From Fan to Fanatic: the return of people to sports stadiums driving violence

Ryan Duarte


The return of fans to stadiums has brought back the fun atmosphere of sports matches around the world. Unfortunately, it has also brought a rise in fan violence against players and other fans alike.
Whether fans are at NBA playoff games or soccer tournaments, it is clear that fans being able to watch their favorite teams in person again has turned some into fanatics. Fan behavior during this transition period of the pandemic has been erratic at times. The NBA alone has had numerous cases during the postseason where fans have overstepped their boundaries and became violent.
The Washington Wizards star point guard Russell Westbrook had popcorn thrown at him when he was heading to the locker room after an apparent injury on May 26. The fan was later banned indefinitely from Wells Fargo Center and lost his season tickets, according to Yahoo Sports.
Four days later, Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving had a water bottle thrown at his face by a Boston Celtics fan, on May 30. The alleged fan was later detained and charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon, according to NBC Sports.
During the CONCACAF soccer final between the U.S. and Mexico’s men’s soccer teams, fans threw numerous objects such as water bottles and popcorn at players, one fan hit U.S. men’s national team midfielder Giovanni Reyna in the head with a water bottle, and fans started an anti-gay chant where a three-minute stoppage occurred near the end of regulation. According to the Washington Times, players on both teams urged fans to stop the hateful chant.

Where could this rise in hate and violence come from?
Stimulated aggression could be the cause.
“Aversive events (such as a pandemic or a conflict) can trigger frustration and other negative feelings, which can cause aggression,” said Dr. Dong-Won Choi, a psychology professor at California State University, East Bay.
The pandemic has added incredible stress to people’s everyday lives. Unemployment levels in Calif. reached historic highs as a result of the health crisis. Around 17 million Californians were receiving unemployment benefits in April 2020, according to
Choi also points to rising temperatures with summer arriving in time for state regulations for businesses lowering restrictions and increased aggression.
“Summer is here, so the increase in temps may explain some fans’ aggressive behavior, especially in outdoor stadiums without air conditioning,” Choi added.

What about indoor NBA stadiums that have just that?
“Focusing on the social context such as the crowd you are in, and the resulting lack of self-awareness may cause people to engage in behaviors they would not normally do (such as aggression),” Choi explained, “Being in groups or crowds can trigger deindividualism.”
As regulations due to the Covid-19 pandemic decrease, bigger crowds will begin to take shape as the year goes on. Barring any spikes in cases, these large gatherings will show that people may have missed the outside world, but surely they will need to get a grip on themselves and their behavioral issues.