Dangerous Games: Football Losses Linked To Domestic Violence

According to a new study, football losses are correlated with spikes in domestic violence. So does sports disappointment cause abuse?

Economists Gordon Dahl and David Card looked at twelve years of football upsets — losses by teams predicted to win by three or more points. They found that during the regular season, such losses were correlated with an 8% increase in male-initiated partner violence in the hours immediately after the game. Female-on-male violence and child abuse were both unaffected by football losses, but violence against friends and neighbors increased by about the same percentage partner violence did. So essentially, men who just watched their team lose are more likely to beat up lovers and friends.

Catherine Rampell points out on the New York Times Economix blog that other surprising factors contribute to domestic violence, including holidays — partner violence rises 22% on Thanksgiving. And Slate's Ray Fisman cautions that football may not actually cause abuse:

[W]hile a tough loss for the home team may touch off abuse, that doesn't mean football is the root cause of postgame violence. More likely, the loss merely serves to set off an attack that was already waiting to happen. In a world without football, acts of abuse might merely get postponed, only to be brought on later by some other source of anger. In the long term, rather than blaming football, we may be best off focusing on addressing the more fundamental problems underlying abusive relationships.

Mentally healthy people in stable relationships probably don't suddenly assault their spouses because the Steelers lost. But it's worth examining the possible external triggers for abuse — triggers that have nothing to do with a woman being "difficult" or "asking for it." It's also worth noting that for everything that's great about sports fandom — a shared narrative, a sense of camaraderie, just plain fun — athletic culture can sometimes have an element of violence. Anyone who went to a Big Ten school has probably seen a drunken postgame brawl between pissed-off fans, and while this doesn't mean we should condemn football, we might do well to be a little more aware of its after-effects. Part of this awareness might involve encouraging some moderation in tailgating — coverage of Card and Dahl's research doesn't mention it, but I have to wonder if the increased abuse doesn't have something to do with fans getting drunk at 11 a.m. And of course, men and women alike need to speak out against domestic violence — as a group of Australian men are doing tomorrow in honor of the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. But perhaps in addition to all this, some sports fans need an extra reminder that, as Fisman says, "it's only a game."

Football Upsets Increase Domestic Violence, Study Finds [NYT Economix Blog]
Illegal Contact [Slate]
Males Asked To Speak Out Against Violence [News.com.au]