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Penn State Riots: The Dumbest Fan Reactions in Sports History

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2011

Penn State Riots: The Dumbest Fan Reactions in Sports History

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    I didn't attend Penn State, but growing up in Pennsylvania, I've always watched the team and have been a fan of the program for the past 27 years. I've gone to games, visited with friends who attended the school and have always felt a fondness for the university.

    So I understand how emotionally jarring this has been for Penn State's faithful. I understand—though I don't agree—that some feel Paterno got a bad rap, and others still are trying to reconcile their perception of a man who for years symbolized that success only mattered if you did things the right way with a man whose inaction in 2002 was simply unacceptable.

    But understand this—last night's riot was an inappropriate, unnecessary and shameful way for some of Penn State's students to handle themselves. (But let's not indict the entire student body, as many handled themselves with class.)

    And it's just another indicator that often people take sports too seriously and react to its results and circumstances in a harmful manner.

    If the following slideshow is anything, it is a reminder that history repeats itself, and a hope that people will recognize just how stupid it is when they act like morons in the name of sports.

Penn State Riot

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    Any riot for sports-related incidents is dumb, so let's just get that out of the way here.

    But I think there was an additional layer of perspective lacking on the students' behalf, and that was this: Much as they wanted their protest to be about a football coach getting fired, it couldn't be. This situation is deeper than that.

    This involves alleged victims of child molestation and administrators who failed to act appropriately when presented with evidence of such. And protesting the removal of one of those people in power who failed to act appropriately on behalf of a victim seemed to many outside of Happy Valley as being insensitive to that fact.

    I think Barry Petchesky of Deadspin put it well this morning when he noted that, "It is completely possible to love Joe Paterno and still believe he had to be punished."

    Many at Penn State weren't able to reconcile those two thoughts, allowing their emotions to get the best of them. And because of that, it was an uglier night for the university than it needed to be.

Vancouver Riot

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    I think Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated pretty accurately sums up the way many of us felt during the Vancouver Riots after this year's Stanley Cup Finals:

    I feel bad for the 99 percent of Vancouver residents who didn't riot. What a miserable day they must be having. They poured every available emotion and thought into their hockey team, per city ordinance, and their team made it all the way to the last game of the Stanley Cup Final only to get shut out at home, and then a group of highly motivated doofuses trashed the city, which means that all of North America now sees Vancouver as a city of chokers and jerks.

    This isn't fair, of course. Postgame rioting finds a home in all kinds of cities, in all sorts of countries, after all varieties of event. It is like alcohol in that way. This is not a coincidence.

Lakers Riot

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    (Go to 2:45 at the video)

    After the Lakers won the 2010 NBA Finals, Lakers fans rushed to the streets and things got ugly. From the Los Angeles Times:

    Crowds hurled bottles and other objects at police, smashed marquees, jumped on vehicles, broke windows, and set rubbish dumpsters and vehicles on fire along Figueroa Street north of Staples Center and on Flower Street.

    Police fired non-lethal rounds to disperse the crowd at Figueroa and Venice Boulevard after several small fires were set, as well as at 11th and Hope streets. At 7th and Flower, a car believed to be a taxicab was engulfed in flames.

    At least one person was beaten unconscious as fights broke out on Flower Street near Olympic Boulevard. A bicyclist was injured when struck by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department vehicle near 11th and Flower streets, according to the LAPD.

    Thankfully, there were no deaths and a relatively low 12 arrests, at least relatively low for a riot.

Montreal Riot

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    I just don't understand why people riot after their team wins.

    Especially when that victory is a Game 7 win in a first-round playoff series.

    But such was the case in 2008 after the Montreal Canadians defeated the Boston Bruins to advance to the second round. I understand the rivalry between the Canadians and Bruins goes back a long way, but c'mon—it was the first round!

Morgantown Couch Burning

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    (This video comes from 2010 after West Virginia's basketball team won their first Big East Tournament Championship)

    West Virginia has a strange tradition—they like to burn couches. It got to the point in 2005 that fire officials in Morgantown actually "ordered the removal of all upholstered furniture, debris and flammable objects from porches in city neighborhoods with high West Virginia University student populations." From USATODAY:

    The move comes as the city, known as the couch-burning capital of college football, prepares for the West Virginia-Virginia Tech game Saturday.

    "The reason for the order is based upon statistical fire data gathered following major rival football games or other sporting events," Morgantown Fire Chief Dave Fetty said. "Data says there are particular areas ... where we can expect to have illegal street fires."

    Students celebrating wins by the Mountaineers have a long tradition of setting street fires, often with cheap furniture dragged from their rental homes.

    A report in Tuesday's Morgantown Dominion Post said the city led the nation with 1,129 intentional street fires set between 1997 and 2003.

    What an odd tradition.

Ohio State Riot

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    You know how ESPN runs those "It's not crazy. It's sports." ad campaigns?

    I feel you could do an evil-twin version of one of those commercials about the Ohio State versus Michigan rivalry and show the above video.

    After Ohio State defeated Michigan 14-9 in 2002, earning them a berth in the National Championship Game, things got out of hand in Columbus. From CNN:

    Ohio State University said Monday it suspended 10 students arrested over the weekend in riots that broke out after the school's football team defeated arch-rival Michigan.

    Bill Hall, vice president of student affairs, said the university reviewed arrest records of about 40 people and determined that 10 were students. He said they were suspended immediately and that the school would decide later if anyone would be expelled.

    A few rioters may have just been looking to get some free books and save some cash.

    Vandals early Sunday set fire to couches and cars, overturned vehicles and tried to loot a bookstore, largely in a three-block area off-campus near High Street, the main thoroughfare through campus.

College Park Riots

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    After Maryland won its first National Championship in basketball over Indiana in 2002, fans were justifiably excited. But similarly to how they reacted a year before after losing to Duke, Maryland fans reacted in a destructive manner. From Campus Grotto:

    Following the celebratory riot, 17 people were arrested, 6 police cars were damaged, over 16 fires had been set, two dozen were injured, and a Maryland state trooper was hit in the face with a plank. A night of bonfires, looting, drunken brawls, flying beer bottles and hundreds of troopers in riot gear caused roughly $50,000 in damages. The rioting was so bad, university officials later established a zero tolerance anti-rioting rule, meaning a student could be expelled if caught in acts of vandalism or violence after games.

    Maryland, who has a history of rioting, had a similar riot a year earlier in a Final Four loss to Duke, when a bonfire set by fans caused $500,000 in damage. Rowdy fans smashed out storefronts, attacked police, and set fire to a mobile home.

Michigan State Riot

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    The riot in East Lansing in 1999 was intense. From CBS:

    A riotous crowd of about 10,000 people threw bottles and started fires around an apartment complex close to the Michigan State campus shortly after the Spartans lost to Duke Saturday in basketball's Final Four.

    More than 61 fires were reported and eight cars were burned, East Lansing deputy fire chief Pete Zamora said.

    "They're starting fires wherever there is anything they can burn," he said.

    He said there were reports of trash bins, sofas and cars being set on fire.

    Not to be flip, but it seems oddly fitting that two of the riots referenced in this slideshow occurred after a loss to Duke. People really can't stand losing to the Blue Devils.

Chicago Riot

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    (I couldn't find video or pictures of the riot, so just imagine people rioting while the credits roll down the screen.)

    The riots in 1991 after the Bulls and Michael Jordan defeated the Lakers resulted in 100 arrests. That would pale in comparison with what would happen after the team won a second title a year later. From The Washington Post:

    Police reported more than 1,000 arrests on charges of burglary, theft, mob action, disorderly conduct and damage to property, all in the hours following the Bulls' dramatic come-from-behind victory against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the National Basketball Association Finals for their second consecutive championship.

    There were scores of injuries, nearly all of them minor. No one was killed. Among those injured were 95 police officers, two of whom received minor gunshot wounds. Three civilians were shot, two by storekeepers and one by the police, according to a police spokesman. The owner of a South Side liquor store and an employee received second-degree burns when looters attacked their establishment.

    Only a few weeks prior, the infamous riots in Los Angeles had occurred.

Detroit Riot

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    In 1984, Detroit won its first World Series since 1968. And the celebration got a little out of hand. From Esquire:

    It was neither the first nor the last time sports fans rioted after a victory, but this sticks in the mind, possibly because of Detroit's reputation for flammability (witness the Devil's Night arson tradition). The Tigers' first World Series win since 1968 saw fans rejoicing over Kirk Gibson's heroics and battling police in equal measures, with one notorious photo immortalizing a fan and his pennant in front of a police car that happened to be overturned and on fire.
    The guy in that photograph was Bubba Helms. Here is his story. Detroit has had a history with riots—in 1990 for example, seven people were killed in the riots following the Pistons 1990 NBA title.

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