Purdue News

November 30, 2004

Basketball brawl moves fans to center court

Sports fans can't hide behind their home teams anymore, says a Purdue University social psychologist.

"Fans at a basketball game, like any member of a large audience, feel a sense of anonymity watching from the stands," says Kipling Williams, who researches bullying and ostracism. "The lights are on the court and the fans, surrounded by thousands of others, feel like they are invisible.

"But the incident between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons dispels the myth that fans are anonymous. As bad as the event was, the sanctions – fans banned from arenas and the possibility of criminal charges – will make it clear to fans that they can be accountable for their behavior."

On Nov. 19, members of the Indiana Pacers team entered the stands to confront fans after an on-court fight. The basketball players were provoked when a Detroit fan threw a cup at one of the Pacers.

Williams says that when people are part of a large audience they are no longer self-aware of their own behavior, beliefs and morals. Instead, the participants behave according to the person who is often the loudest in the group. He also says alcohol increases these tendencies, reducing self-awareness and increasing the likelihood that a few offensive fans will influence the behavior of others.

Williams says the feeling of being invisible also is compounded by the sense of entitlement fans believe they have because of the high prices they pay to attend games.

"Fans who say or do what they want feel they are justified because they are the reason the athletes make astronomical amounts of money," he says.

CONTACT: Kipling Williams, (765) 494-0845, kip@psych.purdue.edu

 

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