U.S. Spent $314,613 Studying Increase in Family Violence After NFL Upset Losses

By Adam Cassandra | July 23, 2010 | 4:52 PM EDT

This Dec. 16, 2007 file photo shows Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel,File)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health spent $314,613 over two years on a study that determined that family violence increases about three times as much on the Fourth of July as it does after the local NFL team suffers an “upset” loss.
“Taken together our findings suggest that emotional cues based on the outcomes of professional football games exert a relatively strong effect on the occurrence of family violence,” the authors of the study concluded. “The estimated impact of an upset loss, for example, is about one-third as large as the jump in violence on a major holiday like the Fourth of July.”
The researchers also determined that an “upset” loss by the local NFL home team was not linked to nearly as great an increase in family violence as were Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve.
The research in question proposed comparing information from the National Incidence Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a database that collects police reports of domestic violence in the United States, with the results of NFL football games.
“Specifically, we will combine the NIBRS data with information on the dates, betting odds, and final outcomes for NFL (professional football) games played during our sample period,” said a description of the grant on the NIH Web site. “We will then evaluate the impact of unexpected game outcomes (e.g., upset wins and losses) on rates of family violence.”
The project, which began in July 2008 and is scheduled to end in June 2011, received $169,407 in federal money in 2008 and $145,206 in 2009. The grant was awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the NIH. The principal investigator is Gordon B. Dahl, who is now with the Economics Department of the University of California at San Diego, and who was an assistant professor at the University of Rochester at the time the grant was made.
Dahl and David Card of the University of California at Berkeley published an article about the results of the research—“Family Violence and Football: The Effect of Unexpected Emotional Cues on Violent Behavior”—in April of this year. The article was published by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany.
The authors wrote that they decided to base their study on NFL football games because of the bond people form with their local team, the regular wagering that takes place on NFL games and the detailed statistics generated by the games.
“Our focus on professional football is motivated by three considerations,” they wrote. “First, NFL fans are strongly attached to their local teams. Home games on Sunday afternoons typically attract 25% or more of the local television audience. Second, the existence of a well-organized betting market allows us to infer the expected outcome of each game, and use this as a reference point for gain-loss utility. Conditioning on the pre-game point spread also allows us to interpret any differential effect of a win versus a loss as a causal effect of the game outcome. Third, the structure of NFL competition and the availability of detailed game statistics make it easy to identify more or less salient games, and to measure the updated probability of a win by the home team midway through the game.”
The authors said they studied the Sunday games of 6 NFL teams—the Carolina Panthers, the Denver Broncos, the Detroit Lions, the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots, and the Tennessee Titans--over a period of 12 years.
“Controlling for the pregame point spread and the size of the local television viewing audience, we find that ‘upset losses’ by the home team (losses when the team was predicted to win by 4 points or more) lead to a roughly 10% increase in the number of police reports of at-home male-on-female intimate partner violence,” they wrote. “Consistent with reference point behavior, losses when the game was expected to be close have no significant effect on family violence. Upset wins (i.e., victories when the home team was expected to lose) also have no significant impact on the rate of violence, suggesting an important asymmetry in the reaction to unanticipated losses and gains.”
This 10 percent increase in intimate partner violence (IPV) linked to NFL upset losses, the authors reported, was not nearly as great as the increase in IPV linked to major holidays, which they also analyzed in order to get a perspective on the impact of the football games.
“The resulting estimates show large and precisely estimated effects of major holidays on the rate of IPV,” the wrote, “for example, Christmas day +18%, Thanksgiving +20%, Memorial Day +30%, New Year’s Day +31%, New Year’s Eve +22%, and July 4th +29%.”
NFL upset losses, it turned out, increase family violence about as much as a hot summer day. “They also show,” wrote the authors, “a significant positive effect of hotter weather: relative to a day with a maximum temperature less than 80 degrees, IPV is 8% higher when the maximum temperature is over 80. Thus, an upset loss is comparable to the effect of a hot day, or about one-third of the effect of a holiday like Memorial Day or the
Fourth of July.”
Although the period of the grant runs into next year, the NIH said that all the money for the grant ($314,613) was disbursed in 2008 and 2009. “As per routine procedure, however, a one year, no cost extension was granted, ending on June 30, 2011,” said Dr. Rosalind King, health scientist administrator in the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch of NICHD.

CNSNews.com asked the NIH to explain how it would justify the expenditure of federal tax money on this grant to the average American family, which, according to the Census Bureau, earns $52,000 per year.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, intimate partner violence is a major public health problem in the United States,” said Dr. King in response. “Each year, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes.  Men are the victims of about 2.9 million intimate partner related physical assaults.   Intimate partner violence resulted in 1,510 deaths in 2005.  Of these deaths, 78 percent were females and 22 percent were males.”
“The medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity (e.g., time away from work) cost of intimate partner violence is estimated to be in excess of $8.3 billion,” said Dr. King. “It is impossible to estimate the costs in terms of suffering and loss of life that intimate partner violence exacts. However, if the grant yields information leading to a reduction in just a small fraction of intimate partner violence, it will have more than paid for itself.”
CNSNews.com also asked Dahl through email and voicemail messages how he would justify the tax expenditure for this grant to the average family earning $52,000 per year. Dahl did not respond.
CNSNews.com emailed the question to David Card, who with Dahl co-authored the study published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, and also spoke to Card by phone. He declined to comment.
Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, also declined to comment. “We do not have a comment,” he said by email.