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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jeering, Taunting At High School Sports Contests

The Ohio High School Basketball Tournament features outstanding competition and great entertainment in a family atmosphere. All ages enjoy the games, many of which pit teams so well matched that one basket or one free throw separates the advancing squad from the losing foe.

Naturally, the crowds become so engrossed in the action that spectators feel the palpable tension and suspense build throughout each game. Sometimes, individuals in cheering sections can become so heated that a referee, a coach, a player, or the opposing crowd causes them to lose control and say or do hurtful or aggressive things.

A psychologist might call this the social identity theory, in which fans tend to identify themselves as part of the team they are watching, so they feel intimately involved in the action.This results in the abandonment of normal restraints and inhibitions, without which, fans demonstrate increased responses to situational forces; they may throw garbage, boo and jeer players or referees, or even riot.

What triggers can make this regretful behavior occur?

  • Emotional Instability - A simple fight that becomes uncontrollable could cause insecurity within a specific area in the environment.

  • Fear - Fear of endangerment or harm can arise from emotions related to panic and may lead to deadly consequences.                      

  • Anger/violence - Violence is foreseeable when feelings of anger or rage take over a crowd.

  • Spatial limitations - Close quarters can lead to confrontations that spill over unintentionally.

  • Demographics - Specific locations or groups of people cause crisis events. The nature of the event, the environment where it occurs, or differences in the makeup of the crowds can create an environment for possible disruptive behaviors.

  • Here are five psychological factors concerning a crowd that security supervisors at such events should be aware of:

  • Security - People may feel keen about joining a crowd for security.

  • Suggestion - When someone is part of a crowd their own morals and belief system may shut down because they focus their thoughts on energy on the leader of the group.

  • Novelty - Individuals may join a crowd for excitement or in search of an adventure.

  • Loss of Identity - People tend to forget they are individuals and believe they are immune to consequences when participating amongst a crowd. As a result, they may partake in deviant behaviors. The type of behavior where people abandon their norms and act similar to the rest of the crowd is labeled deindividuation. (Heather Kessler, "Crowd Panic: Proactive Versus Active Responses," International Foundation For Protective Officers, 2012)

  • According to deindividuation theory, the psychological state of deindividuation is aroused when individuals join crowds or large groups. It is characterized by diminished awareness of self and individuality. This, in turn, reduces a person's self-restraint and normative regulation of behavior.
    It becomes a transition from a personal to a social (group) identity.

    In simple terms,
    the three most important factors
    for deindividuation in a group of people are:
    • Anonymity, so I can not be found out.
    • Diffused responsibility, so I am not responsible for my actions.
    • Group size, as a larger group increases the above two factors. 

    When I think back to many of the times I got into the most trouble as a teenager or as a young adult (oh, ok, hell, as an adult), I realize the power of deindividuation. Chances are I was in a group during those mischievous times, a willing participant mind you, and somehow I became seduced by the collective will of my peers. Sometimes I even suggested the "little prank" myself but with the backing of the group, I felt little blame for any consequences because I shared all the responsibility with them.

    No matter who had the bad idea, when we joined the group plan, we all became willing accomplices.

    When the principal, parent or police asked, “What were you kids thinking?” I had no answer because there wasn’t one. I was just reacting with the herd -- and, of course, denying my better judgment.

    What kind of things make questionable actions easier?  A costume, wardrobe, or a disguise, of course, helps make doing "the deed" easier. Just think of Halloween and how a costume can change a person's personality or hide his identity so that he can let loose of some control. When role playing crosses real world limits, trouble is bound to occur. If a person feels fully anonymous, his flaws can easily surface.

    Chanting, singing, dancing and other ritualistic, repetitive group activities are particularly effective at focusing a person's attention and distracting him from the boundaries of his head and body. Typically these kinds of activities allow a person's emotions to build and build until his persona shatters and even his morals can disappear.

    I have DJed many dances, and I can tell you the power of music and a rhythmic crowd is infectious and, quite frankly, the combination can lead to embarrassing, even indecent behavior. Inhibitions disintegrate very rapidly in the right environment. I'm so glad I've never been guilty of being in those places and acting that way... ah hum... ah hum.

    Isn't it amazing how a little bit of stirring, emotional speech can spark a huge crowd reaction? Every coach looks for the appropriate words to ignite just the right amount of desire in his team. Sometimes, the pregame comments actually seem to work. Many times though they equate to hackneyed, quick adrenaline "picker-uppers" that soon fade as the reality of the contest takes control.

    In a crowd, the loud emotional reactions of one or two people can transform a tranquil group into a heckling mob. I have been guilty of joining these groups who are out to lynch a referee for a questionable call. The next morning following the game, I wake up and feel totally embarrassed for making such a fool out of myself. In fact, I never blame the crowd or the referee in the morning for my own stupidity. And, I'm sure the sane individuals viewing the game and my idiocy then see me as some crazed Jekyll and Hyde. And, I had hoped to keep a cap on that fact, dang it.

    Even intense team building can make some show their deindividuation in negative ways. Uniforms, colors, war paint -- all have an emotional value. In the right connotation and circumstance, these decorative features serve a vital purpose, but to those who "worship" the uniform or the war paint,the materials help contribute to a breeding ground for potentially ugly fanaticism. I am not saying ban all face paint, banners, etc. from athletic contests; however, I am saying some individuals can take this behavior as grounds for taunting and not cheering.

    Any, ANY, use of a dehumanizing label can cause instant deindividuation. Lack of knowledge concerning connotation is no excuse in the eyes of authority. Isn't it strange that many of the same people who abhor bullying comments and go out of their way to protect human rights also bemoan any degree of political correctness in terms of their own language? Speech is not free as many would think, rather speech has certain limitations. Youth need to be shown this important lesson by example.

    Of course, any consumption of alcohol can lower inhibition and thus increase the risk for deindividuation. A cocktail of alcohol, an emotional crowd, a heated rivalry, and a close contest (or embarrassing "blowout") is synonymous with gasoline-soaked firewood in its combustibility factor.

    Almost all of my most regrettable acts were fueled with spirits and ignited by some supposed derogatory comment. Today, high school tailgates that either openly or secretively allow alcohol on or adjacent to school premises do occur. Not only are these "team-supporting" activities bad examples for students but also they are powder kegs for violence and sources for drunk driving tragedies.

    Let's Back Off From "In Your Face"

    I hope basketball crowds cheer their teams with all their might. I regret that some students and adults see high school sports contests as opportunities to deride opponents. Certain rivalries and differences in Scioto County account for tremendous emotions and incredible loyalty to small schools. This loyalty, however, should not extend to jeering and taunting the opposing team.

    This poor behavior -- whether racial or inappropriate or cloaked in innuendo or simply ignorant -- should be banned. League officials, referees, protective officers, school officials, site managers, teachers, students, and parents must stop passing the buck, making excuses, and denying responsibility for bad behavior. Stopping this stupidity can and should be done. But, if adults choose to follow trends in college and professional sports, high school cheering will remain full of negativity and trash talking, hardly sportsman(woman)ship conduct.

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