Numerous incidents of violence at sporting events in Europe and the United States have increased concerns that the act of watching certain sporting events, especially those involving violence such as Ice Hockey, Rugby, or Football, creates in some spectators the impetus for violent behavior at or immediately following the event. Fans trying to support their team and challenge supporters of the opposing team sometimes get carried away and commit violence on those opposing fans. In some cases, supporters of the winning or losing team carry their feelings out into the street and commit acts of vandalism and violence in the immediate area. The issue this raises is how it can be controlled, and theorists are considering what practical psychological strategies can be developed and implemented to curb spectator violence for these sporting events.
Coakley (1982) considers sports from a functionalist point of view and notes that this approach sees sport as usually providing learning experiences that reinforce and extend the learning that takes place in other settings:
In other words, sport serves as a backup or a secondary institution for primary social institutions such as the family, school, and church. Through sport people learn the general ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that make them contributing members of society (Coakley, 1982, 29).
However, sport has also been cited as a source of violent behavior in society and as an activity that brings this violence out in spectators. A contrary view is offered suggesting that many mass audience situations, structured on vicarious entertainment, serve an unintended psychological function by channeling and releasing otherwise unplayable emotions. This is a restatement of the idea of catharsis suggested by Aristotle, who held that the drama produced such a catharsis in the viewer. However, the reality of violence at sporting events suggests that these events are not cathartic...