I couldn’t shake the nervousness as I traveled to a 2009 World Cup qualifier between France and Romania at Stade de France just outside of Paris. Having never been to a soccer (sorry, football) match outside of the United States, I had these images of hooliganism and bloody clashes between fans dashing through my head as the RER raced to the stadium in Saint-Denis. There were some tense moments as I exited the train and took the zigzagged path to the front steps of this 81,000-seat facility as thousands of jersey-clad supporters from both sides were fueled by their songs and battle cries (and most likely some alcohol). But there were no physical altercations in the stands or any type of fan violence throughout the match—at least from what I saw from my seat. I recall after watching the 1-all draw that maybe I was all wrong about sports fans and violence and I was worried for no reason.
But then I recently read this story and saw these pictures and was reminded of how much of a problem fan violence can truly be—whether it’s at a French Ligue 1 match or a baseball or football game in the U.S.
It’s completely understandable that fans can get caught up in the moment (I’ve been there) and will say and act differently because they want to see their team come out on top, but in the grand scheme of life, what’s the difference what team is better or what team wins that day? I just can’t comprehend why fans are taking their love for their favorite players and teams to this extreme.
“There are some people that identify with teams for maladaptive reasons, and that’s so they can confront other people,” said Dr. Rick Grieve, Coordinator of the Clinical Psychology Master's Program and the director for the Clinical/Applied Research (CAR) group at Western Kentucky University. “The major reason why they are identified with a team is so they can go get in a fight with those who identify with the other team and show that they’re better.”
That happened on Opening Day 2011 before a game between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. Giants fan Bryan Stow was savagely beaten and suffered brain trauma during an attack by Dodgers fans and just returned home a few months ago.
“Fan violence is really an adult form of bullying,” said Kathy Samoun, who was so moved by the Stow incident—and many others involving fan violence—that she founded the Bay Area-based Fans Against Violence non-profit organization, which “encourages fan safety at professional sporting events through education, discussion and partnerships with like-minded organizations.”
“If you’re able to teach sportsmanship and nonviolence at a young age, then you’re going to make a bigger impact because kids will grow up with that mentality.”
Unfortunately, though, no matter how much we teach young people the difference between right and wrong, there will always be that segment of sports fans that think that it’s their duty to hate fans of the rival teams—and to show this with brute force and physical violence.
“I think the fans that go to those extremes don’t understand that when you put on that jersey you are representing your team and the entire fan base, no matter where you are,” Samoun added.
However, there will inevitably be those fans that fail to make that connection or just don’t care. And the result will be other fans fearing the worst whenever they attend a sporting event.