When Football Violence Turns Real

It’s well-established that domestic violence is bad for the children directly exposed to it (and possibly their classmates as well) but experts still debate the drivers of family violence. Economists have traditionally characterized violence as a signal to outside parties or as part of an incentive contract between family members. Others believe that violent episodes occur when the perpetrator loses control. A new paper by David Card and Gordon Dahl tests the latter explanation using data on domestic violence occurring on Sundays during the NFL season. Card and Dahl hypothesize that “negative emotional cues” (i.e., a loss by the home football team) make a loss of control more likely. They find that unexpected losses by the home team “lead to an 8 percent increase in police reports of at-home male-on-female intimate-partner violence.” Furthermore, unexpected losses in important or particularly frustrating games have a 50 to 100 percent larger effect on domestic violence. The authors conclude that “at least a fraction of intimate partner violence appears to represent excessive behavior that is triggered by payoff-irrelevant emotional shocks, rather than strategic instrumental violence that is used to control an intimate partner.” [%comments]


It's well-established that domestic violence is bad for the children directly exposed to it...

No mention of the women who are victims of domestic violence? I'm pretty certain that it's even worse for them than the kids.

Jokin' Smo

Boxing has a sordid history of post-fight increases in murder rates.



Not all guys watch football, you know. Without reading the paper, I wonder if the type of men who watch football are more prone to violence?

Margo Nelson

I don't believe AT ALL that incidents of domestic violence take place when perpetrators "lose control". If this were the case, these incidents would be taking place in all sorts of settings, including public settings, with lots of witnesses.

I am not aware of outbreaks of violence against partners by fans of losing teams taking place AT sports venues, suggesting that perpetrators of domestic violence have sufficient control to wait until they get home and can assault their partners in privacy. Furthermore, perpetrators of domestic violence are not usually violent to OTHER people with whom, presumably, they get angry at times (their bosses etc) - they are violent to their partners, often exclusively, sometimes have sufficient control to cause injuries only to locations on the body that are not visible when their partner is clothed, and almost always manage to wait until they can assault in privacy before doing so. This seems to evidence that "loss of control" is not necessarily an issue.

The use of violence as a means of controlling one's partner is, in my opinion, a deliberate strategy, and not a symptom of poor self-control - and it is a disservice to suggest otherwise -as it implies that these perpetrators do not bear full responsibility for their behavior (they were "out of control") and have no ability to modify it.

Finally, as a clinical and research issue, if we fail to accurately understand the thinking processes that may be common to perpetrators of violence, then strategies for the treatment of this behavior are likely to be ineffective. Teaching individuals who are already rather adept at controlling anger to control anger is ineffective as a means of reducing domestic violence in relationships.

I believe (and my clinical experience would suggest) that focusing on (and challenging) the attitudes held by individuals that allow them to justify their violence toward and control over their partners may be a more effective means of changing this pattern of behavior.



I was sitting in a bar last week in Shanghai watching the SF 49r's and the Bears play on TV.
The Chinese have and interesting reaction to US football,
One that they found a bit odd was the huge men in helmets hitting each other and you could never see their faces but the real conversations began with the amount of advertising.
Even in a city (not country) with huge growth with an even larger consumer base, it was the ads for cars and luxury goods the got under everyone's skin. So is it football or is it the constant advertising blitz that rattles men.
Bringing out the loss of their favorite team and the SUV they can't afford?

Margo Nelson

I would add that while the paper does establish a correlation between triggers for anger or frustration (home team losing a game) and subsequent incidents of violence, this is not evidence that "lack of control" is the intervening variable.

An alternate hypothesis may be that when feeling angry or frustrated, perpetrators of violence deliberately discharge those feelings by assaulting their partners when they are able to do so in private.


It's prolly more of a function of the alcohol consumed while watching football.

Walter Wimberly

Tracy - or the other question is does violence go up with other sports games like basketball, baseball, etc, especially if there was a fight in that game?

Brad Morrison

@Bill: Yes, it's probably worse for the target of the violence in an immediate sense. The problem with children is captured in the old saw, "I'm going to teach you a lesson you'll never forget."

Indeed. Talk about your infectious memes.


"...rather than strategic instrumental violence that is used to control an intimate partner.”

What exactly is this? Is this just another codified sentence for domestic violence?

The title of this post should be when violent acts influence others to be violent. Football violence is plenty real to begin with.

Can anyone tell me what this is supposed to mean? I'm having a bit of trouble conceptualizing what kind of signal is being sent that relates to economics:

"Economists have traditionally characterized violence as a signal to outside parties or as part of an incentive contract between family members."


I remember hearing a statistic in the 90s once about domestic abuse in Italy increasing during national soccer matches. I feel like this has been studied before...


@Tracy - the 2008 Superbowl got 97.5 million viewers. That's a pretty broad group to generalize about. There may be correlation probably runs the other way:

Guys who are abusive are more likely to watch football.


Guys who watch football are more likely to abuse.

There's an implied causation in that direction that I doubt holds up. The test of that statement would be how many people who have no other history of domestic violence start after they begin watching football.


This subject was discussed appropriately in the opening pages of "Who Stole Feminism?" by Summers, a professor of philosophy at the time. Reports of just how dangerous it is for women * children when the home team loses was claimed to a ludicrously exaggerated extend by somebody who had absolutely no scientific ground for the guess, and was then taken up and broadvast -- disgracefully -- by sundry irresponsible persons on the ground that "sound right, must BE right" principles.Summers was able to trace this process by making a remarkably small number of phone calls.

Similar principles apply in news coverage to this day. One outstanding example: the jabbering tribe of professional commentators who have jumped on the bandwagon of claimants that Obama is "dithering" about sending more troops to Afghanistan. There is no proof of such dithering, and no proof that the president is doing other thank taking appropriate time and counsel to consider this weighty matter.

I have no informed opinion whether the president is or is not dithering about this matter. I'm startled and depressed that many others, just as ignorant as I -- as they clearly display -- are ready to trouble the national mind with this unqualified assertion that dithering is what;s going on in the White House about this matter.

Underlying much of this chorus, I suggest, is that the commentators require or demand that presidents act as promptly in making grave decisions as promptly as commentators must when choosing and preparing a subject for publication in the next morning's newspaper, or this evening's electronic commentary/ I hope no president ever agrees. Obama doesn't seem to..



this study can't possibly be right, otherwise the number of wifebeaters in Detroit would be skyrocketing!?

Seth Butz

I don't think that this is true at all living in Denver, Colorado and going to the Broncos game when they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers when we lost 28 to 10 I stayed for the whole game and after the game yeah it was chaotic but nobody was forcing a fight it was more like disappointment. I will admit though three fights did break out during the game but nothing about the game afterwards.


Smilar observation was made by the police in New Zealand when the All Blacks were knocked out of the last World Cup of Rugby.


This kind of study is what makes DV difficult to remedy. There are numerous articles written about the increase of violence during the housing crisis, hard economic times, and the holidays. Based on my work with survivors, it appears that these types of "causes" are simply branches off the tree of "Power and Control" that is rooted in a much deeper social issue: community acceptance.

For instance, the 8 year old Liberian girl who was gang raped and then shunned by her abusive father. Debates about the cultural conditioning in the country her family comes from appeared to partially "excuse" the rape and the shunning; HOWEVER, the nation was outraged at the behavior, particularly the father's behavior, and he knew it and retracted his statements of blaming her for the rape. He may have still felt the shame, but the shame society was putting on HIM for blaming his daughter became stronger. (I will also add that numerous articles were written about the warning signs that were never taken seriously by people and CPS...again community.)

The reason I bring that up is because it's a good example of what behavior society accepts can strongly determine what an abuser will and won't do. He beats her in the home and marks hidden areas of her body because he knows that the facade of "everything's fine" will bode well with the community. In my OPINION only, I believe this behavior exists more because the community , i.e. media, family, friends, business, public at large, does not get involved enough to tell her she deserves better (she usually gets blamed) and to tell him that abuse is not acceptable and he WILL be held accountable (he gets excused because she must have deserved it or he snapped because his favorite football team lost).

DV is super complex and can't be put into one cause for behavior, but it can be reduced by cultural conditioning.

My two cents.


Kevin in McLean, VA

I seem to recall that a similar study was done at Old Dominion University about 15-20 years ago that has since been discredited.

Kevin in McLean, VA

I found this after my previous post.


Wow, what a shock. When people get angry about something they can't/won't do anything about, they take that anger out on something easier.

For the purposes of conveying the actual information displayed, was there any need to mention the sport in particular (other than getting more attention for it)?