Why Fans in Connecticut and the U.S. Riot When Their Team Wins

Apr 8, 2014

Police in the U.K. break up a clash between soccer fans. Unlike in the rest of the world, some U.S. fans become violent if their team wins.
Credit Flickr user Ben Sutherland/Creative Commons

Fans watching major sports championship games in the U.S. sometimes riot afterwards. But unlike the fist fights that happen between fans of opposing teams in Europe, researchers found that U.S. fans riot if their team wins.

The University of Connecticut women basketball team beat Notre Dame Tuesday night to win the championship. After UConn beat Kentucky at the men's basketball championship Monday night some fans smashed windows, furniture and lamp posts. Campus police arrested at least 30 people early Tuesday morning.

Jerry Lewis, a professor of sociology at Kent State University, wrote a book on sports fan violence in North America. He studied arrest records and media accounts and interviewed eyewitnesses at more than 120 riots, and he did an in-depth analysis of a riot after a 2004 game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees that left one woman dead.

Lewis stressed that it's a small group of fans that do the actual rioting, though they get a lot of attention. He found that sports riots in the U.S. happen mostly at championship games, and rioters are usually young, white males.

Lewis said this happens by default.

"Women tend not to riot, older people think it's silly, minorities tend to not get involved because they would be the first to be arrested so it's kind of a default," Lewis said. "Plus in our society we teach young males to be risk takers. I have photographs in my research of people looking around to get approval from other fans and after they turn over cars, that's one thing they do, they'll put their finger up and say we're number one, so it becomes a feat of skill that identifies with the highly skilled athletes."

Warning: the following video of a UConn fan smashing a street light contains some offensive language.


In Europe, the fans of the losing team will just look for the fans of the winning team for a fight.

Given the unique pattern in the U.S., Lewis said alcohol is not the most important factor in controlling fan violence. Rather, he said we should focus on telling young men that violence is not a good way to celebrate.

"Drinking gives them permission to do what they wanted to do anyway, so I think control of drinking is not an important factor in controlling fan violence,"Lewis said. "We've got to get the community involved to convince young men not to be this violent and to celebrate in a more appropriate way."