When Passion Turns Violent: Fan Fighting and Why it Happens


Professional athletes are known for being passionate, physical, and sometimes even violent, and their fans are known for sharing these attributes. Fans come to the game to see the big hits and fights, and sometimes they decide to imitate the violence they see on the field, court, or rink. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being passionate, some fans take their passion a step too far–when they verbally or physically abuse other fans, and sometimes even kill them. This article will take a look into some of these incidents, will attempt to explain why they happen, and will  show us how to prevent them: by increasing security in areas surrounding stadiums and limiting the amount of alcohol intake by fans.


Fan fights happen after almost every sporting event. In fact, according to USA TODAY, the NFL averaged 25 ejections and 3 arrests per week in the 2010 season. Another drastic example was after a week five NFL game this year between the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, when Rick Sells was shot to death after trying to break up a fight outside the stadium. Victoria Gunning (Sells’ sister) questioned the security at AT&T Stadium after her brother’s death: “It makes me sick and disgusted that it was allowed to continue to the point of my brother’s life. They need to have enough security for all of the people that are there.”


A week later, after a Sunday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, a Giants fan was caught on camera taunting Eagles fans outside the stadium, one of whom came up and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Fan fights aren’t specific to the NFL, though–in the MLB, a New York Mets fan was knocked to the concrete by a Los Angeles Dodgers fan after game one of the this year’s National League Division Series in Los Angeles. The fight started out as a verbal disagreement, but ended up in a hospital visit, as the Mets fan was punched in the face, fell to the concrete, and cracked his skull. This attack also drew comparisons to an incident on opening day 2011, when San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was assaulted by Dodger fans outside Dodger Stadium, and suffered serious brain damage.


Possibly the biggest example of widespread fan violence, came in 2011 after the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins. After Vancouver lost game seven of a hard fought series, and watched the visiting Bruins hoist the Cup on their home ice, Canucks fans who had been watching the game on a screen outside the stadium took to the streets, and rioting broke out. Glass was broken, stores were looted, and fires were started. Police responded with tear gas, flash bombs and batons, and in return had two of their vehicles set on fire. The downtown fan zone was deemed a riot zone by police; transit lines and bridges were also closed. John Furlong, co-chair of an investigation into the riots by the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Police, and the Province of British Columbia, blamed alcohol and thuggery for the riots.


“The night was fueled by alcohol, and there were some people who came downtown intent to do harm and cause damage, and they did it,” Furlong said. “Alcohol gave them the bravado to do kind of things they did that night.” The review also blamed the sheer size of the crowd, as 155,000 people proved too many for the undersized security team to handle. The review board recommended that liquor stores be closed, and alcohol be banned on public transit for future special events. When the smoke cleared, 57 people were treated for injury at St. Paul’s Hospital, ranging from gas injuries, to glass cuts and fractures, and even stab wounds in some cases.


So what causes fans to riot, fight and kill? Some studies say the games they’ve just been watching. Studies have shown that tendencies toward violence are higher among fans of inherently violent sports, while fans of non-violent sports have lower violent tendencies. Many sports fans also appreciate the violent part of sports themselves, and this is played off by the media, who give special attention to violent plays, contributing to the vicious cycle of fans duplicating the violence they see on the field. Alcohol, and the presence of opposing fans have also unsurprisingly been linked to the occurrence of fan violence. Rivalry games are also thought to cause more fan violence, adding credence to the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt.”


So what then can be done to prevent fan violence? The most obvious answer seems to be more security and less alcohol. Alcohol is almost unavoidable at sporting events. It is consumed at tailgates before the game, in seats during the game, and often in bars after the game as well. Naturally, this excess consumption of alcohol can cause some fans to lose their cool, and turn disagreements into fisticuffs, or worse.


Ken Reed, sports policy director of Ralph Nader’s League of Fans, said this about drinking at games in a recent USA Today article: “I think owners are playing with fire in that they want all this revenue from alcohol sales yet they don’t want to deal with the responsibility of what alcohol does to their consumers, so I think they’ve got to step up a little in terms of keeping things safe if they want the revenue.”


Executive Director of Alcohol Justice Bruce Lee Livingston echoed this sentiment in an episode of ESPN’s Outside The Lines: “We think alcohol is driving so much of this violence it really is probably the major cause… scientific evidence, people testing people on blood alcohol levels are showing that over 5,000 people are leaving the stands of an NFL game legally drunk, if they tailgated before the game they’re 14 times more likely to be legally drunk.”


Tighter security would help as well, and while in my personal experience I have seen security do an excellent job of keeping the peace, I also acknowledge that sometimes they fail, and all the events above prove this point. While security in the arena is generally pretty good, parking lots remain very unsafe. It is worth noting that none of the events mentioned above happened within the confines of a stadium, but all took place in the parking lot, or area surrounding the stadium. So parking lot security, along with alcohol become the two most important areas to improve upon in the fight against fan violence. A research paper published in The Sports Psychologist and written by professors at American and Australian Universities, suggests the following solutions (among others) to fan violence:


  1. Ban alcoholic beverages in stadiums,
  2. Create a media campaign designed to reduce violence,
  3. Have authorities hold a workshop on the topics of aggression and violence in order to better understand how to prevent it.


In conclusion, fan violence has become a rampant problem throughout sports, fueled by alcohol and enabled by a lack of adequate security. In order to solve the problem of fan violence, owners must act to limit alcohol intakes and increase security in the area surrounding the stadium. We as fans must also play a part as well. It is our duty to alert security to potential threats, and to keep ourselves and those around us accountable by drinking alcohol responsibly.


lead image courtesy Toronto Sun




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Klemko, Robert. “Leagues, Clubs Deal with Perception of Rise in Fan Violence.” USA TODAY. USA TODAY, 30 Aug. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

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Fan Violence – Alcohol Justice on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’ Perf. Bruce Lee Livingston, Anthony Buchanico. ESPN, 2012. Youtube. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

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