Paoletti: Riots reveal larger problem

191545.jpg

Paoletti: Riots reveal larger problem

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
My reaction to the riots in Vancouver might be atypical.

I thought about UConn.

When the University of Connecticut men's basketball team won the national title in 2004. I remember a monologue Jon Stewart did on the Daily Show that April.

"Iraq's exploding. There's rioting. Violent street scenes. I guess because of the U.S. occupation, but I just want to say this: There are very few circumstances that justify that kind of behavior. In fact, when I think about it, there's really only one. And that is, if the school that you attend wins six consecutive games in a single-elimination basketball tournament. That -- that -- is just cause."

Over Stewart's right shoulder a video played of the on-campus Championship mob scene. Students (students?) were piling on top of an overturned car.

"Your team has won a basketball game. Let there be destruction."

The studio audience laughed.

I knew people in Connecticut who didn't find it funny. In Storrs, 35 people were arrested in the aftermath, mostly for vandalism, others for breach of peace, inciting a riot and criminal trespassing. No serious injuries were reported. I remember a friend of mine -- a student at the time -- told me how he and a few other buddies tried to rip a tree out of the ground.

This is where my mind was as the destruction following the Canucks' Stanley Cup final loss to the Bruins escalated.

There are obvious differences between the Connecticut and Vancouver scenes: winners versus losers, degree of injurious violence. But the relative scale of Canada's mayhem is stunning. Close to 100 arrests were made in Vancouver and almost 150 people needed medical care overnight, including three stabbing victims and one man in critical condition with head injuries.

The downtown area was ravaged in a 10-block radius. Stores were looted, windows were shattered. As in Connecticut, cars burned (15, two police cruisers), stores in shambles and windows shattered over a 10-block radius from the citys main shopping district. Nine of the injured were police officers and one needed 14 stitches.

Even spectators played a role. Police tried to send those photographing and videoing the scene away, but they stayed on, each photo feeding the histrionic needs of troublemakers. Why do it if nobody is watching?

Vancouverriots became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Perfect for my generation of attention whores with flashbulb attention spans.

A quick Google search reveals how the evolution of technology was born of, and now feeds, the addiction. Facebook was launched in February, 2004; Twitter in July of 2006. As of March of 2011, 200 million people are on Twitter; over 600 million are on Facebook. More than 3,000 photos uploaded per minute to Flickr and over 2 billion YouTube videos are watched per day.

Exposure through social media is instantaneous and unlimited. Look at me. Look what I did. Look at me!

Thankfully, these outlets might also help the hand of justice.

Vancouver police are using Facebook pages and blogs, like vancityriotcriminals.tumblr.com, to get help with identifying rioters. I remember UConn officials doing something similar. Photos of unruly students were posted to the Dean of Student's web site along with a plea for the accompanying names. After a week, six interim suspensions were made and close to 30 disciplinary hearings were held.

Another similarity was unnerving.

These riots -- big or small, post-win or post-loss -- don't have much to do with sports. In an ESPN story, Vancouver police chief Jim Chu said officers recognized some in the mob as people who incited trouble after the 2010 Olympics opened.

These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles and gasoline. They had a plan," Chu said.

They aren't hockey fans, they're opportunists. They are keenly aware of the cameras and the perfect circumstance for infamy. There was no unified crew head-hunting Bruins fans in harmonious vengeance, it was one idiot kid in a Kesler jersey fighting another idiot kid in a Sedin jersey.

Those who love the NHL stayed in Rogers Arena to boo Bettman and cheer a brilliant Conn Smythe winner. The Nielsen Company reported Game 7 was watched by 8.54 million people, making it the most-watched NHL game in almost four decades. And it made sense. The 2011 Stanley Cup finals lacked for nothing. There were upsets, blowouts, comebacks and heartbreaks. The title game was a huge win not just for Boston but for hockey.

Vanouver's criminals sullied the celebration.

It's the irrationality that terrifies me -- chaos for the sake of chaos -- as well as its enduring presence in time: 10-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, 1974; Montreal's Stanley Cup melee of 1986; seven die when Detroit wins its first NBA title, 1990; 2M in damages after Denver wins the 1998 Super Bowl; Red Sox riots in 2004 and 2007. Take that list and lengthen it, fill out the middle, then add an ellipses to the end.

We've not seen the last rage of this kind of fire. For sports fans, NCAA basketball championships and Stanley Cup finals are to be remembered forever, turned over in our minds with care and cherished. The sad thing is that those with more sinister motivations have the ability to truly make these events memorable. For all the wrong reasons.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Dupont: Why Bruins can sustain winning ways and make the playoffs

Dupont: Why Bruins can sustain winning ways and make the playoffs

Kevin Paul Dupont joins Sports Sunday to explain why he thinks the Boston Bruins winning ways are here to stay and why he thinks they will be in the playoffs.