Violence in sports

Violence in sports refers to physical acts committed in contact sports such as American football, ice hockey, rugby football, lacrosse, association football, boxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, and water polo beyond the normal levels of contact expected while playing the sport. These acts of violence can include intentional attempts to injure a player by another player or coach, but can also include threats of physical harm or actual physical harm sustained by players or coaches by those engaging in spectating of sports.


There are two major theories on the cause of violence in sports. One theory holds that humans have an instinct for violence, developed during a time when early human ancestors had to resort to violence and aggressiveness to survive and reproduce. Another theory deals with the sociological aspects of violence in sports, stating that sports are "mock battles" which can become actual battles due to their competitive nature.[1]

Violence by athletes

Through a "civilizing process", many modern sports have become less tolerant of bloodshed than past versions, although many violent aspects of these sports still remain.[1]

Athletes sometimes resort to violence, in hopes of injuring and intimidating opponents. Such incidents may be part of a strategy developed by coaches or players.

In boxing, unruly or extremely violent behavior by one of the contestants often results in the fighter breaking the rules being penalized with a points reduction, or, in extreme cases, disqualification. Outlawed tactics in boxing include hitting the opponent on the back of the head, under the belly during clinching, and to the back. Other tactics that are outlawed, but less seen, are pushing an opponent extremely hard to the floor, kicking, or hitting repeatedly after the round has ended. Similar actions have also happened in ice hockey and Australian Football League matches.

Ritual violence

High school, college, and even professional sports teams often include initiation ceremonies (known as hazing in the USA) as a rite of passage. A 1999 study by Alfred University and the NCAA found that approximately four out of five college US athletes (250,000 per year) experienced hazing.[2] Half were required to take part in alcohol-related initiations, while two-thirds were subjected to humiliation rituals.

Fan violence

Fans of the Minnesota Golden Gophers riot in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis after the Gophers won the 2003 Frozen Four
Unruly spectator cuffed and led away by Miami-Dade Police during NFL match between Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium, December 24, 2012.
Miami-Dade Police arrest female spectator during NFL match between Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium, December 24, 2012.

Violence may also be related to nationalism or as an outlet for underlying social tensions. It is often alcohol-related.

Violence by supporters of sports teams dates back to Roman times, when supporters of chariot racing teams were frequently involved in major riots. Usually, underlying political and/or theological issues helped fuel riots related to sporting events in the Roman era. The Nika riots of 532 were especially deadly, with tens of thousands reportedly killed.

In periods when theatre was considered a form of mass entertainment, there were phenomena of rival fans supporting rival actors or theatrical teams, occasionally leading to violent outbursts having many similarities to present-day violence of sports fans – the Astor Place Riot in 1849 New York City being a conspicuous example.

The actions of English football hooligans and firms in the 1980s caused English teams to be banned from European competition for six years after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. Although the level of football-related violence was significantly reduced in England after this event, in the recent Euro 2004 tournament, England were publicly warned that any violence by supporters at matches could result in their ejection from the tournament. Many known hooligans were prevented from traveling to the tournament in Portugal. There was a collective sigh of relief from security experts in the USA when England failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Alan Rothenberg (chairman of the World Cup organizing committee in the United States in 1994) said:

There were three countries in the world whose presence would have created logistical and security problems, so we're very pleased they won't be coming: Iraq, Iran and England.

Notable examples of fan violence

Athlete violence

American football

Association football

Australian rules football


Bench-clearing brawl at Fenway Park because of Coco Crisp getting hit by a pitch by James Shields.


Ice hockey

A fight between Shawn Thornton and Wade Brookbank. Fighting in ice hockey is an established tradition with a long history.

Violence has been a part of ice hockey since at least the early 1900s. According to the book Hockey: A People's History, in 1904 alone, four players were killed during hockey games from the frequent brawls and violent stickwork.[42] Fighting in ice hockey is an established tradition of the sport in North America, with a long history involving many levels of amateur and professional play and including some notable individual fights.[43] While officials tolerate fighting during hockey games, they impose a variety of penalties on players who engage in fights. Unique to North American professional team sports, the National Hockey League (NHL) and most minor professional leagues in North America do not eject players outright for fighting[44] but major European and collegiate hockey leagues do.[45]

The debate over allowing fighting in ice hockey games is ongoing. Despite its potentially negative consequences, such as heavier enforcers (or "heavyweights") knocking each other out, some administrators are not considering eliminating fighting from the game, as some players consider it essential.[46] Additionally, the majority of fans oppose eliminating fights from professional hockey games.[47]


Other Sports


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Further reading

See also

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