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Bloody Sundays : Experts Try to Find Reasons for Increasing Fan Violence Around World

October 15, 1990|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The biggest fight I ever saw at a football game, ever, was the Penn-Princeton game in 1947, where the city of Philadelphia had to bring out their mounted police," he said. "You are talking about two of the (nation's) greatest academic institutions . . . the breeding ground of gentlemen, of Presidents. And in a stadium where they did not sell alcoholic beverages."

Excessive drinking, said LoCasale, is indeed one factor in fan violence--but it's the drinking at tailgate parties before the game and outside the Coliseum.

"It would not surprise me if there was not more alcohol consumed before people get into the stadium than while they are at the stadium," he said.

Yet LoCasale has little time for psychologists who analyze his sport "to make a buck by having an opinion that is uninformed.

"We have people who attend one game every 12 years and then tell you exactly what is wrong with the sport," he said. "They wouldn't know, in many cases, whether we put air in the football or whether we stuff it with feathers."

Dist. Atty. Reiner believes that major violence occurs at football games because minor rowdyism is tolerated.

"I take my (12-year-old) son to these games . . . and there some bum stands up and he shouts as loud as he can down to the field: ' . . . you.'

"Well, you know what happens to him? Not a . . . thing. He keeps on drinking beer . . . that vulgar behavior goes on continually and near the fourth quarter he gets mad at somebody and the two of them get into a fight."

Resolution of the problem, continued Reiner, rests with overlapping considerations: Game attendance and profits.

Hostile behavior is not tolerated at baseball games, he said, because "people would stop bringing their kids . . . and if people stopped bringing their families, attendance would drop decidedly.

"But at pro football games, it is not a family crowd. If people stopped bringing their families it would not have a consequential impact on their (Raider) attendance. Therefore, they are not motivated nor interested in seeing that this behavior does not go on."

LoCosale denies Reiner's point. He said his organization is dedicated to giving patrons a "Sunday at a Raider game as something that puts them in the comfort zone, something that is an exciting and enjoyable experience."

Beer sales and policing of crowds, he said, are regular concerns of Raider management--but so are "better parking, a stadium with better sight lines, better restrooms. . . . "

LoCasale also suggested a new view of the Geringer incident.

"We have had one serious injury with 5.2 million people in the stadium in 84 home dates," he said. "I have had someone . . . say to me that this (Geringer) is a major incident just because the photographers and the TV people were there.

"Otherwise, it is not a national cause celebre ."

The underpinnings of negative crowd behavior, Phillips asserts, are multilayered. Alcohol. Youth. Individual aggression levels. Urban environment. Even open terraces that invite overcrowding. And influences of the media.

"There is a classic . . . theory by (European sociologist) Georg Simmel . . . that very frequently, conflict was a way to solidify group solidarity and sharpen the boundaries between two groups," Phillips said.

So in their "very effective" efforts to reinforce team and city identities, he explained, sports writers and broadcasters will "simulate conflict between those two cities and those two teams."

Solidarity, Phillips added, becomes a byproduct of that conflict. So does aggression.

It is also patently bad box office, he said, to promote a football, basketball, baseball, hockey or boxing match as anything but intense competition between individuals or cities.

"It (the game) is not sold as a business," Phillips said. "You don't have people say: 'Let's go see Pepsi-Cola fight Coca-Cola.' You think of it as us against them and, unfortunately, a very standard part of us against them is conflict between us and them."

All of which has led Phillips to construct a model football fan. She would be a young, middle-class teetotaler who doesn't read newspapers.

"Unfortunately," Phillips mused, "such a person might not be interested in a football game anyway."

Lewis--a dedicated researcher who believes in studying soccer hooliganism among crowds at European matches--sees a distinction between riots.

One is punishment. The other celebratory.

He said that in Brussels, during the fatal riots of 1985, English fans "punished the Italian fans, ahead of time, before the game, and said: 'We are going to out-support you and, ergo, help our team.'

"With the celebration riot, it doesn't help them (supporters) win because they have already won. But it gives them a sense of identity and the sport becomes the medium for getting this identity.

"And if, all of a sudden, tiddlywinks was our national sport, we would have tiddlywink hooligans."

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