Fan Aggression in Sport Essay

Sport involvement, whether it is being a participant or a spectator, is often viewed as a positive experience. Sometimes, these experiences can come with violent behavior, particularly expressed by the fans of that sport. Statistics have shown that nearly 96 % of the people polled have stated that they have been involved in sports where aggression occurs either through participation (player aggression) or through spectator violence (Branscombe & Wann, 1992).

According to Daniel Wann (2005), a sport psychologist at Murray State University, aggression is defined as the intension to physically, verbally, or psychologically harm a person who is motivated to abstain from such treatment. Fan aggression has become more of a concern in recent times not only because of the increase of occurrence, but also because of researchers’ interest in the subject. Fan aggression can include anything from fans at professional sporting events to parents at their children’s games.

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Different types of aggression are prevalent in sporting events, making it more common, as statistics show. There are several factors that play into a person being identified as an aggressive fan. Numerous spectators are highly identified, which simply means that they have a psychological and/or emotional attachment to sport (Shank & Beasley, 1998). This can be the degree to which these individuals perceive that they are fans of the team, how highly they are believed to be involved with the team, and show that their team is a part of their social identity (Branscombe & Wann, 1992).

In contrast, low-identified spectators are those who tend to separate themselves from their team when they lose verses, those who are highly identified that simply cannot withdraw their attachment from their team (Branscombe & Wann, 1992). In that scenario, it has been suggested that highly identified fans may resort to violence; the identity threat (loss of the game) is a blow to the fans’ self-esteem, so if they resort to aggressive behavior then their self-esteem can be redeemed to create up for the loss (Branscombe & Wann, 1992).

Highly identified spectators feel as if they need to categorize themselves as a fan of that team and it has become so apart of their social make-up that whether their team wins or loses they are going to feel the need to show the world. Researchers have found that spectators who are classified as those who are highly identified are more susceptible to violent acts of aggression, as opposed to those who are classified as low identified fans. In a study done by Wann, D. , Haynes, G. , McLean, B. , & Pullen, P. 2003), it was shown that, in relation to school, 40% of fans would allow a player on their team to cheat off them in class and, 25% would write a paper for a player if the act was anonymous. It was also found that, 12% of spectators would be willing to pay off competition referee, steal the playbook of the opposing team, or even go as far as giving the player money or gifts in hopes of that player being would sign with their team, as long as no one would find out what they had occurred (Wann et al. 2003).

These statistics show that those who are highly identified fans are willing to commit illegal, if they would not be blamed in any way for the incidents. Fan identification does not always have negative aspects to a spectator’s personality and interactions. There have been many encouraging correlations in relation to those who have high team identification, in particular when one identifies with a local sport team (Wann, Dunham, Byrd, & Keenan, 2004). It has been shown that, when identified with a local sport team, there can be benefits including: social support, companionship, friendship and connections to the society as a whole. Wann et al. 2004). These benefits are geared more toward the improvement of the environment, not necessarily the spectator’s personalities. It has also been found that exceeded levels of sport identification within local sport teams have had higher personal and self-esteem, vigor, extroversion, and openness, as well as more positive and less negative emotions, there has also been fewer occurrences of depression, fatigue, rage, and tension (Wann et al. 2004).

These findings show that being a highly identified local sport fan can not only improve your social life, but ones physical and psychological well-being as well as physical and psychological well-being. The new culture and popularity of sport has played an immense part in the rising occurrence of fan violence around the country. The United States alone has seen the trend of spectator sports grow significantly over the past few decades: money spent on sports has increased from $3. 7 billion in 1970 to an astounding $4. 9 billion in 1994 (Capella, 2002).

The United States has not only seen a dramatic escalation of money expenditure but also and an increase in media coverage as well. ESPN, which first was introduced in 1979, became the fifth most popular television network in 2000 (Capella, 2002). In addition to the original ESPN network, there were several other sport-based channels added to the television, cable, and Dish lineups including ESPN Classic and ESPN2 (Capella, 2002). Even expanding from the ESPN brand of networking other sport channels have emerged onto the scene in recent years this includes channels such as, the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, and Speed Network.

This increased media coverage it just a short period of time is making it easier for the public to enjoy sport, and may ultimately be a contributor to the increased fan aggression that many have been researching. Because of the increased popularity of sports, highly identified fans have become more popular. It can be concluded that the rise in popularity has had a direct correlation with the rise in fan aggression because sport is so easily accessible for those highly identified fans that may not be able to attend the game in person.

Aggression itself is categorized into two main classes: hostile and instrumental aggression. Hostile aggression is focused on anger and the want to cause pain on a certain person (End & Foster, 2010). Hostile aggression is shown more by those high identifying spectators because they tend to become aroused by the events of the game more easily than those who are identified as low identifying fans (End & Foster, 2010). In contrast, instrumental aggression is aggression with a goal that is beyond harm, and may be performance based (End & Foster 2010).

Instrumental aggression is more likely to be used in a situation where a fan verbally assaults a player on the opposing team therefore, creating an advantage for their team (End & Foster 2010). Hostile and instrumental aggression can be an element in determining a highly identified spectator from a low identifying spectator; both types of fans in the end want what is best for their team and, in most cases, which is a victory. Many researchers say that there only two central types of fan aggression, but upon research, a third was found; fan rioting.

Fan rioting is an outcome of spectators showing their feelings and responses to the result of the competition (Wann, 2005). There have been many recent occurrences of fan rioting. Between the years of 1995 and 2003, it was found on 24 different college campuses that a grand total of 37 sport related riots have occurred (Kaplowitz & Campo, 2004). One in particular instance of sports rioting was on the campus of Michigan State University. In 1999 after Michigan State had lost the NCAA Basketball Final Four game, riots started to break out all over campus (Kaplowitz & Campo, 2004).

The angry and drunken students injured many innocent bystanders while also causing $150,000 of property damage incurred. (Kaplowitz & Campo, 2004). In a study of the perceptions of students’ views of the riot at Michigan State, it was found that 62% said that participation in riot activities that threatened the safety of others or damaged property should be a cause for the rioter to be taken into police custody (Kaplowitz & Campo, 2004). Consequently, 37. % of the same group thought it might have been fun to partake in the activities of the riot, and of that same group 56% stated that the university did not have a right to ban alcoholic beverages on game day (Kaplowitz & Campo, 2004). Even though the rioting was amplified by the alcohol consumed primarily at the basketball game, the students believed that there was no reason to ban the alcohol; they also had the right to consume alcohol at the basketball game if desired. Fan aggression is beginning to gain notoriety in professional sports around the country.

Starting with the 2012 season, the National Football League (NFL) began a mandate that stated any fan that has been removed from stadium has to take a four-hour online course focused on alcohol abuse, anger management and crude behavior before they are allowed back at another NFL event (Rovell, 2012). This requirement is beginning as fan aggression is peaking throughout the country, specifically in the NFL. During the 2011 season, there were as many as 7,000 fans that were ejected from NFL games for various reasons (Rovell, 2012).

Along with the ejections and online courses, some stadiums also charge fines if fans are ejected. These fines can range anywhere from $50, which is in place at both the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions Stadiums, to $100 which in in place at the New England Patriots stadium (Rovell, 2012). This initiative is very beneficial in that it shows fans that are aggressively not appropriate acting aggressively is not appropriate and they will be reprimanded for their inappropriate behavior if they do act out at stadiums.