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Archive for Monday, June 26, 2000

Sports hooligans

June 26, 2000

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Sports hooligans

Post-championship troubles can be so alarming that some people may hope their team doesn't win.

Anymore, it is not a question of whether a community will suffer damage after some sports team's triumph, but how soon and how much.

Last week, basketball's Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers for the NBA championship, and it wasn't long before fans in the area of the Lakers arena were rioting, looting and destroying and burning various items, including motor vehicles. It has happened in far too many locations, including Chicago where the basketball Bulls were so successful for so many years.

Some residents of cities where teams vie for titles almost hope their favorites don't "win the big one" because of the trouble that can result. In Europe, of course, soccer is the dominant sport, and riots, mayhem, injury and death often result during or after major matches. English fans seem to be the worst-behaved of this crowd and their deportment has led to the term "soccer hooligans," which they indeed are.

But the British have no corner on the riot market where sports are concerned. Americans and people in other nations can be just as insufferable and dangerous, as we were reminded by the aftermath of the Lakers' achievement.

Lawrence has had some mammoth sports celebrations through the years. One of the first truly big ones was in 1952 when Kansas University won the national college basketball title. The Jayhawks and their entourage returned from Seattle early one morning and the turnout proved to be the largest in city history. To the community's credit, no serious damage or injury occurred even though as many as 25,000 gathered to relish the event.

Then there was the 1988 KU court championship, and the people did a pretty good job of behaving themselves then, too. The riotous anarchy of today had not yet been as firmly ingrained in people who get caught up in topping someone else when it comes to destruction: "You did it, I can do worse."

Things got a bit iffy in 1991, however, when KU defeated North Carolina to make the NCAA finals. The "celebrations" on and near the campus were on the verge of getting ugly, with destruction of trees and such, before calmer heads prevailed and minimized the problems. Suppose the Jayhawks had won the title two days later, as they had done in 1952 and 1988. Would there have been Chicago- and Los Angeles-like difficulty? Times already were beginning to change.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating victories by organizations, such as sports teams, that represent a community. But sadly it has become "traditional," even expected, to raise costly and dangerous hell in modern times. And more often than not, the turmoil is caused by part-time "fans," people who don't follow a team normally but use the occasion of a title effort to strike out at something just what, nobody can be sure.

In Los Angeles recently, things were so bad that athletes and fans were kept inside the arena for more than two hours to prevent their being accosted by "celebrants."

Said one expert of crowd behavior and unruliness: "If you want to eliminate fan violence (anymore), don't win."

One can carry this to a ridiculous extreme, where some worried coach tells his team not just to hold down the score but to lose the game so would-be rioters will leave the scene.

Considering what happens nowadays, that's not as incredible as it might sound.

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