After Bryan Stow’s limp body collided with the pavement, prosecutors allege that Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood took turns kicking Stow’s unconscious head, according to an August 1 bail hearing. Stow, now five months removed from the attack, still sits in a hospital bed.
The reason for such a brutal attack? He wore the wrong hat to a baseball game.
The attack took place after a Dodgers-Giants game in Los Angeles, and it represents what some perceive as a recent spike in fan violence at sporting events. Eight full months into the calendar year, there is a list of sports headlines that read like police blotter.
First, the poisoning of the iconic trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn by an angry Alabama fan. Then the Bryan Stow beating. Riots in Vancouver following the Canuck’s Stanley Cup loss. And just weeks ago, two men were shot following a 49ers-Raiders game in San Francisco — an exhibition game.
The college football season began a day ago on Thursday, and soon campus stadiums will be filled with thousands — sometimes over a hundred thousand — spirited fans. But the recent violent incidents raise a serious question for fans: How safe should they feel at a college sports event?
Tim Kawakami, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, covered the 49ers-Raiders game and said he believes the violence will cause officials and leagues, like the NFL, to put a greater emphasis on safety.
“The most striking part of watching what happened during that game was the sheer volume of incidents and the absolute sense that security and the police were overwhelmed by it,” Kawakami said. “Fights in one section. Uproar on the concourse. Massive brawl in the lower section. The fights just kept going on so long, you wondered where is the police? Then you realized they were far away, dealing with dozens of other issues, before racing — and I mean, they were racing — to the latest bedlam.”
Doctor Jerry M. Lewis, a professor of sociology at Kent State University, authored a book in 2007 on his research on fan violence. Lewis said that he does not believe recent violent incidents are part of a bigger trend and credits things like 24-hour news cycles and cell phones for the perception of an increase in violence.
“I don’t think (violence is) going to percolate down to the collegiate ranks,” Lewis said.
Violence stemming from college sporting events is not without precedent, though. Ohio State fans rioted in 2002 following a victory over rival Michigan. In 1999 Michigan State students rioted after a loss to Duke in the NCAA Basketball Tournament and rioted again in 2003 after a loss to North Carolina. The former caused $500 thousand worth of damage according to the Lansing State Journal. Riots broke out on three separate occasions in the past decade at the University of Maryland, all following basketball games.
University of Maryland junior Alex Galbreath attended the game against Duke in 2010 that led to riots. Galbreath said that initially, the celebrations consisted of large crowds of chanting students who later moved into the streets. The situation escalated when the police got involved, according to Galbreath, who said a friend was grabbed by police, handcuffed and arrested for videotaping the mayhem.
Lewis said that a police presence is often the solution to, and on occasion the cause of, rioting. A strong police presence is a major deterrent for violent behavior, but when crowds overwhelm an understaffed police force, the situation could turn uglier.
Along with the biggest crowds in American sports — crowds that can overwhelm police forces — college sporting events contain several distinct features that could help spark violent outbreaks. Rivalries in college sports can run deep, with fans feeling a personal connection to a team or school. Colleges also contain large numbers of young white males — the typical rioter according to Lewis — and large urban gathering places (think Highstreet at Ohio State, Toomer’s Corner at Auburn, or Franklin Street at North Carolina).
Then there’s the alcohol.
“What the alcohol does is give you permission to do what you want to do,” Lewis said. “Because Women are drinking and they don’t riot. Older people are drinking and they don’t riot.
“I’ve been struggling with the issue recently of fatigue. I think some of the reason that we have fan violence is it’s a long day,” Lewis said.
While Lewis notes that violent incidents, especially in college sports, are rare, all of these elements could give families pause when deciding to attend a game.
“I think families always have to think about these issues — maybe in some stadiums more than others,” Kawakami. “I can’t believe teams have been as lax in policing their parking lots as they’ve been, as we saw with the Dodgers and now with the 49ers.”
Powered by Facebook Comments