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Session 04: The Sociology of Crowds: Celebration Riots in North American Sports

Session 4: Dr. Robert Carrothers - The Sociology of Crowds: Celebration Riots in North American Sports
Date: November 3, 2010
Location: Dicke Forum
Time: 7:00PM

Summary: Ripped from the days headlines - San Francisco Giants fans staged a celebratory riot the night before - Dr. Carrothers explored the elements that must be present before sports fans in North America will riot.  Carrothers took the audience trough sociological theory, particularly that of Emile Durkheim, who argued that a crowd often takes on a life of its own and forms "currents" that sweep fans along, allowing or causing them to perform acts that they would never do normally.

The November 1, 2010 San Francisco riot feature fans setting mattresses on fire, attacking police, and vandalizing business properties.  Caroothers demonstrated that this was not an isolated incident, speaking of 2008 riots in Philadelphia after the Phillies won the World Series, and Los Angeles in 2010 after the Lakers won the NBA championship.

Carrothers then explored the "patterns of behavior' that influences celebrating fans exhibit as they riot, and the conditions necessary for a celebration riot to occur.  He argued that several elememnts, based on a model developed by Lewis, that make rioting more likely.  Among those are: the team has experienced a long period of losing before the win, the presence of a natural social gathering area near the ball park - including places where alcohol is sold, the presence of a large group of young white males - who tend to make up most rioters - which means that everyone is a homogenous mass and it is harder to pick out individuals, and a championship series that goes into later games.  When these conditions are present, a riot becomes more likely, as was the case in San Francisco.  Police actions also play a role.  When riots happen, the police presence is often absent or they fail to take prompt action.  Carrothers added to Lewis' model by arguing for the culture of the city mattering also.  He told the audience that riots do not take place after Yankee wins because they are used to winning, and they are absent in New Orleans because people there know how to behave in the streets.  He then gave his take on which cities were likely to see a sport riot.  One of the most likely cities would be Cleveland, and Carrothers told the crowd that had the Cavaliers won the NBA championship last year, there likely would have been riots.  On the other hand, had the Texas Rangers won the Series this year, riots would have been unlikely since the stadium is surrounded by parking and little else.

Carrothers finished by taking several questions from the audience, and several lingered after the talk to discuss the talk further.  To watch the complete lecture, click here.  We are still experiencing technical difficulties, so you can find the lecture titled "Dr. Robert Carrothers - Sports Riots."