Behind the Book

Fanaticus_300x450This book was a natural outgrowth of my experience as an ESPN producer. During the summer of 2011, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to work on a story about troubles within the Ohio State University football team. My reporting on both players and coaches who broke team rules angered many Ohio State fans, who harassed me, hoping that their emails would halt my investigation and I would leave town. The messages were nasty, the voices hateful. Someone on Facebook ordered me to “go back to my cage.” My voicemail was littered with words like “bitch” and “chump.” As a result, ESPN corporate security and the police became involved; I started to register for hotel rooms under false names. I knew I was probably not facing real danger, but being the object of this hostility made me wonder why sports, often a noble and inspiring pursuit, could be a springboard for such intense hatred.

Fanaticus delves into bad fan behavior, which have been documented since ancient times. It follows the author as she dissects the relationship between fans and athletes, and introduces the readers to some of the most committed and craziest fans out there.

After a brief history of fan violence throughout the ages, the book begins its thorough examination of events of misbehavior, violence, and hatred in the United States, revisiting several notorious riots and tragedies that have unfolded at football stadiums, basketball arenas, ballparks, and on college campuses — capturing headlines, shocking observers, and forcing the sports world to reexamine its value system.

Fanaticus follows the author through visits with extreme soccer/football supporters in England, Belgium, and Italy and explores fandom in Asia and Latin America in order to understand mayhem on a global scale. In a search to comprehend what drives this aggressive behavior, Fanaticus consults historians and scientists, who offer their expert analysis at the social and cultural drivers behind this trend.

The book also explores the role of alcohol, which is often the cause behind fights, bad language, “Code V’s” and “Splash Calls” (euphemisms in the sports world for vomiting fans), and how some stadiums have tried to combat drunk fans with things like breathalyzing targeted ticket holders or even cancelling games.

No discussion of fan violence would be complete without addressing social media, where fans have a direct line to express hostility and can cloak themselves in anonymity. The author takes on the explosion of sports speak across social media head on, with examples, anecdotes and analysis of this troubling trend.

Fanaticus concludes with a look at high-tech security solutions that may — or may not — be the wave of the future. In all, the author theorizes that a fix to fan culture requires a serious paradigm shift. But it ends on a high note, with the acknowledgement that sports has undergone cultural change before — and can do so again with the right commitment.

Fanaticus will illuminate the question many people, both in the sports world and in general, have about sports fans. Why do fans resort to violence? Why do fans identify so heavily with teams? What can be done about the riots? Have there been any successful strategies for stemming the violence? By giving historical, social, and psychological perspective, the book is useful for industry insiders, players, parents and fans.

Fanaticus includes a compilation of interviews with leading experts, including: the highest ranking law enforcement official in charge of controlling Raider nation; Bill Buford, author of Among the Thugs, who embedded himself with English hooligans in the 80’s; John Green, the Detroit Pistons fan who threw the cup at NBA player Ron Artest and started the notorious, televised brawl between fans and players known as the Malice at the Palace; a European football hooligan, banned from his home stadium for bad behavior who proves hooliganism is not dead; The New York Jets fan known as Fireman Ed who stepped down from leading fans in cheers and chants because he couldn’t abide the lawless game atmosphere any longer; security chiefs of the National Football League and Major League Baseball; rioting college students from the University of Massachusetts and University of Minnesota; Lance Easley, a NFL replacement referee who was excoriated for a blown call; Italian ultras who explain why racist chants are acceptable at their matches; NBC Sports Sideline reporter Michele Tafoya; Lexi Alexander, director of the film Green Street Hooligans and former hooligan herself; a fan who was rewarded with an invite to the Daytona 500 for being nice on Twitter to NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick; and Facebook’s director of engineering and two Ohio State fans who harassed me. Never before has this range of voices been heard together. Finally, readers can get rare access into what the most “passionate” fans were thinking.

While written with obsessive detail and insider expertise for the sports fan, Fanaticus also transcends a sports audience and appeals to non-sports fans who are looking for answers as to why people act the way they do. It’s written for anyone who is interested in what drives human behavior and causes seemingly unremarkable people to abandon societal norms and act out in unimaginable ways. This book defines and dissects an issue that is nominally about sports, but in truth says something bigger about our culture and human nature.