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Urban Lessons on Violence-Free Victories

Combatting an international trend of sports victory celebrations turning violent, Chicago and other US cities are having to employ armies of police, public-service messages, and prayer to keep rowdy behavior in check.

"I talked to God," said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who prayed for rain (and got it) to discourage jubilant Chicago fans from going overboard Sunday night when the Bulls' clinched their fourth National Basketball Association championship.

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The mayor also deployed a record 5,000 police backed up by state troopers and National Guardsmen, and discouraged restaurants from allowing extensive partying. In addition, numerous public-service messages urged fans to celebrate safely.

Thanks to Chicago's exhaustive $5 million in preparations, the city largely succeeded in preventing a repeat of the widely criticized destruction that followed its NBA wins in 1992, when rioters caused more than $10 million worth of damage and in 1993, when three people were killed.

"Each city needs to develop plans, much as a disaster plan would be developed," says Art Taylor, associate director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.

Experts say violence following sporting victories is on the rise. "In the United States, this social contagion has been increasing along with a value system that is more and more violent in general," says Leonard Zaichkowsky, a sports psychologist at Boston University. "The misbehavior among sports spectators mirrors attitudes in society."

Two types of celebrating occur, Mr. Taylor says:

*When fans react to an unanticipated victory - such as when some 80,000 hockey fans filled downtown Denver last week after the city won its first major sports championship, the Stanley Cup - such festivities tend to be wild but less violent.

*When the team is expected to win, Taylor says "you mainly get excuse behavior, vandals who are using this as a reason to act out." In Chicago, while sporadic looting, fires, and gunfire were reported, police action - including more than 100 arrests - helped discourage such behavior.

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