Footbrawl: Getting Punched Might Be Worth It

In college and pro football stadiums, more and more fighting has been documented over the last decade. It would seem by the view numbers on social media that fighting at games has become almost as popular as the game itself. There were around 8,000 ejections for disruptive behavior in 2013. The NFL likes to point out that that is only a half a percentage of total attendance.

But the NFL is dodgy when it comes to these numbers and obviously does not like to make them public. They make these numbers just as difficult to get for college stadiums as well. Within the Freedom of Information Act, that information should be available, but the rules of what has to be shared are a little gray. The Big 10 reported 758 ejections. Only 8 of 14 schools reported ejection numbers at all.

Shady reporting aside, almost every NFL fan has their story of something that happened when they were trying to watch the game. One dad said he and his son were hit with a cup of urine in the 2nd and had to leave.

“I saw some Bills fans throwing stuff at a small child, literally 4 to 5 years old. Melee ensued and the father of the kid had to throw dukes in front of his boy. Father gets arrested.”

Keith Shultz

NFL security can only do so much. It really comes down to the fans themselves. There was a story a few years ago about a father and son leaving a Browns game with their Jets gear on. They were jumped. Both the father and the eight-year-old son were beaten badly.

A simple search in YouTube will reveal an astronomical amount of videos of fans punching each other, dumping beers on each other, throwing things at each other, and a bevy of other public displays of violence. We are becoming more aware of fighting because of social media and the internet for sure and the escalation in awareness has made us believe we are seeing it more often. We are, but in history it could easily be argued that this has always been an issue.

Attacks on other adults is irrational and immature, probably fueled by alcohol and perpetuated by the active violence on the field. But attacks on children are another thing altogether. Where in society would it be acceptable to pour a beer on a child’s head? For the most part, there are very few places that a child would be where beer is served to begin with. It could be possible that tail gaiting has become out of control and people are lit beyond lit before they walk in the doors.

“I seen a Jets fan pour his beer on a young Bills fan probably no older than 8. The father turned around to confront the man who flipped the hat off the father, who in turn shoved the jets fan which turned into a fight. The father was arrested even after people told security what had happened.”

Chris Stephen Bourque

An NFL game, even for seats in the clouds, is not a cheap endeavor. Not only are the tickets themselves pricey, but parking, beer, food, and anything else inside the grounds is double or even triple the normal price for the area. It seems odd to spend so much money to get belligerently drunk and fight someone, or pour a beer on a pre-teen’s head.

It’s been theorized and discussed many times that if you add live violence, testosterone, and alcohol the end result will be fighting. But it’s much more than that. Sports teams, and in particular football teams because it is the most popular, have become a social identity, a cultural encapsulation that quickly and easily describes the fan for the person they are. It is a sanctimonious identity and one that fans not only follow but truly and deeply believe.

Football is a game that is supposed to be enjoyed with friends and family. It’s something to go to, like a movie, on a Sunday for enjoyment. Movies also get us wrapped up emotionally, but there are very little reports of constant fighting after a movie lets out (besides Fight Club). Football has become much more than entertainment, it has become a social identity. What better way to express social identity than on social media.

Thus the YouTube star was born and in the wake of rising fights, so has the video of fans normalizing fighting at a game. The more social media has prevalence in our lives, the more people will grab for their phones during a fight at a game, or any other disruptive altercation that could cause ejection, instead of trying to defuse the situation. The normalization of disruptive behavior adds to the desensitization of the fighting, thus perpetuating its own existence.

The biggest concern for the NFL — the one they spend a weeklong conference on every year with heads of security from every stadium, is whether or not this truly interferes with the fan experience. This, with unanimity, is a yes for every owner, who cares more about “protecting the shield” than protecting the fan. But it could just as easily be argued that it somehow adds to the fan’s experience, however negative one might think it.

If it were so negative, fans would stop going due to even the slightest chance that they, or their child, gets beer or human urine dumped on their heads or receives an angry fist to the mouth. But stadiums still sell out, even in freezing, snowy Buffalo, people are willing to take the risk of being injured in a fight or just become another overnight YouTube sensation.