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Is NFL A Violent Sport?

Is NFL A Violent Sport?


Cubs Assistant General Manager Dr. Ehsan Bokhari

Football, also known as soccer in America, has the reputation of “the world’s best sports.” Approximately five hundred millions of football fans attended the FIFA  world cup in Brazil ( Because of the enthusiasm and charm of football all over the world, this sport has risen rapidly in America in the past ten years.  Accompanying with the sports as well as huge amounts of football amateurs, the  football-related culture has also brought to a new country America, which  football has just sprung up from European countries with a comparative longer history of football. On August 9th in 2015, an incident caught the public’s eyes—the  fans of New York City fought and brawled with fans of New York Red Bull,  another football team in New York, ahead of the New York Derby Match (Brian).  Also, it was on a large scale, even not existing before in the history of football in America.

The Akron Pros won the first APFA (NFL) Championship in 1920.

It was unbelievable that football-related violence, also called  hooliganism, unexpectedly happened in a country where football has less  influence and popularity. According to The Telegraph, which also reported this  incident, pointed out that “the country will also suffer the hooliganism which  dogged the sport in the UK for decades (Millward).” Why do European  countries, especially the UK, have a significant impact on American football?  One prominent example was that David Beckham, a successful and famous  British football player, joined Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. His arrival was a  sign that American football has evolved. From the incidents listed above, it  showed football culture, as well as social problems accompanying football  culture, have been brought from European countries.  

Oscar Wilde once gave his opinion about football:
“Rugby is a game for barbarians played by gentlemen. Football is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians.” (RAO).

As an Irish writer stated, football is a sort of sport that seems  to be played politely. However, it is a sort of sports that is dangerous and violent  not only showed the players’ behavior on the field but also reflected in fans’ 

actions. Based on more research, data illustrated that other American sports did not have similar severe problems as football did. For instance, American  basketball was a type of popular sport in America, but violence hardly existed  between basketball fans. Knicks and Nets, two New York basketball teams,  although they are rivals with each other, their fans are still harmonious in the  majority situation. For instance, one fan of the Knicks said that he was not ashamed to  be a fan of the Knicks and Nets at the same time (Vin). Thus, because of the unique  phenomenon shown between football and other American sports, several  questions are raised: Why do football fans act in totally different behavior than other  sports’ fans while football has risen in America in recent years? What is the main  reason that causes and promotes football-related violence? While hooliganism  exists in other countries, why is it also happening in a new country?  

As the sum up of the questions that have been raised above, the research question is  brought up: To what extent do songs sung by American soccer fans promote  a culture of violence within the sport? To answer this question, the essay shall  analyze and evaluate the primary resources including video documentaries like  YouTube and official websites like New York City’s official website. Also, it shall  be based on secondary resources like the essays and newspaper articles to build  up to the ultimate answer. This essay mainly focuses on the songs. It can be  approached from two aspects: the song lyrics and how the fans express their songs.  After analyzing and evaluating the songs that affect cultural violence in America,  other reasons besides songs also need to be considered comprehensively that  contributes to the influences. Geographical location, influence between fans and  players, social class, and copycat behavior can be other dimensions to explore the  reasons behind this phenomenon. Overall, videos and newspapers can be the  resources to catch the phenomenon prevailing in American football while  academic papers and opinion articles can be more robust resources to seek the  deep meaning. The point of the essay is to explore how much songs promote football violence and how many other reasons boost the existence of this  phenomenon. More importantly, the relationship between songs and other causes  also need to be evaluated to answer the research question. 

Songs & Ways of Expression  

Songs are one of the most influential and magical tools for people to use which  originated since the era of tribes. Tribal people will not only utilize songs as a  way of celebration (like Mojave tribes in American) (Rossillo), but they also  express them in their approaches to frighten the opponents while singing (such as  Haka, a type of iconic dancing) ( It happens that there is a similar  case involving football fans. Such ordered and resonant songs are sung by  thousands of football fans in the football fields. Songs play an essential role among football fans like the songs have the essential impact in tribes. More  specifically, songs cannot only enhance the atmosphere which can help their  football teams, but they can also intimidate the opponent. This section can be  built from two aspects, song lyrics and ways to express them, to find the potential  cause.  

Song Lyrics  

Through analyzing the song lyrics among the football fans, some interesting phenomena have been found out. Simple monosyllabic sounds are always sung by the football fans. A fascinating thing is that football fans who do not have  enough experience or personal knowledge as the football fans for the team they  support also join in the chord and follow the behavior of the majority. So, for the  song lyrics with simple monosyllabic sounds, they can be easily sung by people,  and they enable fans to blend in with the crowd of football fans more simply. 

Based on the video which showed a group of New York fans singing together with Simple monosyllabic sounds like “WOW,” “Go, go go! Ale, ale, ale!”(” New  York City fans singing”), football fans gathered together and sang with rhythm.  In order to explain this phenomenon, there are two perspectives. One is that the  song lyrics are simple for them to learn as fast as they can. What’s more, the  rhythm is regular and can also be followed easily. Besides, one simple monosyllable sounds have the characteristic of strong vigor. When football fans  sing together, the sounds give rise to the resonance and bring to the strong power.  In another perspective, in the tribe, maybe because of language limitation, tribal  people usually utilize single syllables as their song lyrics to express their feelings.  In the documentary of The Zo’é tribe, which is in Amazon rainforests of north  Brazil. When they encountered the enemy or prey, they shouted together with  single sounds like “Yoo” or “Hoo” and used this way to threaten the opponent  (“Isolated: The Zoé tribe”). It is the same as football fans, the intense power  singing through football fans can threaten the opponent as well. 

Besides, football fans not only sing simple monosyllabic sounds as the song lyrics,  but they also sing with abundant meanings including positive contents as well as  negative meanings. 

For positive meanings, on one hand, they can promote the sense of group honor  and enhance cohesion among fans. On the other hand, Reflecting the character of  the clan can also be the effect of it. According to New York City’s official website,  it gives the contents of songs sung by New York City football fans. In the song  called “A Call to Arms,” one lyrics “stand together and fight as one” reflects the  strong feeling of New York City football fans (The Third Rail). In this song’s lyrics,  football fans are called to stick together and fight against the opponent as a  whole. “Arms’ ‘ reflect how football fans work together. “Arms’ ‘ can also be seen  as weapons. When the team is intensely fighting with another, fans could show  up their arms, hold up their arms, and wave their arms like a weapon to strike  back the opponent. In addition, “Stand together” can form a scene where football  fans stand together on the bleachers and are supposed to support the team at any  moment. While “fight as one” can reflect football fans’ resolution. What’s more,  it can show that they form unity and fight against the opposition as one. “Fight” and “Stand together” are two forceful phrases that can promote the sense of group  honor. More important, with the help of strong song lyrics, fans become more  cohesive and work as a whole team. The football fans are regarded as the twelfth  man of the team on the field. By the way, when the football fans sing as the whole,  they can seem as a clan which has its specific characteristic and group identity. 

Music can be used to form the social and sub-cultural boundaries (“”). Form the song lyrics, the group identity of the  New York City football fans is never giving up but instead fighting as the whole.  When they sing together with their team songs, it will give the opposition vast  amounts of pressure as well as forces of intimidation. More importantly, it can be  used as a weapon to protect themselves and fight against when they are encroached by offensive language or violent behaviors. 

National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell delivers remarks during an event at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., launching an initiative between the Army and the NFL to work to raise awareness about traumatic brain injury Aug. 30, 2012. Goodell and U.S. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the chief of staff of the Army, jointly signed a letter formalizing the initiative during the event. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Released)

Although song lyrics have a good influence for the team, they also have a  negative impact on the football fans which can even cause violence between  football fans. A video called how British football fans swear at players showed  the negative song lyrics sung by the football fans (“”). Although it is  about British football, it still has reference value that can reflect the behavior of  American football fans to some extent because of the similarity of hooliganism.  In the video, fans sang the songs with some bad language to swear at others like  “Adebayor! Adebayor! His dad washes elephants, and his Mom is a whore.” They aimed at one specific player of the opposing team and cursed him with racial  discrimination. It cannot only intimidate the players on the field, but it can also  cause indignation among the rival fans. Football fans singing songs with  malicious language will cause problems not only restricted in the dimension of  football, but also in the proportion of race, culture, and even the whole state. The  conflict between two teams as well as the reason of history or religion will finally  ignite the rage and then convert into the massive scale of violent behaviors. Thus,  song lyrics with lousy language have infinite potential to initiate cultural  violence. 

Based on this, for the song lyrics, they are supposed to be the tool for the football  fans to cohere together, create an atmosphere for players to behave better, and  boost the whole group of fans like a family. However, while the language used  within the song lyrics is cynical, it will cause the conflict and originate the  intimidation between fans. Even worse, it will cause the violence. 

Nonverbal expression in songs  

Song Lyrics and ways of expressing have a close relationship, which cannot  divide from each other. In other words, one of both existing without each other  cannot exert its strength to communicate efficiently. Ways of expression by  football fans principally are the actions they behave while singing, such as  dancing and clapping hands. More broadly, singing songs is one form of  communication.

When football fans express their songs inside or outside the field,  their expressions are very similar to the daily conversation, which not only  convey their message to their opponents but more importantly communicate their sentiment to their fellows. Communication mainly includes three parts: words, the  tone of voice, and body language. According to Albert Mehrabian, a psychology  professor who is majoring in verbal and nonverbal messages, words account  for 7%, while tones of voice and body language account for 38% and 55%  (Yaffe). According to the statistics listed above, the way they express their songs  seems more crucial than just the contents of the songs.  

When football fans gather together and sing songs, the actions they behave while  singing can divide into two sorts: body movement without devices and body  movement with tools. Both types of expression can influence their appearance  and the atmosphere to a large extent. This section mainly focuses on three  behaviors: fist, clap, and using the drum.  

First, of both, body movements without instruments seem to be simple, but they  are the more common one than body movements with devices because the action is easy to follow by the fellows and it can behave anywhere without instrument’s  constraint. According to the YouTube video called Singing in the South Ward at  the New York Red Bulls home opener, football fans of New York Red Bulls hold  their fists (“Singing in the South Ward at the New York Red Bulls home opener”).  The fists could symbolize strength, which gives a high impression not only to  the team but also to the opposition. For the team, the tenacious fists could be considered as a team with confidence. For the opposition, it could be the  defensive signal because fists are tied up and prepared to fight at any time. 

Other than clenching fists, the collective behavior they act more often is clapping hands rhythmically. According to another YouTube video, COME ON NEW  YORK: NYCFC fans celebrate Hudson River Derby win, football fans of New  York City first clap hands twice with slow rhythms, then accompany with three  faster claps, at last, they raise up both hands. The patterns that football fans clap  hands are not as strict as if there is a discipline of the rule. Instead, they are freer  to behave based on the rhythms of songs.

For another example, one of the most famous incidents in which football fans use clapping hands to support their home team is Euro 2016 Viking clapping of Iceland fans (Euro 2016 Viking clapping of  Iceland fans). As record shows, Iceland fans clap hands with footballers. They  slap hands once a time with a slow rhythm at first and a faster one then. Their order  sounds exist together, which generates the resonance and gives strong vigor. More  importantly, herd mentality is involved in it, which means individual football fans  follow the groups’ behaviors (Wikipedia). Some of the fans clap hands at the  beginning, and more and more fans join the group’s clapping. 

Then the body moves with the help of instruments including drums.  Football fans are not just satisfied with their body movement; instead, they use  external tools to generate more powerful influence. According to the NYCFC  C’mon New York chant, New York City football fans use the drums to inspire  the whole team. One leader plays the drum, and other football fans sing with  rhythm flowing through the sound of the drum. The drummers play a vital role in this  process of celebrating. They are the start point of the whole song. They are  responsible for the rhythm. With the help of them, the herd can express their songs  within a strong discipline. In addition, because they are in charge of pace, they  can control the speed as they want. 

In most of the scenes, body movements without instruments and body movements  with instruments are always combined. Under the help of different kinds of  expression, football fans reveal their emotions and convey their message through these forms of communication.  

The effects of these ways of expression are prominent, which have positive as  well as negative influence. The consistency of body movements cannot only  enhance the atmosphere but also can generate a strong momentum. During the  expression, football fans can show their intense emotions and overwhelming  feelings through body language. They convey these elements by using body  movement to themselves, opponents, and footballers on the field. They utilize 

fists to deliver the message with their firm attitude. What’s more, the congregate sounds brought by clapping and drums elevate the strong momentum. It is more  like the bravado related to tribal behaviors. They raise their hands high while  hunting. It cannot only boost their courage but also frighten their prey. Similarly,  in ancient China, the army usually played the drum before fighting to enhance the  momentum. Thus, the ways of expression by football fans have the same effects.  Other than these positive influences, it also has a negative and violent impact.  Imagine that in the home field of New York City, it is enveloped in the blue sea,  with order clapping sounds as well as team song Stand together and Fight as one. 

New York red bull fans will feel depressed and frightened. Even worse, because  of the bravado, they will be infuriated. It will give the possible environment for violent behaviors. 

Therefore, song lyrics and ways of expression are inseparable and indispensable.  They have got the mutual promotion that they affect with each other for the same  objective. Both together can bring a positive influence to the teams, but also  provide a potential blasting fuse for the violence. 

Other factors in rising of football-related  violence 

Based on analysis and evaluation listed above, it is reasonable to say that song  lyrics and ways of expression can be the fundamental reasons to cause the  culturally related violence, while other elements also contribute to this social  phenomenon including Geographical location, Fans and Players Affecting each  other, and social class. These factors could affect fans behavior from different  dimensions. 

Fans and Players  

Fans are not the only elements“ignite” the fierce fight, but football players are  also an important and crucial factor that causes the conflict. In YOUTUBE video  INSTANT REPLAY: Kljestan gets bloodied – Was it a red card foul? In MLS,  Football players slide to the opponents with dangerous and barbarian behaviors,  which draws the fire between players. They use their heads to bunt each other. Because  of this intense atmosphere, the fans jump and sweat immediately in a fury. Even  worse, they throw bottles at the players as well as the opposing fans in another  bleacher. Suddenly, the atmosphere has changed. The impressed indignation burst out. Gradually, this incident causes conflict, even fights between fans  and players. Therefore, the behaviors of players will directly or indirectly influence the emotion and actions of football fans.  

Geographical location  

Geographical location can be one of the reasons that affect fans’ behaviors to a  great extent. It is objective to say that this natural factor will prohibit fans’ behavior. If teams are thousands away from each other, it will be expensive and  toilsome for fans to travel across the whole continent to watch a football match, let alone consume effort to fight (especially in America with the large mainland).  In contrast, if the distance between football fans were very close, it would be  common and frequent to see football fans gather together and go to another football fans’ community to cause a riot. According to a video on Fusion TV about New  York football fans fighting before the New York City Derby on August 9th in 2015 (“This Is What We Know About the Soccer Hooligans Fighting Before the New  York Derby”). A gang of New York Red bull fans fought with New York City  fans on the street in the community. After police came, they spread out  fleetingly and formed the whole with singing and jumping intending to provoke  the opponent. So, in a relative geographical region, it will be easier for individuals  to gather together and cause conflict with the opponent.  

Social class  

More than that, geographical difference generates regional discrimination with social class hierarchy. According to a scholar in University of Pennsylvania Law  School, in his essay, he comprehensively states that “For centuries, Americans  have discriminated against one another because they come from different parts  of the country. Northerners have been derogatorily referred to as “Yankees,” Southerners as “rednecks,” Appalachians as “hillbillies,” Californians as  “hippies” and “Valley girls,” and Native Americans as “redskins (DIAZ, 650).” Regional discrimination is severe and popular throughout America. Consequently, “such discrimination has had particularly adverse consequences in the  employment (DIAZ, 650)” and definitely in their behaviors on the football court. 

While this discrimination is becoming increasingly fierce, the conflict will ultimately evolve to form the football violence. More broadly, regional discrimination is not exceptional in America but is common all over the world.  For instance, I recorded a video that during a football match between one northern football team in China and a southern football team in China, football fans swore  to their opponents beyond football. They cursed in the lousy language with region  involving in it. Hence, the regional discrimination will be brought to the football  field accessorily before the match. With this much conflict, it lays an undelying problem for the further football violence. 

Other than regional discrimination, social hierarchy is another fierce problem to  consider. Referring to a professional social essay written by professors in  University of Wisconsin, it states that the class structure in America is  unambiguous involving in small employer (proletariat), capitalist,  semi autonomous employees such as most professionals (bourgeoisie) because  “Contradictory locations between modes of production constitute the most  complex situation (Erik Olin, 710).” Apparently, the conflict between proletariat and bourgeoisie could be highlighted on the football field. Fans with inferior class  show their impressed and unsatisfied feeling while superior class expresses their  discrimination and prejudice. As a result, it promotes more intense fighting not only  on the physical dimension but also on the psychological dimension through football. 


Looking through all the elements contributing to this culturally related football  violence, in my opinion, I see this “ barbarian ” behavior is a common  phenomenon under an extensive background.  

If geographic limitation, regional discrimination, and class hierarchy were the  overall reasons that immerse inside every humans’ blood since they were born  like blazing fire, song lyrics and ways of expression could be the dominant factors  that enhance the intense atmosphere and infuriate the opponent as petrol that  supports combustion.  

Without much exaggeration to say, the football violence is much beyond the  physical football match, not just because football fans support for the different  football team. Instead, it reflects cultural problems. If football fans did not  behave brutishly through football violence, they would use other ways in another  field to express their discontented and indignant feeling because of the culturally  different and discrimination. 

While the football field gives football fans an opportunity to unbosom themselves for  those who are unsatisfied with real life, they will break out their impressed emotion  beyond this sport. Under the tense atmosphere, when football fans sing the same  song by expressing consistent behavior, they find a clan and group to belong  to, to keep fidelity, and to fight for it. Furthermore, they do not just compete for the  physical team. Instead, they fight for psychological conflict involving unequal  treatment, different beliefs, and distinct class hierarchy with their singing. In  other words, the football team is a symbol for them that they can have a group of  people to confide their shared experience, emotion, and beliefs. 

Thus, it is not strange to see there has been many football fans’ violence evolved in a relatively new country that football just has been famous for about ten years.  The New York derby is just the miniature of American football. Gradually, more  football fans will form their subculture to express their identity and their thoughts. In the future, this phenomenon will not be as intense and often as that  in European countries, instead, it will be more pervasive. 

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Written by Gechen Shen
Is NFL A Violent Sport?