Sports Riots: The Other IED

Sports rioting is on the rise, and tactical units are tailor-made to handle these rowdy encounters.

The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders play an annual pre-season game called the “Battle of the Bay.” On the field, the 49ers won the game. Off the field, the game was ruined by out-of-control, knucklehead thugs who brought mayhem to Candlestick Park.

Numerous fights-many of them large scale-broke out during and after the game around the stadium known. Many of the fights had nothing to do with football or team loyalty, as evidenced by one major brawl in the stands that involved a number of participants throwing punches. One camera showed a male wearing a 49ers jersey being pummeled by two males-one wearing a 49ers jersey, the other wearing a Raiders jersey.

One critically injured assault victim was found unconscious in a stadium restroom. After the game, outside the stadium, shots rang out – two men were shot and wounded supposedly because one wore an “F*** the 49ers shirt,” an account disputed by his father.

Mayors of San Francisco and Oakland condemned the violence. San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr says he’s never seen anything like this. A dozen arrests were made, along with dozens of “medicals”-far more than usual for games. Police blamed the violence on thugs and gangs who have no interest in football. SFPD will substantially beef up the number of officers at future 49ers home games.

San Francisco 49ers President Jed York asked the NFL to “indefinitely suspend” the annual 49ers-Raiders pre-season game that dates back to 1967. The fans lose, thanks to a bunch of “loser thugs.”

Sports violence, including rioting, is far from new and most such incidents are rarely reported beyond the region where they occur. And the violence usually occurs at virtually all levels – pro, college, high school, and even pee-wee sports.

What can be scary is that much of this violence, especially in recent years, has little or nothing to do with sports rivalries. Instead, sporting events are becoming an outlet for “sports rage,” which is much the same as “road rage.” Sports violence has escalated dramatically from the days of rival fans fighting with fisticuffs, stabbings, shootings, and rioting involving rival gangs. While sports-related violence has been around since the beginning of sports, much of today’s violence is thug driven.

Sports violence has even been identified by some as a medical disorder called Intermittent Explosive Disorder-“the other IED.” It may be fueled by unusually high amounts of testosterone and caused by “idiots acting like fools.”

These outbreaks of deadly and mass violence have alarmed a growing number of LE agencies to substantially increase the number of officers assigned to sporting events where violence is anticipated. This comes at a bad time for many law enforcement agencies being forced to reduce their number of officers.

Thugs now understand that appearing in large numbers and coordinating their havoc via instant communications, they’re gaining the advantage over the thinning blue line of officers. Thugs are becoming increasingly brazen, violent and more public.

This is where SWAT comes into the picture. I’m a strong advocate of SWAT being their agency’s tactical spearhead. After all, SWAT exists to handle the highest-risk situations. As such, SWAT needs to be plugged in when and where high-risk situations are involved or anticipated.

The mere presence of SWAT as a show of force, especially in combination by mobile field forces, often has a chilling effect upon would-be troublemakers. If violence does occur, who better than SWAT to diffuse the situation?

I’m certain most SWAT teams already have the role of spearheading their agency’s tactical response to disorders. But for those teams who don’t, this is a role tailor-made for SWAT.

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert “Bob” O’Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O’Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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