New research from economists David Card and Gordon B. Dahl shows an unfortunate relationship between family violence and sports. Their study focuses on the NFL, but it's plausible that their findings might also apply to the NBA and other professional sports.
We study the link between family violence and the emotional cues associated with wins and losses by local professional football teams. We hypothesize that the risk of violence is affected by the utility of game outcomes around a rationally expected reference point ... We find that upset losses lead to a 10 percent increase in the rate of at-home violence by men against their wives and girlfriends.
David Card is one of the more prominent researchers in the field. While many studies are plagued with methodological deficiencies, Card's are almost always meticulous, well-reasoned, and well-done.
Their results are both surprising and not so surprising at the same time.
When my beloved Celtics fell behind the Lakers in the fourth quarter of Game 7, I found myself forcefully throwing our couch pillow on the ground. And there's a reason why Bill Simmons ends his columns with "I'm going to take my dogs for a long walk now" after every heartbreaking Celtics loss.
Sports sometimes gets its fans riled up in unexpected ways. While I haven't been in a physical altercation since the sixth grade, I can see how emotional cues from sports could lead to violence in an extreme situation, especially when there may be significant sums of money on the line.
Family violence is wrong and awful—talk about stating the obvious.
But there is a lot of discussion as to what degree the media, movies, video games, or other external cues influence human behavior. Without judgment, I post this solely as another point of reference in this ongoing debate.
- Ken writes regularly for NBA Analytiks www.nba-analytiks.com