Sports have an amazing amount of power. One match or game can literally unite hundreds of thousands of strangers to cheer on a beloved team. But there is often a dark side to that revelry. I'm not just referring to crazed fans turning over cars after a championship game. Various groups have long said that Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for violence against women. Though there are plenty naysayers, other countries have also noted a huge uptick in violence around big games. In England, incidences of battery increase 25% after major soccer tournaments. The question so many of us have is, why does this happen?
To get real answers, The Stir turned to three experts in human behavior:
Dr. Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.
Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist and president of the International Sports Professionals Association. (www.DrJohnMayer.com)
Dr. Carol Ann Peterson, an associate professor at the USC School of Social Work and an expert on domestic violence.
What is it about major sporting events that brings out aggression in people?
"Team sports have morphed into displays of aggression rather than contests of skill," warns Dr. Tessina. "I think the fact that TV loves to show the fights and hard-hitting clips has contributed to this, and also the money that is in the games exacerbates it. It's well documented that viewing aggression tends to elicit aggression. Alcohol exacerbates the problem, because it decreases inhibition and impairs judgment."
If someone behaves this way during the World Cup or Super Bowl, is this emblematic of a bigger emotional problem?
According to Dr. Mayer, a deeper issue could definitely be at play. "First, without a doubt, it shows a developmental delay in the individual," he says. "You can label this developmental delay as ‘stunted growth’ immaturity’ or even an adjustment disorder. Second, aggressive and violent fan behavior may be indicative of a criminal or delinquent personality and the sporting event is a socially acceptable way to express their rage. This happens more commonly than you may think. For these individuals, this is an opportunity to ‘rage out.’ Third, frequent alcohol intoxication and violence at sporting events spells - Alcoholic."
If you are with someone who is prone to acting violently during sports, are there things you can do to help keep them calm?
Actually, you should not feel responsible for keeping him under control. "Your best bet is to stay away while the sporting event is going on, and for a while afterward," advises Dr. Tessina. "If you try to take away the gratification of sports or alcohol, that can also set off aggression. Someone who is capable of physical violence, whether or not sports is the excuse, will explode sooner or later. Leaving is often the best and safest way to get that person to realize they have a problem."
Is a person more likely to lash out at a girlfriend or spouse rather than a buddy while watching the game?
"Yes," says Dr. Peterson. "If someone is prone to being an abuser, it’s easier to take it out on a girlfriend or spouse. First, no one is around, and the abuse takes place within the confines of their own home. Second, an abuser knows how much they can intimidate their girlfriend or spouse. A buddy is much more liable to hit back, and bystanders are much more apt to intervene if it’s a fight between two friends."
Are the same issues at play when a crowd starts a riot after their team wins a championship?
There is a significant difference, describes Dr. Peterson: "People who are in crowds do things they wouldn’t do on their own—they get caught up in the moment and make bad judgments. With crowd mentality, we throw out our moral compass and the thought of getting arrested doesn’t cross our mind, but later we find ourselves thinking, 'What did I do?' Abusers on the other hand, really do what they do because nobody sees it. It’s done within the privacy of the home, with an intimate partner, and abusers know what they do every time they do it, and choose to be violent."
Have you ever known someone to act violently during a sporting event?
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