Angry Football Fans Keep Punching Their TVs

And shooting them, and knifing them, and running them over with trucks

A smashed TV with a referee in its reflection
Getty; The Atlantic

Last week, the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff run ended the same way their last 11 have—without a trip to the conference championship. For one fan, squatting maybe four feet from the TV, this was apparently more than he could take. He leapt to his feet and—in front of a room full of people—punched a massive crater in the screen. The impact sounded like the popping of a very large balloon. The screen instantly went dark. He then lifted the TV off the console table, smashed it over his knee WWE-style, and unleashed a primal scream.

This display, captured on video and turned into a pair of viral TikToks last week, might seem completely psychotic. And make no mistake—it is! But it’s also fully in keeping with a great sporting tradition. When things don’t go their way, most fans are content to sulk. Some might curse and shout a little. But for certain fans—more, perhaps, than you would think—that is not enough. For them, the thing to do is to destroy their TV. And then post about it online. Obviously.

In a highly unscientific survey of the many, many fan-smashing-TV videos online, I encountered one Golden State Warriors fan and a decent number of soccer fans, including a Mexican-national-team supporter who stabbed his TV to death with a large knife and an Olympique de Marseille fan who totals his TV by one of a variety of methods—scissors kick, head-butt, hatchet, another TV—every time his side loses. But NFL fans are in a league of their own, accounting for more than two-thirds of the 30-plus demolitions I found. There’s the New Orleans Saints fan who chucked his TV off a balcony (“Stop, Kyle!” a woman cries to no avail). There’s the fan of an unknown team—strangely, the game is blurred out—who obliterates his TV in a single, decisive blow (“Man,” he mutters, “that shit piss me off, man”).

Best of all, perhaps, there’s the Seattle Seahawks fan who, after his team’s infamous goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX, says, in a voice brimming with fury, “You do not throw a fucking pass at the goal line when you have Marshawn Lynch,” then, with a running start, launches his entire body through the flatscreen, much as Marshawn Lynch, the team’s star running back, might have launched himself through the defensive line on the run that never was. TV-smashing incidents have grown so ubiquitous that they have become a meme. Since at least late 2021, disconsolate fans have been sharing the same story, with their own team’s name subbed in. Last night, after the Cincinnati Bengals lost a tight game to the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship game, several fans tweeted a version of this: "Just smashed my 4K TV in front of over 30 guests at my cocktail party because of the Bengals performance today. My wife just took our crying kids and said they’re all spending the night in a motel. This team has ruined my life and my party. I can’t do this any longer. Goodbye."

If football fans are far and away the most TV-destructive sports fans, then Cowboy fans are far and away the most TV-destructive football fans. In a way, this makes sense: No team has combined a sense of entitlement to victory with a consistent failure to achieve it in quite the way Dallas has over the past 25 years. Even so, the degree of violence is remarkable. Highlights include the man who shot his TV with a handgun—not the way Elvis used to; more like a hitman finishing the job—and the man who ran over his TV with a pickup truck. These videos are of course funny on first viewing, but they’re also depressing when you think about them a little too hard. It’s impossible to know whether what you’re watching is the manifestation of an unaddressed mental-health problem or a prelude to domestic abuse or something entirely benign.

Whatever the truth behind any individual video, one factor fueling the phenomenon is that destroying your TV has never been easier. “This is something people do pretty frequently,” Spencer Hall, a longtime football analyst and ESPN contributor who writes the Channel 6 newsletter, told me. “It’s a golden era for TV-smashers.” It comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis. On the cost side, destroying a TV is far easier and less risky than it used to be. “Have you ever tried to smash an old television? It's impossible,” said Hall, who has not done so “recreationally.” The glass can be more than half an inch thick, and even if you do manage to break it, the stuff on the interior—high-voltage capacitors, small amounts of radiation, several pounds of lead—is not to be messed with. And in terms of actual monetary cost, flatscreens are way cheaper than they used to be—97 percent cheaper than they were in the year 2000. “They’ve almost become disposable,” says James Willcox, a senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports who has covered TVs for more than 20 years. “If something happens, you’re not going to fix it.”

On the benefit side, the potential payoff of wrecking your TV has never been greater. TV-smashing videos regularly rack up tens of thousands of views, in some cases many hundreds of thousands. Internet virality is a total black box, but as gambits go, blowing your TV to bits is a relatively good bet. All of which makes it difficult, in the case of any individual video, to ascertain whether the fury is staged or genuine. Sometimes, though, there are hints. The recent viral video of the Cowboys fan punching out his TV was captured from two angles, which, while not dispositive, does seem like cause for skepticism.

And yet some of the videos seem like they must be real—or else the TV-smasher is doing one hell of an acting job. Take this one, of a Minnesota Vikings fan spiraling out of control after a late interception seals a 2013 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. “Whyyyyy!?” he howls. “Whyyyy!? No! It’s over!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” says the woman watching with him, who appears to be his partner. “Frickin’ hell, Garrett!”

But alas, to Garrett, who has already reached behind him, grabbed a massive speaker, and lifted it like a club above the glass coffee table, it is, in fact, a big deal. The table shatters on impact. “Oh my gosh, Garrett, are you serious!?” the woman shouts. “That was my grandma’s table!”

The video jumps ahead in time. Garrett is now picking up shards of glass. He is calm, if not exactly contrite. “Garrett, you seriously can’t do this every single time something bad happens,” the woman says.

“Well,” he answers, without missing a beat, “it’s the playoffs.”