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Why Aren’t U.S. Sports Fans More Violent?

In Sicily last Friday, during a soccer match between Catania and Palermo, fans rioted outside the stadium with bombs and steel pipes, resulting in the death of a police officer. As a result, most soccer matches throughout Italy this weekend will be played in empty stadiums. That’s right: fans are being barred from soccer games until the authorities can figure out how to stop them from killing people.

Soccer hooliganism is no surprise to anyone who’s followed the sport, or read Among the Thugs, or even How Soccer Explains the World. “We are talking about a cancer, not a seasonal flu,” one soccer commentator wrote after this latest example of soccer violence. But reflecting upon this recent killing, I am surprised to think about how U.S. sports fans are, relatively, so much more non-violent.

I have seen plenty of fights break out at live sporting events here, but they usually amount to a few sloppy punches, some backward staggering, a bit of cursing over the beer that was spilled. And then things settle down. Sometimes a fan or two is ejected, or even locked up. (I have heard that Yankee Stadium has its own little jail cell for this purpose, but I’ve never seen it.)

So why, in a country with a higher rate of violent crime than in nearly every other developed nation, do we suffer so much less fan violence at sporting events? Here are a few theories:

1. Many soccer matches are more local affairs than U.S. sporting events, thereby attracting a lot of fans for both teams, who are more likely to mix it up than if 95% of the fans are rooting for the same team.

2. We have better security.

3. We drink less; many U.S. stadiums and arenas now cut off the sale of beer, e.g., before the end of the game.

4. Perhaps the audiences at U.S. sporting events don’t include the criminal element — the result, perhaps, of high ticket prices.

5. For years, there has been talk of how American sports, particularly football, are a proxy for war and true violence; maybe this is actually true.

What are your thoughts?