It is a cool November day, and your home football team has just defeated its biggest rival. Thousands of fans are chanting “goalpost, goalpost, goalpost” as they charge onto the field. As police move in to prevent fans from tearing down the goalpost, other fans begin tearing up the sod and throwing it at the officers.
Simultaneously, a crowd of people climb onto the goalpost. Several police officers are knocked down by rushing fans. In response, police deploy pepper spray on the crowd.
Does all of this sound familiar? It has happened across the country at several colleges and universities. This particular scene occurred Saturday Nov. 23, 2002 at Ohio Stadium as The Ohio State University (OSU) Buckeyes defeated the University of Michigan Wolverines.
It took almost an hour to get order restored on the playing field. In the aftermath, the field’s sod was destroyed, and there were numerous injuries to fans. The goalpost, which remained standing, was surrounded with discarded clothing that lay in a heap at the base completely discolored by mud and the orange stain of pepper spray.
Later that evening and into the early morning hours in the neighborhood adjacent to campus, a crowd of 4,000 to 6,000 individuals contributed to the worst celebratory rioting in the history of OSU. During the post-game disturbance, 107 dumpster and couch fires were reported, 20 cars were damaged and 70 individuals, including 17 students, were arrested.
Celebratory riots as defined in The Ohio State University Task Force on Preventing Celebratory Riots: Final Report, April 7, 2003 are often associated with sporting events. They typically occur very late at night, extend into the early morning hours and are almost always associated with high volume alcohol consumption.
They involve fire setting as a common practice, along with destruction of property. Participants are usually white, young adult males, with a large crowd of onlookers who are predominantly white, young adults of both sexes. Many are students of the host institution, but other young adults (students and non-students) are often involved. Celebratory riots usually end with police intervention that is met with resistance from participants who show a lack of respect for authority.
OSU Creates Task Force to Prevent Celebratory Riots
In response to the OSU 2002 riot, then University President Dr. Karen Holbrook and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman formed the Task Force on Preventing Celebratory Rioting. The committee was made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members, city officials, and university administrators. Their charge was to investigate the causes and most effective strategies for preventing riots.
The task force focused on four areas: alcohol consumption; effective celebration management; the role of the community, culture and the media; and the nature of young adult risk taking. Two strategies were developed. The first was to initiate a long term campaign that called for positive, proactive community involvement of students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and city officials. The campaign focused on instilling pride and enhancing positive engagement, promoting safety and health, and preventing illegal and irresponsible behavior.
The second strategy was the implementation of recommendations that would have an immediate impact on preventing riots. Three programs had a great impact: Party Patrol (see sidebar on page 24), Game Day Alcohol Enforcement, and the OSU Sportsmanship Council. Two main areas of concern were identified: post-game, on-field celebrations and post-game celebrations that take place well after the game in the campus area.