View Full Version : A great sports commentary

11-23-2004, 05:44 PM
Granted, it is from NFL.com, but it Tuesday Morning Quarterback is still the single best sports column anywhere. Anyway, the first section has a terrific commentary on violence in sports.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback
By Gregg Easterbrook

(Nov. 23, 2004) -- The National Basketball Association and major-college football are hugely embarrassed right now by ugly, ugly brawls at games. The NBA, especially, looks just awful at the moment. By endlessly repeating video footage of the juvenile-delinquent behavior of the Indiana Pacers, cable news is making it seem that violent pandemonium is a common occurrence at games. But actually, fighting at American sports events is quite rare.

In their 2001 book Sports Fans: The Psychological and Social Impact of Spectators , four academic psychologists reviewed the technical literature and found that incidence of violent behavior at American sports events is no greater than in society as a whole. The researchers concluded that the chance of a fight breaking out during a game is just about exactly the same as the chance of a fight breaking out at any moment in daily life.

In recent years in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, South Korea, Russia and elsewhere, spectators have died during soccer matches; the global soccer-riot death toll is several hundred in recent decades. Deaths of spectators from fighting at United States sporting events are all but unknown in the same period. (In 2000, a Massachusetts father was beaten to death at a youth hockey practice by another father after their sons argued on the ice; the second man was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is now in prison.) Serious fighting is so rare at American sporting events because spectators are, by and large, an orderly group. The cliché is that football games, especially, are attended by mobs of drunken testosterone-pumped ruffians spoiling to brawl. The reality is that the occasional off-color chant is the worst it gets at 99.9 percent of American football contests. In Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer , his new book about football fan mania, Warren St. John writes, "I've been going to football games since I was six, and I've never seen anything beyond a fistfight or the occasional fraternity scrum."

A section of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is devoted to St. John's amazement that huge numbers of people can attend football games, watch a violent entertainment, drink too much beer and yet almost never become violent themselves. Yours truly has attended numerous NFL games in the last few years, in a half-dozen cities, and never observed any inappropriate behavior, other than coaches calling passes on short-yardage downs. Because I am the scout for my son's high-school team, I also attend lots of high-school football. In the last two years, I've been to football games at maybe 20 different high schools in the Washington, D.C. area and Baltimore, in every socio-economic strata from McMansion zones to inner city, and never seen anything but orderly behavior by spectators. In football's case, because teams and spectators are well-separated, unlike in basketball or other sports, fights between players and fans are nearly impossible. When fighting does occur at football games, it is on the field, between gentlemen protected by plastic armor that rules out actually landing a punch: fights between football players are quite silly in that regard.

These things said, there is no disputing that ugly fights or mortifying behavior do occur at American sports events. Not long ago, a Texas Rangers player threw a chair at fans in a Major League Baseball game; two Chicago White Sox fans jumped onto the field in 2002 and struck a Kansas City coach; a Toronto Maple Leafs player struck a fan during a 2001 NHL game. There have also been a couple of melees at high-school sporting events in the last year. Television news show images of such instances over and over, to give the impression sports fighting is common. But in the last few years, there have been a huge number of sports contests staged in the United States -- many millions of sporting events, when high school is included. Through the course of millions of recent American sporting events, there have been maybe a dozen brawls or player-fan melees. This does not in any way excuse fighting at games -- only puts the fights into perspective, as events that receive news attention exactly because they are so rare.