Sun, what started as a small group of fans outside the Tiger stadium grew to a massive crowd of over 50,000 people that began to engage in destructive behavior, overturning cars and hurling bottles or rocks at fellow members. One person was found dead, and over 80 others were injured. 


These riots are a danger to the public and should be minimized to maintain public health. According to the National Library of Medicine, it has been found that people in close proximity to sport riots have seen an increase in depression by 7%, regardless of whether those affected were actively involved in the riot. Post traumatic stress disorder also ranged from 4% to 41% in riot affected areas, which is much higher than the average percentage of approximately 3.6%, according to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health. The deterioration of public health that comes from these riots, as well as the physical injuries that occur, are simply not worth the celebration or mourning of a sport’s event. Public safety and mental health should always be a priority.


The question of whether the deleterious nature of these riots are truly justified have been debated amongst the public. The Daily Trojan stated that fans shouldn’t be blamed for riots that start off as celebrations and eventually go awry as they believe fans should have the right to celebrate or protest a team’s loss or win. They also point out that when similar behavior is initiated by political protesters over sport protesters, less people tend to oppose them. Although it’s important to acknowledge the rights of fans to be able to react to major sport events, sport protests and celebrations should be able to take place without the need for violence to ensue. According to the Daily Trojan, opponents to sports riots believe that as soon as fans become a danger to the public, or in other cases, engage with the players on the team, the fanbase has gone too far. They believe that riots, such as the Philadelphia riot following the Eagles’ victory over the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl which resulted in vandalized buildings and fires across the city, should be condemned. 


Additionally, fans’ intense connection to sports teams can do more damage than just taking the form of riots; it can also often result in domestic abuse. Many studies across the world, including the United States, Canada, and England, have shown that reported abuse cases increase after sporting events. A study from Lancaster University in 2013 found domestic violence reports in northwestern England rose 38% after England’s national soccer team lost and rose 26% even if they won. It is still important to consider these cases though and understand that sporting events are often used as an excuse to justify abusers actions. Domestic violence is often thought of as physical, but can also be more about control, such as an abuser preventing their partner from entering the room they are in when they’re watching sports. 


Sports and violence have been connected for a long time, whether the sport itself is violent in nature or the outcomes affecting fans to the point in which they cause dangerous riots or domestic abuse. These behaviors are psychologically linked to a fan’s devotion and often justified by that. Although the connection between violence and sports has been viewed as relatively normal for years, it’s time for people, stadiums, and sports networks to advocate for a change to protect their fans and their families.