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How To Be a Sports Fan and Not Get Arrested

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Legally reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Love college football? Can't watch enough NFL games? If so, you aren't alone. Yet passionate sports fans can get in trouble if they get carried away. Arrests at football events are on the rise, usually for being drunk and disorderly or for fighting.

Hockey, baseball, and basketball fans are also arrested with some regularity, of course. But it seems there are more incidents in the NFL than in the NHL, MLB, and NBA. According to, about 40% of NFL football fans have witnessed crime in or around a football game.

Although it happens in every stadium, lists the top five teams in the National Football League with the most arrests: the San Fransisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the New York Jets.

Avoid these following fumbles to cheer on your favorite sports team and not face ejection or arrest.

Public Intoxication

Tailgating is an integral part of a football game; however, don't overdo it. Public intoxication, or being drunk and disorderly, is a misdemeanor. Being drunk in public is not based on a blood alcohol content standard, such as driving under the influence, but rather being visibly drunk in public.

Property Damage

Die-hard sports fans get frustrated when their team loses and may cause property damage in the stadium or the surrounding areas. This also occurs after big wins. For example, police arrested Philadelphia Eagles fans for property damage when celebrating the playoff win that sent the team to the 2023 Superbowl. Weeks later, police had to dispatch tear gas and smoke bombs to disburse crowds throwing glass bottles when the Eagles lost the 2023 Superbowl. Fortunately, police were on alert. Philadelphia sports fans were still bitter over losing the World Series in 2022.

Criminal Trespass

Rushing the field is a no-no. During the 2022 Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets, an enthusiastic Yankee fan ran onto the baseball field and was promptly tackled by security. He was later charged with criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.

Terroristic Threatening

In the heat of the moment, you may yell out, “I'm going to kill you!" Is that just angry words or something that can get you in trouble? Terroristic threatening is a crime when you threaten to cause imminent serious bodily harm to someone. State laws cover the elements of terroristic threatening, but it is enough for the recipient to press charges if they are fearful of severe bodily injury from the threat.

Terroristic threatening also covers threats to groups. In 2018, police arrested a Texas man after he made terrorist threats against Pittsburgh Steelers players and fans.

Assault and Battery

Battery is an intentional act of harmful or offensive touching. Assault is the intentional act to threaten or cause fear of imminent bodily harm. Hitting someone or even gently pushing them is considered battery if intentional.

You may commit the act of assault with assault by throwing a drink at someone. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper was caught on video throwing his drink at Jacksonville Jaguar fans. While he may not face criminal charges, he still may face fines from the NFL. The NFL fined Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams $250,000 for making an obscene gesture to a Buffalo Bills fan while celebrating the Titans' victory.


Police charged two men with the death of a 53-year-old man at a New England Patriots game. They got into an altercation and allegedly punched him in the head several times. Unfortunately, the assault triggered an unknown heart condition, and the man died. Initially ruled as a homicide, officials could only charge the perpetrators with assault and battery and disorderly conduct. Their trial begins in January 2024.

What Are the Penalties?

Bad behavior can get you ejected from a game or, more severely, “banned for life" from a stadium.

If ejected from a game, you may have to attend a Fan Conduct class to learn how to behave before being allowed into another event.

If you have season tickets, you may not be able to use them. The NFL shares information among teams, so a ban from one stadium may ban you from all.

Criminal behavior will get you fined or jailed. A misdemeanor is a charge that may result in fines or imprisonment for less than a year. A felony is a more serious charge with an imprisonment sentence of one year to life.

So go ahead and paint your face, wear the jerseys, and root for your favorite team at sporting events, but leave the event with a giant foam finger instead of handcuffs.

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