Violence is a part of North American sport. Since the era of Ancient Romans, sports have been platforms for athletes to showcase their physical strength, endurance, and skill in activities like chariot racing where violent actions against opponents are likely to occur. Spectators have also fed into this violent behavior, shouting and fighting with athletes during competition and severely injuring those around them.
According to the Romans, a fan was someone who was overly zealous while attending the chariot races. This definition of a fan is still accurate, expanding to numerous sports. Fans create an atmosphere around sports that can sway the course of the game with their chanting and energy levels, and can also distract from the game as well. Fan aggression is unprovoked hostility or attacks that occur amongst spectators. It is a result of spectators putting too much emotion into the teams and players they are rooting for. This aggression has led to fatality rates and individual fears of attending some sporting events and venues. As Sage and Eitzen note, in ancient Rome, 30,000 fans were killed after a riot that occurred at a chariot race (149). In 1969, at a World Cup series between El Salvador and Honduras, riots occurred at each of the three games causing tensions between the two countries and causing the armies to mobilize war against each other. Though these two examples are historical and extreme, fan aggression has not decreased.
The decline in on-field sportsmanship has carried off the field as well. Spectators have turned to abusive and obscene language during games when addressing opposing fans, teams, and referees whose calls are not always in their favor. College students try to outcompete other students to be the most offensive, coming up with vulgar chants and names for opposing teams and individual players. For example, while Florida State fans chant their cheer at football games, opposing teams have twisted the chant by inserting vulgar terms. Also, as a result of riots at high school and college sporting events, districts and universities have had to stop playing rivalry games and limit the number of people allowed in certain games. This is alarming because actions of fans are ruining the atmosphere of competition. Especially at the high school level, playing in rivalry games is exciting, and having the fans ruin this takes away from the point of the game. According to a poll by Sports Illustrated, “everyone who said they had been to a sporting event had witnessed one or more acts of violent behavior by fans” (149). If every fan who has ever been in the stands during a game has witnessed some violent behavior, this makes it seem normal and acceptable. Supporting certain teams should be an enjoyable activity, but with the increased risk of injury and hostility amongst fans, the fun slowly diminishes. This is alarming because sport spectatorship is a communal activity that should bring people together, and aggression is not the way to unite people.
Tragic accidents have occurred as a result of fan aggression. In 2011, two Los Angeles Dodgers fans followed three San Francisco Giants fans to their car in the parking garage, kicking, punching, and swearing at the men. One of the Giants fans was left critically injured and hospitalized after suffering a skull fracture and going into a coma for weeks. He spent two years following the accident in hospitals and rehabilitation centers and requires 24 hour a day care and attention. When the attackers appeared before the Superior Court Judge, all he could say was, “You are the biggest nightmare for people who attend public events” (Welch; 2014). The men were charged with 4-8 years in prison for assault and mayhem. This is just one recent example of how fans are feeding into the idea that aggression is an acceptable behavior on and off the field.
Game operations staff and emergency responders cannot solely be responsible for preventing violence amongst fans. The acceptance of fan aggression needs to diminish from the fan’s perspectives. Fans should not have to worry about making it home from a game safely and fear life threatening injuries while enjoying a day with their family at a sporting event.
Sage, G. H., & Eitzen, D. S. (2013). Sociology of North American sport. New York: Oxford University Press.
Welch, W. M. (2014). Two get prison for beating Giants fan at Dodger Stadium. USA Today. Retrieved from usatoday.com.