Celebratory Violence Increases Fan Identification with Teams

Violent expressions often occur after a major sports team wins a competition. But fan violence has become increasingly common, even when the team is not well known. “Celebratory violence is the celebration of a team’s victory that involves the destruction of both private and public property, and fits the concept of exuberant celebration or an expressive riot,” said Dr. Jason Lanter of the Department of Psychology at Kultztown University in Pennsylvania. Previous research has shown that fans can be classified into two groups: those who react with anger and impulsivity after a sporting event, and those who act as peacemakers. These findings have been seen when sports fans have attended events, and also when they have viewed them on television. Based on this evidence, Lanter suspected what his study on fan violence would reveal. “Therefore, increased aggression, as demonstrated by celebratory violence, was expected among the participants even though they did not attend the game (i.e., the game was held at a rival’s campus approximately 350 miles away) and simply watched the game on television.”

According the social identity theory, people base their self-esteem and identity on their sense of belonging to a certain group. By basking-in-reflected-glory (BIRGing) of admired people or groups of people, individuals feel a sense of connectedness that enhances their identity. To test this theory, Lanter surveyed 74 college students using the Sport Spectator Identification Scale (SSIS). He found that the students who highly identified with the team engaged in BIRGing by actively participating in celebratory violence. He also noticed a rather disturbing trend. Lanter said, “Many students in this study were eager to share additional information about the celebration with the researcher. The participants exhibited excitement for the event and hopes for another one while completing the questionnaire.” He cautioned, “One can speculate that future involvement in celebratory violence may become part of what it means to be a fan of a certain team.”

Lanter, Jason R. “Spectator Identification with the Team and Participation in Celebratory Violence.” Journal of Sport Behavior 34.3 (2011): 268-80. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Conrad


    November 3rd, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    I am a fan of several differnt sports team, but I do not like any of them enough to engage in this kind of behavior. Although I have frineds who, with the right amount of taunting and the right number of beers, would get right in there and start up the violence themselves. That is just the way that sports affects some people.

  • rick


    November 3rd, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    some people just don’t understand the meaning of a celebration do they?or anything else for that matter.your team won?celebrate violently!your team lost?get aggressive and violent!

    that is all some people know to do.and I don’t think they are the true FANS of any team.their primary objective is the rush they get while being involved in the violent acts.

  • Tommy


    November 4th, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    The more I see stuff like this happen, the more turned off I am by the whole concept of pro sports. It turns the players and fans both into nothing but a big bully community and I personally have no desire to be a part of this or to have my children grow up thinking that this is how real sports fans act. Where has all of the civility among men and women gone these days?

  • H. Bacon

    H. Bacon

    November 5th, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    I’m sorry but Dr. Lanter is an idiot in my opinion. There is no such thing as celebratory violence, it’s simply violence with a fancy tag added for good measure. I dare him to walk up to someone who has been a victim of this violence and say to their faces the fans were simply celebrating. His statement is nothing short of offensive.

    The guilty sports fans should be ashamed to call themselves fans when they behave more like mindless thugs. Remember Vancouver with its riots? Sporting events are supposed to be entertaining and fun, not war zones.

  • Bill McCray

    Bill McCray

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Any sports fan who relishes such violence as that needs to be thrown in jail. Their names and faces should be given to every sporting venue or sports bar televising events within a 100 mile radius so they can add them to a “Banned for life” list. Take away their trigger and you take away , or at least reduce, the violence associated with it.

  • Andre Horne

    Andre Horne

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    You can’t hold a team wholly responsible for a fan (and I use that term loosely) starting a massive riot just because a player didn’t kick a ball hard enough, but they should certainly be taking zero-tolerance approaches to such appalling incidents. I agree with Rick-a true fan wouldn’t want their team’s followers to be branded complete hooligans.

  • Otto Gaines

    Otto Gaines

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    If they bring the sport and their team into disrepute, their team should have any official fan club memberships revoked, as well as being banned from following the team to wherever they play, home or away.

    A ban from commenting anywhere online that belongs to the team where they can interact with other fans, such as a blog or forum on their official website could be included. Cut them out of the loop like the weeping sore they are and ostracise them from their team’s community base.

  • Wendy McConnell

    Wendy McConnell

    November 5th, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    @Otto Gaines – It’s not just sports fans that get violent. You know that woman claiming to have Justin Beiber’s kid? Whether she’s telling lies or the truth remains to be seen. However, because of her claims she has received death threats from his rabid immature prepubescent fans who are so deluded that they think he honestly cares about them.

    Death threats! I can’t even comprehend what does through the minds of these folks that they can work themselves into such a frenzy of rage. Dangerous fans are everywhere that fans are.

  • freddie


    November 6th, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    ^^there are crazy people out there..its almost like a condition..idolizing and almost worshiping celebrities is not a new things but the way people express it has really become bad.makes them look stupid,really.

  • Tom Graham

    Tom Graham

    November 6th, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    One of my greatest joys in life when I was a boy was going to football games with my dad. It was the one time we were alone and I had him all to myself without my sisters wanting his attention. I cherish those memories very much.

    Would I do the same with my own son? Not on your life and that’s why. It’s too violent now! I’m not going to risk us getting caught up in it. You don’t need to be a prep to get injured. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be disastrous.

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