When The Balls Roll Too Far – Group Violence In Sports


Football, basketball, volleyball, water polo, golf, tennis, billiards … it’s always about guys or gals running, smacking, pushing, throwing and otherwise playing with their balls. Be they big or small, soft or hard, round or oval, anyway… you get the gist.

So, seriously, what is this fixation people have on watching others chase their balls? Is it symbolical or what? I have never been a sport aficionado (obviously… I just don’t get it), and while I can understand the excitement and mutual feelings of camaraderie that fans may have with their favourite teams, what I will never understand is that competitive rush which goes so much to certain people’s heads, that they need to destroy benches, cars and property, not to mention perpetuate acts of violence, in the name of their home-team.

One reason for this disproportionate fervour could be what is known as ‘group emotion’. This is akin to mass hysteria, where a group of people, usually having a similar aim, similar fears or attitudes, influence other members of the same group with their emotions, be they emotions of anger, fear, sadness or otherwise.

Psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) reasoned that there is a general influence or emotional discharge, which makes people in a crowd behave differently than they otherwise would individually. The heightened feelings experienced while in a group charged with the same or similar emotions could result in an exaggerated display, thereby creating violence or panic. Individuals are swept up in the heat of the moment and end up joining the collective atmosphere and mood, even though, minutes or hours before, they had felt and thought the complete opposite. This is how lynch mobs are formed and how panic spreads. It is also the reason why certain types of violence tend to generally be more frequently perpetuated by gangs or groups, rather than by individuals.

It was also Freud who coined the term ‘collective narcissism’, which is basically a theory explaining how certain groups of people feel such love for and have such a high opinion of their group, putting it above all others, and sometimes above all else, that they start looking down on others as being inferior to the members of the said group. Collective narcissism can either be a condition of one individual in a group, or a view held by all its members.

Collective narcissism could be an aspect which contributes to sport-related group violence and aggression, in that when the group of supporters suffering from this condition perceives a threat to the group, not only physically, but also a threat pertaining to its self-image of superiority. For example, when such a group is criticised by the media, its members tend to lash out publicly and dramatically, in order to attract attention.

People who love sports, especially fans, should keep in mind that while being mainly a physical activity, most sports are also a way for the individual to de-stress and to re-charge himself mentally. It is a way of escaping from one’s usual routine of work and school, giving vent to one’s pent up emotions and having fun in a healthy and entertaining manner. It is not a way to violently lash out at others or indulge in wanton and senseless vandalism.