Fact-Check: Does Domestic Violence Against Women Increase on Football Sundays?

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Yes, it does. But there is a bit more to it.

All the Rage has actually covered something similar before with our piece on the Inciting World of Sports. The domestic violence claim has taken a lot of different forms (“Domestic violence triples on Super Bowl Sunday,” “More women are victims of violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year”).

So how much of this is actually true? Three separate studies debunked the fact that violence against women is at an all-time high on football Sundays.  In fact, according to recent research in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, summer holidays like the 4th of July have a domestic violence rate three times higher than days with televised professional football games.

However, research seems to suggest that while domestic violence rates may not be at their highest on game day, there does seem to be an increase. In the same study, researchers suggested that intimate partner violence does increase on certain football Sundays as opposed to those Sundays with no football game. This phenomenon was also noted in a 2006 study published in the book Handbook of Sports and Media with their findings that on days after an NFL football game, domestic violence rates increased. In a 2011 study, researchers David Card and Gordon Dahl take their findings a bit further. They found that domestic violence rates do indeed increase after a football game, but only on days when the favored team (i.e., the team expected to win) suffers an unexpected loss. Looking at 6 cities with NFL football teams (Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tennessee Titans), they found that there was about a 10% increase in male domestic violence against woman on game days with an upset.

By Lisa Gehrke
Lisa is a senior Psychology and Human Development major at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She will be graduating in May and hope to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

What About that Loud Angry Parent on the Sidelines?

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Anyone who has been to a children’s sporting event has noticed that it seems as though there is always at least one parent yelling at the kids, at the coaches, or at the referees.  Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered what they are yelling about?

In a 2012 study in The Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, Omli and LaVoi examined the behaviors of angry parents at sporting events.  They surveyed over 700 parents via an online questionnaire asking them to recall a time when they were upset or showed anger at one of their children’s sporting events.  This study was able to detect what exactly was making parents to become angry.  Once all data was collected the research team coded all responses into categories.

The research team found that many parents’ responses could be put into three categories.  These three categories include unjust conduct, which means that parents showed anger because they found something to be unfair or impartial.  For example, “the referee was not being fair or the coach was not being fair because they didn’t play my son more.”  The second category had to do with a lack of care toward their child.  For example, when a coach exhibited behaviors that were cruel or unkind toward a particular child.  Finally, the third category had to do with incompetence like when the offender (e.g., referee, coach) was deemed incapable of doing his or her job.

While, this study was not able to examine the exact behavior of the parent who expressed anger, it was able to examine three situations that may provoke parents’ anger.  Therefore, moving forward perhaps future research could look at ways to reduce parents’ anger responses and to explore what kids learn when their parents become so upset.

By Rebecca Arrowood
Rebecca is a senior Psychology major and Human Development minor at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She will be attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling Psychology next fall.

The Inciting World of Sports

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Question: Is it true that there are more cases of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year?

Several online sources refer to this as the Super Bowl Myth and have outlined data to the contrary (see the following: Snopes, Family Violence Prevention Fund, and Parade). The basic premise here is that the aggression laden sport of football promotes violence amongst male viewers who take the game too seriously. 

As it turns out, though, calling it an all out myth might be going a bit too far.  While it is not true that there are more instances of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year, at least one study has found a relationship between domestic violence and football viewership on Super Bowl Sunday.

Not surprisingly, there is very little research on the relationship between football viewership and violence.  A 2003 paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association appears to be the most thorough evaluation of the topic.  In this paper, the authors found that, across 12 cities with NFL teams, there was a slight increase in reported cases of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday.  However, they also found that this increase was consistent with the increases seen on Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day and, therefore, it probably had less to do with football than it has to do with a host of other factors associated with special occasions (e.g., parties, alcohol, high expectations, increased interaction with spouse). 

All that having been said, it’s clear that many people find themselves getting too riled up over football (and other sports) and it often leaves others wondering why.  After all, it’s only a game, right?  Well, as it turns out, there are several basic psychological phenomena that make anger a likely reaction for some when they watch sports.  

Basking in Reflected Glory: One concept, originally described by Robert Cialdini and relevant to sports viewership, is the tendency of people to bask in the reflected glory (BIRG) of successful others.  You often hear this in the language they use to discuss their favorite team.  Fans respond to victory by saying “we” won, “we” played great, and who do “we” play next.  Even though they themselves have done nothing concrete to have earned the victory, they still see themselves as part of the team and, therefore, partially responsible for the victory.  Sports enthusiasts are not the only people who BIRG.  We see it amongst political supporters, in the workplace, amongst teenagers trying to identify with popular kids, and other groups.

Tension: Once you acknowledge that fans care about the outcome because they identify with the team (i.e., they BIRG), it’s easy to understand the tension that accompanies viewing a sporting event.  This becomes even more true as the stakes get higher.  The more important the game, the greater the tension and, as was discussed under Anger Basics, people experience greater anger in response to negative events if they are already feeling tense or on edge. 

Elevated Status and Meaning: It is not uncommon to hear fans describe sporting events as hugely important or even monumental occasions, elevating the status and meaning of the events well beyond their actual implications.  Attaching so much importance to an event will certainly lead to frustration and anger when there is an undesired outcome.  In other words, if someone thinks that watching their team win will be the best thing that ever happened to them, watching them lose will probably feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to them.   

Perceptions of Unfairness: Anytime a sporting event is decided by just a few points, it’s easy to find controversy or some reason why the outcome was not fair or deserved. Ambiguous calls by officials, poor play by a player, or poor coaching all fall into the category of reasons why a team “should” have won and otherwise “would” have won.  It all feeds into the feeling that the desired outcome was taken from the fan and gives the fan a specific target to be angry with (e.g., coach, referees). 

Secondary Gain: Finally, for some, the outcome of the game has actual consequences.  Typically, these consequences are manufactured by the person ahead of time through gambling, fantasy football, or even just through banter with a friend who supports the opposition (i.e., “smack talk”).  For such people, the outcome has very real financial or social implications and it is easy to have an emotional reaction to the idea of lost money or damaged pride.

The good news is that no one is doomed to feel angry every time his or her team loses.  There are some fairly simple steps that can be taken to help decrease unwanted feelings of anger. 

  1. Keep it in Perspective: It is important, not just during the game but in the time leading up to it, to remember the real implications of things not going the way you want them to.  It may be easier said than done but try to keep in mind what it will really mean if your team loses or wins. 
  2. Awareness and Relaxation: Being aware of feelings of tension and anger in the moment and introducing relaxation approaches can be a valuable way to decrease unwanted anger.  Useful relaxation approaches can include deep breathing, counting, progressive muscle relaxing and others.  
  3. Limit the Banter: Friendly banter can become unfriendly in a hurry so it’s a good idea to remember not to dish out any more than you can take.  Adding damaged pride to a loss only makes it worse and there’s a good chance that the targets of your excessive smack talk will come back at you when you are down. 
  4. Avoidance: Ultimately, it might make sense for people to consider whether or not they want to invite something into their life that makes them so angry.  Watching sports is a choice, even for people who are really passionate about them, and you can choose not to watch if it isn’t healthy for you or the people around you. 

By Ryan C. Martin
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