Riot squads

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  June 28, 2010

Another breakthrough fan-riot moment transpired five years later, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It's best remembered as Disco Demolition Night — a local DJ called for White Sox fans to bring their old Bee Gees records to burn — and it ended with 39 arrests, a pillaged field, and turbulence unseen in the city since the Democratic National Convention a decade earlier.

"Riots are difficult to predict," says Christian End, a psychology professor at Xavier University who has studied the way that people in crowds "tend to behave in ways we ordinarily would not." There are, however, acknowledged contributing factors. "Alcohol is a great predictor — especially in extreme cases like [10-Cent Beer Night] — but you have a bunch of variables that interact and sometimes end up resulting in such an event. . . . There are also social pressures, and, of course, people who could care less about sports and see an opportunity to get that flat-screen that they want in the cover of the riot."

Ten-Cent Beer Night set off an era in which sports violence has continued unabated. In 1990, seven people lost their lives in Detroit after the Pistons won their second NBA title. In 1992, following a second consecutive Bulls championship, Chicago fans incinerated the South Side, injuring 95 police officers who were helping arrest more than 1000 revelers. And who could forget the indoor rumble at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004, when then–Indiana Pacer Ron Artest did to a fan's face what he did to the Celtics' perimeter defense in this year's Game 7? The trend of fan violence also spread, not surprisingly, to college sports: a 1999 melee at Michigan State University resulted in more than 100 criminal convictions, and remains a national paragon of post-adolescent stupidity.

Disturbingly, some experts detect that fan rioting may be self-perpetuating. "In some places fans develop a mental script that part of winning and part of the celebration includes rioting," says End. "It's as if people watch games thinking about where they're going to go looting afterward."

In other words, it might be impossible to discern exactly what led Lakers fans to riot in 2000, when their team defeated the Pacers for the title — but that simple fact made it more likely that they would rage again in 2001, and 2002, and 2009, and 2010.

Why we don't fight
Before all you tough guys get defensive: nobody is claiming that Hub fans aren't itching for a donnybrook. "Boston has a history of riots," says Boston University sociology lecturer Don Gillis, referencing everything from the Boston Tea Party to busing brawls in the 1970s. "But those riots were around three things: political powerlessness, economic divisions, and religious, racial, and cultural clashes. Sports riots are different — they're the result of alcohol-induced stupors and a mob mentality."

A survey of the past 40 years shows that Boston has had relatively positive precedents. No significant madness marred Bruins Stanley Cup wins in 1970 and 1972, nor did disturbances distract when the Celtics hung five banners between 1974 and 1986. But then victory snubbed us, and she did not return for more than a decade.

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