Interview: Dr. Ari Novick Talks Fan Violence and Its Repercussions

The sports psychology expert explains fan culture and a new twist on the post-ejection rules for return.

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Image via Complex Original
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If you’ve ever been to an NFL game, or a bar in the fall for that matter, you’re all too aware of the chaos that can ensue with the perfect storm of brews, touchdowns, and bone-crushing hits. It’s in our blood, football is as American as lawsuits and obesity, and it’s our national right to get hammered in the upper deck and rain insults and suds on the out-of-town fans, right?
Hold the phone homie, because security is stepping their game up, and when you get kicked out of an NFL stadium now it ain't as easy as paying the toll to cross the bridge back in. Starting this season the NFL has collaborated with Dr. Ari J. Novick, a sports psychotherapist, anger management and parent educator, to come up with the Fan Conduct Class. We caught up with the good doctor to grill him about the program and find out just what’s in store for all you degenerates who think it’s necessary to start finding another excuse to get wasted tailgating for a 1 p.m. kickoff at 8 a.m. SMH.
Interview by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)

How did the fan conduct class come about?

We originally piloted a program with MetLife Stadium, which at the time was the Meadowlands Stadium. This was in 2010, and at that time the director of security of that stadium contacted us and asked if we could create a customized online alcohol awareness program to address fans who were ejected from their stadium for violating the stadium’s code of conduct policy. [Our focus was on] alcohol violations specifically, because it was a big problem at that stadium.
So we created a four-hour class and they piloted a program where fans who were ejected had to go through this program in order to return to the stadium legally. If they didn’t take the class and were caught on stadium grounds they could get arrested for trespassing. After that first season of piloting the program it was very successful, they had no repeat offenders. [This year] the NFL asked if we could make a more encompassing program that was more of a fan conduct class that addressed not just alcohol related issues, but all fan conduct and potential fan conduct violations. So we did and the program was then made a “best practice policy” league wide, so for this NFL season all 32 teams are participating.
Do you think there’s something about football, and NFL stadiums specifically, that encourages fighting more than other venues?

Alcohol plays a huge role in why people get ejected from games, in the NFL it accounts for about half of the ejections.


I don’t think so. I don’t think this problem is indigenous to the NFL. This problem happens at lots of major league sporting venues, the NFL is just the first league to take a solid stance on the issue and really utilize a program that can address this issue head on. I think we’ll eventually see other leagues adopting our program, right now we have a handful of Major League Soccer stadiums that are piloting it and we’re in discussions with some other stadiums that host other types of sports and venues as well.
What are some of the factors that lead up to violence in NFL stadiums, and stadiums in general for sporting events in this country?

Alcohol plays a huge role in why people get ejected from games, in the NFL it accounts for about half of the ejections, and I think that’s mostly because when you’re drinking too much it affects your ability for good judgment and impulse control and you tend to do things, behave in ways, that you might not normally do when you’re sober, and I think that’s a big piece of it. Then of course another part of it is sometimes people just come into the stadium with the belief that now that they’re inside the stadium they can somehow behave however they want. I think that’s a cultural issue, not just with the NFL, it’s somewhat of a cultural phenomenon that you see amongst lots of leagues where fans, people, who might not normally behave badly they come into the venue and they somehow adopt the view that they can scream profanities or behave badly towards the person next to them.
Do you think the anonymity of makes fans a bit more willing to participate since it's taken in a private setting?

I think the online format is really good from a number of standpoints. One, the way that our program is set up you have to actually comprehend and understand the material in order to pass. You can’t just sit there and let the timers run down and get your certificate. There’s a final exam at the end and you can take it as many times as you need to until you pass, you can go through and review the material again, but it actually ensures that the fan is learning—at least satisfactorily—what the rules are as well as being able to understand just some basic concepts for conducting themselves better when they come into the game.
This class is not meant to be a substitute for in-and-outpatient treatment, medical or psychological advice, it’s an educational class. It’s four hours, it’s not 400 hours, it’s short and it’s meant to be short in order to give a brief overview of some basic skill that fans can utilize next time they come into the stadium. It’s things like how to be a better communicator, how to manage your game day stress more effectively, how to have more empathy toward other fans, a better understanding of alcohol and the consequences of using alcohol, and of course it educates the fan on that particular stadiums code of conduct so that they know the rules.
What can fans expect for the games they attend in the future? Is there going to be more policy awareness posted in stadiums overall?
The NFL does a pretty good job of educating fans about what the code of conduct policy is, it’s not like they keep it hidden. So I don’t think fans can say, “I didn’t know what the rules where.” You have to keep in mind too, in order to get ejected, in order to get kicked out, you really have to do something wrong. The percentage of fans that get ejected from games, .05 percent, this course is not going to affect 99.5 percent of fans.
When do you think we’ll see an overall change in fan behavior at games?
It takes time for programs like this to better understand if it’s changing fan behavior, I don’t think it’s going to happen in a season, I think it’s going to happen over many seasons.
You’re in all 32 NFL stadiums and two MLS stadiums, can you talk a little about how you plan to expand in MLS and other sporting venues in the country?

I don’t have an answer to that one yet, but so far the preliminary results have also been overwhelmingly positive. I suspect that Major League Soccer will continue to utilize our program, and obviously we encourage other leagues to use it and I think it’s just a matter of time before we see that happen. Like I said, it’s a relatively new program and it’s innovative, it’s going to take time for both the leagues and the public to really understand it and embrace it.

This program’s ultimate goal is to improve fan safety, create the safest environment for fans, and create the most enjoyable game day experience.

Do you think alcohol service needs to be monitored more carefully? Many stadiums have a "two beer purchases at one time" limit, but there’s no way to know how many times you bought two at a time.

You’re right, it’s somewhat hard to regulate. With the NFL, and of course it can vary from stadium to stadium, but most stadiums stop serving alcohol by the beginning of the 3rd quarter. There’s nothing that stops someone from buying two 16 oz. Budweisers, setting them down, and going to another concession stand and buying another two 16 oz. beers. There’s no perfect solution to that one in terms of regulation.
What about the pregame, is there a way to regulate the tailgate scene?

Yeah, that’s a tough one too. Many teams are really cracking down even on tailgating. With the 49ers for example, they will have security go through the parking lot and if you don’t have a ticket for that game they’ll ask you to leave. I think this is reducing the amount of issues that are happening outside of the  stadium and I think they’re also curtailing when people can show up and start the tailgating process, so that also is going to help. Again, our fan conduct program is not meant to be the solution to end fan violence, it’s really just a piece of the overall picture of how to do this, that the league is addressing.
Anything else you'd like to add about the program?
The bottom line about this program is it’s ultimate goal is to improve fan safety, create the safest environment for fans, and create the most enjoyable game day experience. So for those that actually have to go through it, if they’re complaining that they have to go through it, that’s almost like complaining that you have to go to traffic school for getting a ticket or you have to pay a violation for breaking the law. There are rules that apply inside the stadium too and this is just the first time that any league has actually really taken a stance and said, “Hey, you break the rules in here, and there’s repercussions for that.” But it’s not just a fine, because that doesn’t teach anyone anything really; this gives the fans a one-on-one educational experience to learn how to change behavior, and I think it’s great.

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