Domestic Violence

NFL Losses Are Associated with Increased Domestic Violence

Research suggests that when NFL teams lose, domestic violence increases.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

Amid a global pandemic and national civil strife, the 2020 football season is underway. While many rejoice in the comfort and familiarity of watching their favorite NFL team on television, an insidious and little-known relationship exists between NFL games and rates of domestic violence.

A study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics examined police reports of violent incidents on Sundays during the professional football season (Card & Dahl, 2011). The analysis revealed that "upset losses" (i.e., defeats when the home team was predicted to win by four or more points) correlated with a 10 percent increase in the rate of domestic violence. The rise in violence after an upset loss was concentrated to a very narrow time window at the end of the game and was larger for more important games (i.e., games against rivals and the playoffs). Considering that only a small subset of the population can be defined as serious football fans, this community-wide increase of domestic violence is a strikingly large finding.

Other studies examining sports outside of the United States have found similar results. For example, a 2013 study from the United Kingdom found that police reports of domestic violence rose by 38 percent after matches in which the national soccer team played and lost (Kirby, Francis, and O’Flaherty, 2013). In Canada, one study found that calls to a domestic violence hotline rose by 15 percent when the local soccer team was simply playing. (Boutilier, et al., 2017).

As potential explanations for the sports-related increases in domestic violence, researchers often point to the increased familial interaction, alcohol consumption, expectations, and stress levels that accompany high-stakes sports games— all of which are associated with domestic violence. 

Over the last several months, much has been written about significant upticks in the rates of domestic violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (including my own article). Now that data has had time to accumulate, multiple peer-reviewed studies have recently emerged demonstrating that domestic violence has not only increased since the lockdowns began, but also become more severe. (Gosangi, et al., 2020; Leslie & Wilson, 2020).

With rates of domestic violence already elevated from the stressors of a global pandemic, this year's football season could catapult instances of domestic violence to unprecedented levels, particularly during upset losses in high-stakes games. Domestic violence rates during this NFL season should be closely monitored by law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations. Although the NFL has already engaged in significant advocacy regarding issues of racial equity, the league might also benefit from public awareness campaigns aimed at curbing domestic violence.

References

Card, D. & Gordon B. D. (2011). Family Violence and Football: The Effect of Unexpected Emotional Cues on Violent Behavior. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(1), pages 103-143.

Gosangi, B., Park, H., Thomas, R., Gujrathi, R., Bay, C. P., Raja, A. S., Khurana, B. (2020). Exacerbation of Physical Intimate Partner Violence during COVID-19 Lockdown. Radiology, 202866.

Leslie, E., & Wilson, R. (2020). Sheltering in place and domestic violence: Evidence from calls for service during COVID-19. Journal of Public Economics, 189, 104241.

Kirby, S., Francis, B., & O’Flaherty, R. (2013). Can the FIFA World Cup Football (Soccer) Tournament Be Associated with an Increase in Domestic Abuse? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 51(3), 259-276.

Boutilier, S., Jadidzadeh, A., Esina, E., Wells, L., & Kneebone, R. (2017). The Connection Between Professional Sporting Events, Holidays And Domestic Violence In Calgary, Alberta. The School of Public Policy Publications, University of Calgary, 10(2).