Have you noticed the startling uptick in violent incidents at sports competitions?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #49 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Sports existed before the Greeks gave us the Olympics. Friendly competition has been and still is an enjoyable pastime, testing skills, athletic prowess, experience, fortitude, and the old who-wants-it-most.
The fact that violent incidents periodically make an appearance on the sports field isn’t all that surprising, given that men and women are usually emotionally cranked during competitions. Add to this the reality that we’re all sinners, and we live in a fallen world, so of course there will be altercations from time to time.
Soccer, or “football” as it is called by the rest of the world, seems to have historically attracted not only fans but fan-atics who believe the game is a prize fight.
Some 26 fans were injured in a soccer brawl in Mexico, gun shots were fired at a post-game soccer match in Portugal, a match was delayed when the crowd began fighting before a game in France between French and German teams. Saint-Etienne French soccer fans attacked their own players after the team lost, running onto the pitch and throwing flares and other objects at their players. “In the United Kingdom, the country's ‘football policing unit’ reported a 47% increase in arrests at soccer games this season over the same period in 2019-20.”
Fan fights, however, are becoming increasingly common in the US – at all levels of sports from little kids to the pros. University students are chanting the F-word at opposing players. Recently, Clemson and Georgia fans got into a brawl before the game, same happened Florida State v. Alabama, Fresno St v. Boise St, several NFL pre-season games, Rams-Chargers, Lions-Eagles, Dolphins-Bills, Jaguars-Steelers, including women by the way.
And Major League Baseball too. A huge brawl erupted at Wrigley Field between Chicago Cubs and St Lous Cardinals fans.
An NBA player’s mother and wife were physically harassed by fans at a ballgame in Dallas and other players are saying they will no longer bring their families to games.
Professional tennis, historically one of the more mannerly sports, has witnessed an increase in verbal abuse. Players and fans using racial slurs at matches, spitting, cheating accusations, cursing, thrown racquets, angrily hit balls—some endangering personnel or fans, or just an egregious increase of poor sportsmanship, perhaps epitomized by Australian men’s player Nick Kyrgios, who curses loudly, shouts at the crowd or umpires, and after losing at Wimbledon, stood courtside pounding his racket into smithereens.
At a youth soccer game in Arizona, a father assaulted a referee while his son, the player, threatened to kill the referee.
Parents youth players are becoming so verbally abusive and physically threatening that referees around the country are quitting and fewer are signing up for the job, creating a shortage of youth sports referees.
“The high school sports landscape has lost an estimated 50,000 officials and referees over the past three years.”
“A 2017 survey by the National Association of Sports Officials found that 87 percent of the participants had suffered verbal abuse, 13 percent reported being assaulted, and 47 percent said they felt unsafe.
Parents have also attacked each other, youth referees, and even players, including tripping teens on the field, shining a laser into a player’s eyes or knocking them over. Racist catcalls, taunts and insults against teams of color from parents are also all too common.”
“Last fall, the father of a player in Vail, Colorado, sprayed a youth hockey coach in the face with Lysol.
The mother of a player in Laurel, Mississippi, ambushed the umpire of a softball game for 12 year olds at a parking lot after a game this April and gave her a black eye.
And in August 2022, popular football coach Mike Hickmon of Texas was shot and killed – in front of horrified children – after a game for nine-year-olds during an argument over the score. Small wonder that 80 percent of all new high school sports officials in the U.S. leave the field after two years.”
Now, “kids in the U.S. are quitting youth sports in droves, with nearly 70 percent dropping out before age 13 “because it’s just not fun anymore.”
This trend, experts say, is largely due to too much pressure and the growing number of overzealous sports parents screaming insults at coaches and kids from the sidelines.”
“'Violent sports fans are causing alarm at every level, from high schools to the pros, there are nearly daily incidents of abusive behavior in the stands.”
Anecdotally, you see the increase in aggressive, abusive, threatening behavior, along with actual assaults.
Then there is the use of alcohol, not mentioned in most of the examples I cited, but it’s there, particularly on the professional level.
Teams have learned that 10-cent-beer nights are counterproductive, but while they may limit beer purchases after the seventh inning or during the fourth quarter, by then fans are already sauced.
Some are saying this increase in sports violence is due to the stresses of the pandemic. Maybe.
Others say it is rooted in the hours people spend online, yelling and cursing virtually and now not adjusting to real-life exchanges. Maybe.
But more likely, this increase in abusiveness and violence is more evidence of the breakdown of American culture. Civility and empathy are disappearing in our society, so why wouldn’t we expect this in sports as well?
I’ve noted in earlier podcasts, we’re living in a post-Christian culture, a time of serious cultural chaos. Individuals are attempting to live, without genuine religious faith, often without healthy family support, with a focus upon personal happiness and little else.
So, they are developing more neuroses, more anger. People no longer live with the reinforcement religious faith provides, nor its restraint either. Anything and everything sets them off, including sports not going as they wish.
Scripture reminds us, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” (Matt 24:37). So then, what was it like in the days of Noah?
Again, Scripture tells us, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence,” (Gen. 6:11).
In the days of Noah, it was violent, and “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time,” (Gen. 6:5).
I wish I could say recent sports violence is a blip, that it will go away soon, but sorry to say, I think this will get worse, as it is now in other societal activities, like going to the mall, school, parades, concerts, workplace, even church.
So, taking reasonable precautions is good stewardship. Don’t go to games where beer is the primary marketing push. Know where you are booking seats in the stadium or fieldhouse. Be aware of what other fans are doing around you during the game, and if needed, take your family out of there. Don’t allow younger if not even teens to go to the restroom on their own. Park in lots or ramps that are well-lighted and easy to access. Use common sense.
But Christians should not despair—ever—for our light should shine brighter in cultural darkness. We are to be salt and light, peacemakers, voices of reason, testimonies of faith in a better way only possible through faith in Christ.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022
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