The following is the third in a three-part series examining violence in sports, and its role in society.
Many have argued that mixed martial arts’ (MMA) recent popularity is an indicator of our society’s demise, that this rising sport is nothing more than a barbaric spectacle that insatiates violent fans’ bloodlust. In fact, when I interviewed mixed martial artist, Travis Lutter, he made it a point to say this about American fans and how they compared to fans from Japan:
Well, I’ve never fought in Japan. I’ve been to two or three Pride (FC) shows with Guy Mezger when he fought (in Japan). I cornered him, and that’s a totally different ambiance, to sit in there and have those guys, they way that they kind of, they appreciate the technical kind of things that Americans don’t. Americans want to see blood, guts, and heads rollin’, stuff like that. Whereas the Japanese, they want to see good technique. (Fighting for Acceptance, p. 142).
As sports fans, do we really hunger for violence? Do violent sports bring out the worst in us?
In most cases—heck, in the vast majority of cases, the answer would be no. Considering the innumerable sporting events that transpire every day and the lack of serious altercations between fans at those events, it’s difficult to argue that an epidemic of violence exists among sports fans.
Perhaps the most glaring example of violence initiated by an American fan occurred in 2004. No doubt, readers all recall that Detroit Pistons fan who threw a drink at then-Indiana Pacer, Ron Artest, prompting Artest to engage in a fairly serious brawl. In the aftermath, Artest was suspended an entire season, while teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal also received hefty suspensions.
While this incident was shocking to Americans, it was far less eye opening for sports fans across Europe, who are more familiar with extreme fan violence. Angry European soccer fans too often riot in inappropriate forms of "protest" that have resulted in mass injuries, and even deaths.
Last year in Sicily, Italy, as fans fought with police following a soccer game, a police officer was killed after being hit in the head by a projectile. According to one report, he was the thirteenth person killed in or around an Italian soccer stadium since 1962. Deaths and riots across other European cities during or just after soccer games were also prevalent in 2007.
But it was not just in Europe where violence among soccer fans erupted last year. In Argentina, a two-week period transpired in which mass fights were exploding every other day, prompting police to use rubber bullets in an attempt to diffuse the violence. According to a Washington Post story, violence in the stands of Argentina soccer stadiums is commonly triggered by organized gangs, known as “barrabravas.”
And this same report noted that in other Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and Chile, violence among soccer fans had reached unusually high proportions in 2007.
In the United States, we obviously don’t share such widely spread unruly fan violence, at least not on as regular a basis for any particular sport. Still, sporadic examples are easy to identify.
The importance of high school football in Texas is widely known. In the Dallas, Texas area, a teen was killed by gunfire after a series of Friday night games (Stover, 2006). Fights among adult fans at high school games have been known to be so widespread that the games are actually suspended. Talk about setting a bad example for the youthful players and spectators.
An increase in violence among fans at high school sporting events has prompted school officials to consider having major sporting contests take place during the day on weekends instead of at night, increasing security, and holding stricter admissions policies. It is a sad reality that such measures need to be taken for events that are supposed to help teach children responsibility and build character.
Unfortunately, disturbed fans occasionally surpass security, even at the professional sports levels. Fans have been known to attack umpires in Major League Baseball games—and who can forget tennis star Monica Seles being stabbed by a demented fan in Hamburg, Germany some fifteen years ago? The results of the latter criminal act include improved security measures now being employed on the WTA circuit.
Sports are given so much importance in our society that they create passion. They provoke debate. They stimulate internet sports reporting sites such as the Bleacher Report. They give us an escape from our daily lives, an avenue for us to forget our respective problems.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. What can we really expect when we mix beer, passion, and machismo in an environment with thousands of tightly packed individuals, many of whom are grown men dressed up in costumes?
Whether we really want to see “blood, guts, and heads rollin’,” as Travis Lutter stated, is unsubstantiated. But for all the positive clichés that sports communicate, as fans, it is important to think before acting, and make sure our actions reflect the many positive values sports aim to embody.
David Mayeda, PhD, is lead author of Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society, the first political book on mixed martial arts, based on in-depth interviews with 40 mixed martial artists, including Randy Couture, “Rampage” Jackson, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, Chris Leben, Antonio McKee, Frank Trigg, and Travis Lutter. The book’s Forward is written by Jason “MayheM” Miller.
(AP Photo/ARD/CNN TV)
Stover, D. (2006). Combating Violence at School Sports Events. Education Digest, 71, (8).