2011 will go down in history as the year that everyone from the Arab Spring protestors to the London underclass decided that violence is a perfectly good answer after all. This spirit of “Fuck it, I’m going to pop this asshole in the face” has also spread to American sports.
First, an innocent exhibition basketball game in China turned into something resembling a race war, then a day later some football fans beat on each other for no good reason in Baltimore, then a day after that, two guys got shot in a parking lotduring a Raiders-49ers game.
I decided to review sports-related violence and see how the recent crop of brawls compare to the historical precedents.
THE HOYA-SINO CONFLICT
The Georgetown basketball team has been traveling around competing against Chinese professional basketball teams, which apparently exist. Last Thursday they played a team made up of Chinese soldiers, and some lopsided officiating and rough play escalated into a chair-swinging battle reminiscent of the end of Blazing Saddles. The Georgetown players tried to fight back against their hosts for a few moments before realizing they were outnumbered by about a billion.
VIOLENCE RATING: 5.5. It looks pretty crazy on YouTube, but no one was seriously injured.
DISCO DEMOLITION NIGHT
It’s sometimes hard to get people to watch a lousy baseball team, because almost no one wants to watch a bunch of dudes play a boring sport badly. The White Sox in 1979 faced this problem, so their PR geniuses decided to host a night where people could bring disco records to center field where they would be blown up—an awesome idea, except for the part where you have a baseball game afterwards. The promotion brought a ton of people to the park, but by the time they blew up the records people were throwing around whiskey bottles and using jagged pieces of vinyl as Frisbees. The stadium was completely trashed, and the only reason no one was seriously hurt was because everyone was too stoned to fight.
VIOLENCE RATING: 4.8. Most accounts of the event make it sound like an awesome party that got out of hand, not a dangerous situation.
TEN-CENT BEER NIGHT
Cleveland isn’t what you would call “fun” even today, but back in the 1970s it was well-known for three things: a river that kept catching fire, severe economic depression, and some pathetic sports teams. The Indians tried to cheer everyone up by selling beer for ten cents during one game, which did draw a crowd, but unfortunately, in Cleveland a crowd almost always means a riot. The drunks were friendly at first, as they went streaking on the field and playfully threw beer cups and firecrackers at the players, but things eventually got so ugly the visiting Texas Rangers ended up fighting the fans with their bats.
VIOLENCE RATING: 7.2 Groups of armed people fighting each other is pretty serious, even if one of those people is Billy Martin.
THE RICHARD RIOTS
Maurice Richard was a really, really good hockey player for the Montreal Canadians who happened to be an ethnic Québécois, which in the 50s was a big deal. He got taunted mercilessly and occasionally responded, like that time in 1955 when he smashed an opposing player in the head with his hockey stick and hit a referee. This is apparently against the rules, so he got suspended by NHL president Clarence Campbell, but fans in Montreal were displeased—when Campbell showed up to watch the Canadians play they pelted him with vegetables and rotting eggs. The riot spilled out into the streets where people burned down newsstands and overturned cars. Thirty-seven people were injured and 100 were arrested. And that’s how we got the “Canadians are polite” stereotype.
VIOLENCE RATING: 8.3 Extra points for rioting because a guy got in trouble for beating the shit out of another guy.
THE NIKA RIOTS
Nowadays people show their team affiliation by wearing ugly jerseys and vomiting on children, but during Roman times, people took sports—especially chariot racing—seriously. Fans formed associations that became so influential they started getting involved in politics and street crime. In 532 in Constantinople the two largest factions, the Blues and Greens, united over getting a couple of criminals out of jail and started a riot during a chariot race. The emperor at the time, Justinian, tried to appease the crowd by releasing the prisoners and putting on more chariot races, but the rioters kept setting things on fire and threatening to overthrow the government. Finally the army surrounded the racing arena and slaughtered the rioters, although not before half of the city had burned down and 30,000 people had died.
VIOLENCE RATING: 176.9 Jesus Christ. Turns out Raiders fans aren’t so bad after all.