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Spectator Violence in Sports: A North American Perspective

NCJ Number
European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2000 Pages: 163-181
Julian V. Roberts; Cynthia J. Benjamin
Date Published
June 2000
19 pages
After concluding that professional sports in North America has a relatively low rate of spectator violence, this study examines the reasons for this.
The paper begins by noting differences in the reactions of sports fans in North America and Europe to on-field aggression by players. It then discusses the limited research on spectator disorders as well as the relatively rare incidents of sport-crowd violence in North America. This is followed by a discussion of the explanations for the lower levels of spectator aggression in North American sports events. The article takes as its point of departure two apparent paradoxes. First, the most visible and serious manifestations of sports-related violence are associated with football, a professional sport that takes a highly punitive approach to violence occurring on the field. At the same time, sports that either tacitly permit aggressive behavior (American football) or adopt a rather laissez-faire approach toward the punishment of aggressive behavior by players (the National Hockey League in North America) elicit little, if any, imitative spectator aggression. The resolution to the paradox is to be found in a number of complex cultural and contextual variables. The low rate of sports spectator violence in North America has less to do with criminal justice policies or practices than with the social context surrounding the "spectatorship" of sports in North America. Perhaps the most important explanation of the variance in crowd behavior concerns the demographic profiles of sports spectators in European football and in North American sports. High ticket prices and the significant numbers of corporate seat owners associated with professional sports in North America places such events beyond the means of the unemployed or the working class; the latter persons constitute the majority of football hooligans in Europe. 31 references


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