Drawing on 251 incident reports, this study explores American football fans’ decisions to rush the field to celebrate a victory despite pleas from university officials and the police to abstain. We explore the symbolic interactions through which students defined this situation and acted within it. Our findings characterize this event as series of ongoing interactions wherein meaning and action are continually (re)negotiated. Campus rumors normalized the act of rushing by locating it and the student role within local tradition. Through interactions with other students in the stadium and by drawing on knowledge of prior sports tragedies, fans assessed the risks of participating and selected among lines of action ranging from “going to be with others” and “getting out of the way” to “going with the flow.” Ultimately, however, public address announcements, the loss of bodily control, and the inability to direct other people’s actions aligned competing definitions of the situation into one of emergency. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.
Renfrow and Wissick are with the Department of Sociology, Wells College, Aurora, NY. Guard is with the Department of Philosophy, Wells College, Aurora NY.