Paying People to ID Violent Sports Fans: A Winning Idea?

VIDEO: Pittsburgh police use clubs and Tasers on an unruly fan.
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Can violence by sports fans be addressed by legislation?

That's the hope of a California state lawmaker who has introduced a bill meant to deter violent fan behavior at sports events.

While skeptics would note that beefed-up security and reduced alcohol sales, not a new law, might be the more effective solution, some sports sociologists see merit in the idea. It would be another tool in the tool bag for sports franchises and stadium owners to use to keep crowds under control, they say.

The measure would allow for stiffer sentences for people convicted of fighting or attacking others at sporting events. It also would create a fund, fed by mandatory $50,000 annual donations from the California-based sports franchises, to pay rewards for information leading to suspects in such incidents.

"I know a lot of parents who are afraid to take their kids to a ballgame," said state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the bill's sponsor, in a statement. "That's not the California that I know."

His move comes on the heels of two violent incidents involving fans at sports stadiums in California.

San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, a paramedic and father of two, was attacked from behind in the Dodger Stadium parking lot in Los Angeles on March 31, and he remains hospitalized with a brain injury. After a long search and help from the public, police arrested several suspects.

Over the weekend, two fans were injured during a shooting at the San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders preseason football game at Candlestick Park. In a separate incident at the game, a man was beaten unconscious in a stadium bathroom. Police in the San Francisco Bay Area are still searching for suspects.

"There are many things worth fighting for," said Mr. Gatto. "The fact that someone wore a rival sports franchise's jersey to a game isn't one of them."

Gatto's action is welcomed by some who study fan behavior.

"I certainly applaud this," says Kevin Grace, a researcher in violence and sports marketing at the University of Cincinnati. "Even my students complain that they can't even have a couple of beers any more at a sporting event because of isolated pockets of fans who are getting profane. This is a good thing. It's not overregulation, just more focused regulation."

"This legislation is just what is needed," agrees Jarred Chin, instructor of training and curriculum at the Center for Sport in Society, at Northeastern University in Boston. It's smart to involve bystanders via a reward system for being vigilant, he suggests. "We always teach how to get bystanders involved because then you've increased the monitoring exponentially," he says. "Many of these people just came to have a good time at the game and are seeing this violence escalate and don't know what to do."

What's needed is a new emphasis on what could be called "bystander literacy," says Charles Williams III, director of the Center for Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University.

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