Buzzkill America: When Did Spontaneous Communal Sports Celebrations Become 'Riots'?

Buzzkill America: When Did Spontaneous Communal Sports Celebrations Become 'Riots'?

Riots aren’t what they used to be.

Once upon a time, you had to firebomb a police car or throw a newspaper box through a bank window to earn the “riot” designation. Now, merely gathering hundreds of people together after dusk, collectively humming “Seven Nation Army,” and ignoring drinking-in-public statutes grants an event R-word status. The word “riot” once found such ominous sounding locations as “Watts” or “Attica” prefacing it. Dayton Riot? That’s a little like “pillow fight.”

Students at the University of Dayton celebrated in the streets after their basketball team’s victory over Stanford last night.  Why shouldn’t they have? The Flyers entered the tournament an #11 seed expected to lose in the first round. But after three consecutive upsets, they find themselves in the Elite Eight. Not bad for a mid-major. Did you expect the students to clap quietly in their dorm rooms?

Deadspin referred to it as “the riot in Dayton last night.” Similarly, a SportsGrid headline called attention to “Dayton rioting.” But no one died. No Dayton Mayor Daley issued a “shoot to kill arsonists”/”shoot to maim looters” order. A few people got arrested; quite a few more had fun.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of University of Dayton students and locals poured into the streets last night. They chanted “USA!” and “Let’s go Flyers!” They drank–Natural Light, Keystone, Busch, and other beverages priced-right for the work-study student. They jumped up and down. All the while, they took pictures of themselves. The pictures show that, more so than downing beers, the preferred activity of Dayton undergraduates is taking cell-phone pictures because so many people in the pictures appear to be taking pictures of the people taking pictures. 

They did all this until, and even after, the police showed up–in riot gear. If you come dressed for a riot, the would-be rioters might start playing their part, too. Luckily for everyone, the students remained in the role of drunken revelers rather than devious rioters. And the police appeared, as is their charge, prepared for anything instead of itching to do something. Not every authority figure in Dayton frowns on the fun. Saturday night, after Dayton upset Syracuse, university president Daniel Curran, can in hand, crowd surfed as mobs shouted in the streets and lit impromptu bonfires. He’s not a bad role model. He’s a good one, for his students, but more so, for his fellow university presidents. 

You can’t schedule celebration. It’s spontaneous, like last night’s block party. Administrators can try to confine student dissent to “free-speech zones” and their applause to school-authorized pep rallies. But you can’t lock down genuine excitement. It finds a way to express itself somehow.

The Dayton “riot” serves as a reminder that people are still alive. We aren’t all as sickly as that pale glow from our laptops or as sedentary as the man-child tethered to his Xbox. “Social” isn’t done through computer intermediaries. It’s done with other people, lots of them. Last night in Dayton recalled Comiskey Park’s Disco Demolition Night, fans storming the parquet as the Celtics won the 1984 NBA championship in the old Boston Garden, Yankee Stadium faithful grabbing Mr. October during his favorite time of year as he rounded third base, and other vignettes from an era when sports fans did not do as they were told but did as the moment commanded them. As the Dayton students demonstrated through their, well, demonstration, “social” calls for a gathering, a positive spirit, and the outdoors. We should celebrate their celebration.