The Crowd Goes Wild

Why some sports fans go out of control and become part of the game.

By Rose Palazzolo, published on July 1, 2003 - last reviewed on October 10, 2011

On a warm night in 2003 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, a
White Sox fan rushed the field and tackled the umpire. Four days later, a
right fielder with the Texas Rangers was hit in the back of the head by a
spectator's cell phone.

Fans who become part of the game are what researchers call
"high-identifying sports fans"—people whose identity is
intertwined with a team. High-identifiers tend to have extreme emotions
in the face of defeat, compared with average sports fans.

Researchers have found a wide range of personality and social
factors that influence the actions of high-identifiers. Alcohol often
encourages their behavior, as does the possibility of appearing on
television, says Christian End, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology
at the University of Missouri at Rolla.

"In some instances, highly identified fans may also view it
as a means of helping their team," says End.

Leonard Zaichkowsky, Ph.D., a professor of education at Boston
University and an expert in fan behavior, says it's unclear why American
fans are jumping into the game.

"Is it the violence in sports that motivates the fan or is it
a microcosm of what is going on in the world?" asks Zaichkowsky.
Researchers say they will probably need a few more seasons to figure that
out.