Causes of Spectator Violence in Sports
Causes of Spectator Violence in Sports As a season ticket holder for all Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles home games, I’ve seen my fair share of spectator violence over the years. The fact that Philadelphia has a reputation of having some of the rowdiest fans in sports has given me the unfortunate ability to witness spectator violence right before my eyes. There are many different types of spectator violence, as well as many different causes for them. As spectators, we must not only think about the instant repercussions of this violence, but we also need to think about the future repercussions of these actions.
As spectator violence is becoming more prevalent in sports, the children spectators are going to start to believe that this is normal, and the violence will continue to worsen. In order to begin to rectify this issue of spectator violence, we must first identify the causes and warning signs.
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There are many different types of spectator violence. According to Tamara Madensen and John Eck, authors of “The Problem of Spectator Violence in Stadiums, these are the six most common forms of spectator aggression: 1. Verbal – singing, chanting, taunting, etc. . Gesturing – signaling to others with threatening or obscene motions. 3. “Missile” throwing – throwing items such as food, drinks, bricks, bottles, broken seats, and cell phones at particular or random targets 4. Swarming – rushing the field or court trying to gain entry, typically resulting in trampling of spectators 5. Property Destruction – either personal property or venue property 6. Physical – spitting, kicking, punching, stabbings, and shootings (1-2) All of these types of spectator violence can be highly dangerous.
The “Missile” throwing and the physical violence are the most prevalent. Spectators are not always the only participants in these altercations. There have been instances where stadium personnel or athletes have been involved in altercations with fans. When this occurs, the wrong message is sent out to the rest of the spectators. The second an athlete or security personnel become involved in an altercation, the situation immediately worsens because fans begin to think it is acceptable. According to Stacey Hall, Associate Director of the
National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, “there are six event characteristics associated with spectator violence, including alcohol intoxication and availability, crowd demographics, event significance, performance quality, crowding, and performer behavior during duration of the event”(18). In order to come with a solution to spectator violence, it is important to identify the causes of these altercations. The most common cause of spectator violence in sports is alcohol intoxication. Everywhere you look in a professional sports stadium, you will see a kiosk, vendor, or bar selling alcohol.
We all know that alcohol intoxication leads to poor decision making. When thousands of passionate fans are crammed together in an arena with alcohol being consumed, altercations are bound to occur. Often times, spectators arrive to the game early and “tailgate” with large quantities of alcohol and food to get ready for the game. If the Eagles are playing a 4PM football game, you will find hundreds of spectators in the parking lot at 8AM with kegs full of beer and music playing loudly. Drinking all day, along with watching a violent sport like football often times leads to violence. An angry, drunken sports fan, aggravated by the difficulty of getting to the event, parking, dealing with crowds, stirred up by a support group of pals, is easily provoked by the very presence of other violent behavior, namely that on the field,” Stanley Cheren, M. D. , of the Boston University School of Medicine wrote in “The Psychiatric Perspective: Psychological Aspects of Violence in Sports” in the February 1981 issue of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues (Appelson 404). The aggression that many spectators exhibit is often times connected to the aggression that they witness in the sport they are watching.
It is no coincidence that the sports that have a higher level of aggression also have more incidents involving spectator violence. Hockey, Soccer, and Football are the three sports where we hear about the most fights and altercations in the stands. Yes, there are incidents in other sports such as Basketball and Baseball, but they are few and far between. When fans see the athletes acting aggressively, it quickly elevates the aggression level in the stands (Adamson 404). Hockey is the only sport where fighting is actually NOT frowned upon amongst the athletes.
In fact, it’s almost glorified. If you ever watch a sporting event, other than hockey, where a fight breaks out or there is an altercation in the stands, the camera quickly pans away from it, or the station goes to commercial. In hockey, the announcers begin announcing the fight as if it were a boxing match. It’s no coincidence that hockey also sees a large number of violent interactions amongst fans in the stands. Another issue that tends to lead to aggression and violence in the stands is the overcrowding of stadiums and the seating arrangements.
Often times, fans have spent time in traffic on their way to the event. They’ve spent time finding a parking spot and waited in line while trying to get into the stadium. They have most likely already had a few alcoholic beverages as well. All of these small “speedbumps” on the way to the event can tend to frustrate the spectators. Combining these small annoyances with alcohol can only frustrate them more. So, when they finally make it to their seat and realize that they are almost sitting on top of the person next to them, tension levels begin to rise.
There are also venues that offer general admission tickets. These tickets don’t guarantee a seat for the spectator. There are many times where the spectator must stand for the entire event. Just as Madenson and Eck write, “One of the most consistent findings regarding higher levels of aggression in stadiums relates to the type of seating available to spectators Individual seats are related to lower violence levels, while general admission seating requires spectators to stand, often generates higher violence levels” (3).
The tight crowds, as well as lack of order in the general admission area, lead to the higher level aggression. The easy entrance and exit flow of assigned seating also helps to lower the amount of altercations amongst spectators. Just like with any other problem, knowing the cause is the first step to finding a solution. In the case of spectator violence, there are many causes. As previously stated, one of the most common causes of spectator violence is overindulgence in alcoholic beverages before/during the games. The venue should begin patrolling the parking lots for “tailgaters” before the games.
Since the parking lots are on private property, the venue has the ability to control the alcohol consumption. Once the event has begun, alcohol should only be served in plastic cups. Many overseas sporting venues have switched to plastic cups in order to minimize the use of glass bottles and even plastic bottles as dangerous missiles. All sports should increase the penalties for fighting during the game. Instead of small fines which barely put a dent in the athletes’ pocket, each league should institute large fines and suspensions without pay for fighting.
This will definitely lower the amount of fights and hopefully will lessen the levels of aggression in the stands. As far as the seating situation in venues, there is not going to be a way to get rid of the general admission area. However, limiting the amount of general admission tickets sold will leave more room in the general admission area for the spectators. This will lower aggression levels and keep the spectators from getting to crowded. Sporting events are supposed to be a stress-reliever for spectators in today’s busy world. We should not have to worry about our safety while at these events.
We spend a large amount of money for our tickets and part of this fee should be going towards security in the stadium. There are always going to be isolated events anytime a large group of strangers get together, however, making sure all precautions are taken is the most that we can ask of the venue. Spectator violence can become deadly, and in most situations can be easily prevented with just a few precautions. Works Cited Appleson, Gail. “Spectator Violence: What they see is what they do?. ” American Bar Association Journal 68. 4 (1982): 404. Business Source Corporate.