By Jake Crouse, Staff Writer
Sports is a $485 billion industry in the United States, with fans rooting for teams in college, semi-professional, and professional leagues. Nearly every American sports fan has at least one favorite team; some fans even splurge to coat their houses, cars, and outfits to represent their patronage. Sometimes, however, diehard fandom can turn deadly.
Last weekend in Morgantown, W.V. riots broke out after West Virginia University defeated #4 Baylor 41-27. Several neighborhoods housing university students saw panic as rioters set fires, overturned streetlights, and attacked police officers with rocks and glass bottles. Police had to use pepper spray and other chemical munitions to suppress the crowd of students and outsiders.
University of West Virginia President Gordon Gee said that the rioters were “criminal and will be dealt with as such.”
Deadly riots have spanned sports history, ranging from the Nika Riots in 532 A.D. that claimed 30,000 lives to Port Said disaster in 2012 that claimed 82 lives.
The Morgantown riots, however, bring this question of sports violence into the modern era. They force us to question what being a fan is about. They make us question the boundaries of celebration and loss.
Tension, anxiety, excitement—fans feel all these emotions during games. Sporting events foster stress in themselves, but, often, political unrest causes this stress to build to unsupportable levels. Around the time of the 2012 Port Said disaster, Egypt was beginning to feel the effects of its first phases of democratization. These political landscapes added to the tribal nature of Egypt’s sports fandoms, turned the outcome of a simple game into a mob of political unrest.
Even in times of a political stability, riots can break out through the emotions and rivalries of sports fandoms. Many English soccer games spark large, non-lethal riots afterward, while many Canadian National Hockey League fans riot after teams win the Stanley Cup.
When fans riot, they usually do not do so in order to cause intentional harm. Sports today are high-expectation, high-stress games, and, just like anything else in life that fits those standards, people want to be able to release their stress afterwards. When over 100,000 people, mostly intoxicated, attempt to do this at the same time, their collective stress-relief often turns into mob violence and this can turn deadly.
Few political protests reach the size of sports riots. If you want to start a riot, start it for a reason, not the outcome of a game.