Posted: Thursday June 16, 2011 1:24PM ; Updated: Thursday June 16, 2011 4:21PM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>VIEWPOINT

Rioting in sports: how passion, alcohol provide explosive mix

Story Highlights

Rioting in streets of Vancouver after Stanley Cup loss gives city a bad name

Plenty of other cities have riots; location doesn't matter, fans lose perspective

Why do we take moments of civic unity and turn them into uncivil idiocy?

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The ugly scenes in Vancouver
Source:SI
Rioters swept through downtown Vancouver after the Canucks' loss to Boston in Game 7 of the Cup Finals.

I feel bad for the 99 percent of Vancouver residents who didn't riot. What a miserable day they must be having. They poured every available emotion and thought into their hockey team, per city ordinance, and their team made it all the way to the last game of the Stanley Cup Final only to get shut out at home, and then a group of highly motivated doofuses trashed the city, which means that all of North America now sees Vancouver as a city of chokers and jerks.

This isn't fair, of course. Postgame rioting finds a home in all kinds of cities, in all sorts of countries, after all varieties of event. It is like alcohol in that way. This is not a coincidence.

I live near Detroit, which still gets mocked as a city that riots after sporting events, a rap that began after the Tigers won the 1984 World Series and a local teen was pictured holding up a Tigers pennant in front of a burning police car. But since then, Los Angeles, Montreal and a number of other cities have had similar nasty incidents, while Detroit has made it through seven major championships, a World Series loss, two Stanley Cup finals losses and the Matt Millen era without a full-blown riot.

After the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, Vancouver fans took to the streets and rioted.
After the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, Vancouver fans took to the streets and rioted.
REUTERS

There is a reason for that: Detroiters know that when they host a big sporting event, all of North America expects them to riot. That knowledge is what keeps a few drunken incidents of violence from developing into all-out mayhem.

The photos from Vancouver look like something out of a war-torn country. Vancouver is not war-torn. Roberto Luongo may have let the pressure get to him, but he didn't take away anybody's freedom. Check out this video; it was bad. Nearly 150 people were taken to the hospital and millions in damage was done.

GALLERY: The Vancouver riot

This wasn't like one wacko poisoning Toomer's Oaks or a drunk fan rushing onto the field naked. This was a sub-community of people losing their minds. Again: I feel bad for all those people in Vancouver who didn't participate, especially the ones who must have been completely freaked out, and especially the ones who thought that if they took their kids to a big sporting event, the normal rules of society would still apply.

Why do these riots happen? Why do sports bring out the worst instincts in otherwise reasonable people? Why do we take moments of civic unity and turn them into uncivil idiocy?

The simple answer, and maybe the most important one, is this: Everybody gets hopped up on adrenaline and alcohol. Sprinkle in some crushing disappointment. Add a mob mentality that lets people think they can get away with anything -- call it The Lack of Wisdom of Crowds.

One rioter told the Toronto Star, after setting a garbage can on fire, "This is releasing tension, man. What else are you going to do when you lose the Stanley Cup? You riot."

This raises so many questions for me, starting with: Why would you light a GARBAGE CAN on fire? That's a great idea -- take the foulest-smelling thing you can find and make it smell worse. Moron.

Also: What else are you going to do when you lose the Stanley Cup? Seriously? How about listening to a depressing song, going for a bike ride, playing a video game, commiserating with your friends, or emailing an ex-girlfriend to tell her she is no longer responsible for the worst moment in your life? Come on, man. There is life beyond that burning garbage can.

Suppose you are of the mindset, as too many Vancouverites evidently were, that the only thing to do when you lose the Stanley Cup is riot. Is this something you plan? When the Bruins went up 3-0, did fans leave to get in good rioting position, so they wouldn't get stuck in traffic?

It was scary and also absurd, perhaps summed up best by this photo, which is like, the exact opposite of the famous V-J Day in Times Square photo.

We say we love crazy fans, until they actually become crazy fans. It's a fine line, and beer leads people across it. (I'm not anti-alcohol. On many nights in my life, I have been extremely, virulently pro-alcohol. But let's be honest: If everybody in Vancouver was sober, there would have been no riot.)

We have seen this kind of foolishness in a bunch of other cities in the last two decades. Geography is almost irrelevant. Heck, economics are almost irrelevant, and you can't say that about many societal phenomena.

Like Detroit and other cities, Vancouver will learn from this, too. There was rioting in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Cup in 1994 and the city can't make the same mistake again. I can all but guarantee that if the Canucks make the Cup final next year, Vancouver will brace for a riot, warn about a riot ... and won't riot. There are a lot of lessons to learn from sports. It's a shame that cities have to keep learning this one.

 
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