Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Do Sport Spectators Have Limits on Their Aggressive Behavior?

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Do Sport Spectators Have Limits on Their Aggressive Behavior?

Article excerpt


Researchers have identified a host of determining factors to explain aggressive fan behavior (see reviews by Simons & Taylor, 1992; Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). Among the variables studied, team identification has perhaps received the most attention. Team identification is briefly defined as "the extent to which a fan feels psychologically connected to a team" (Wann, Carlson, & Schrader, 1999, p.279). Studies have shown that highly identified fans have a tendency to act more aggressively (Wann, Carlson, et al., 1999; Wann, Haynes, McLean, & Pullen, 20003; Wann, Hunter, Ryan, & Wright, 2001). According to Wann, Carlson, et al., (1999), this is because identifying with a team is related to one's sense of self-worth. The possibility of losing poses a threat to an individual's self-concept which in turn can cause a state of defensiveness and aggressiveness. Additionally, highly identified fans are more likely to become anxious and aroused while watching their team compete which may result in aggressive behavior (Branscombe & Wann, 1992).

Wann and colleagues have extended their research in a couple of areas to broaden our understanding of spectator aggression. The first concerns the type of aggression: hostile vs. instrumental (Wann, Schrader, & Carlson, 2000). Hostile aggression is motivated by anger with the goal of harming another individual, e.g., referee or opposing player. For example, a fan may verbally abuse or hurl an object toward an official with the intent to cause harm. Instrumental aggression on the other hand, involves the desire to harm another individual but with a more beneficial goal in mind. For example, a fan may harass an opposing player with the intent to diminish the player's ability to play at their optimum level (Wann et al., 2000).

Results have shown that highly identified fans endorse both forms of hostile and instrumental aggression. More specifically, highly identified fans were more hostile than instrumental towards officials but displayed equal levels of hostile and instrumental aggression towards opposing players (Wann, Carlson, et al., 1999). These findings may be explained by the possibility that fans know officials have an obligation to be impartial when making calls and therefore understand that they cannot use their aggression instrumentally. Conversely, fans may believe they have seen evidence of opposing players affected by verbal or physical aggression and will therefore use such tactics to weaken player performance (Wann, Carlson, et al., 1999).

Second, Wann and colleagues have examined the extent to which highly identified fans will engage in other more extreme forms of instrumental aggression. Specifically, Wann, Peterson, Cothran, and Dykes (1999) found that a portion of highly identified fans were willing to injure (break a leg) a player or coach of a rival team to help their team win a championship if they could remain anonymous. However, it is important to note that the majority were less willing to go to such an extreme. Similarly, Wann et al., (2001) found that only a minority of college sports fans were willing to engage in various forms of anonymous cheating to help their team win, e.g., helping a player cheat on an exam, stealing a test for a player, helping a player garner steroids, etc.

Overall, the research has shown that highly identified fans have a tendency to act aggressively toward officials and opposing players in the form of verbal abuse and that it is done for both hostile and instrumental reasons. However, there is also evidence to suggest that there is a limit to what fans will do to help their team win. That is, few fans will go as far an injuring an opposing player or coach or to the extent of illegally assisting their team, e.g., stealing an exam for a player, bribing a referee, or helping a player obtain steroids.

The following chapter extends the research on where fans (presumably highly identified) draw the line on aggressive forms of behavior. …

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