We’ve All Been Sucker-Punched… by the Knockout Game Myth

Yes, the "Game" exists. But the media narrative around it is completely wrong.

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Unless you spent the whole month of November on vacation, you’ve probably been hearing about the “Knockout Game.” According to the news of the last few weeks, it’s a brand new game, spreading all over the country, in which young, African-American teenagers — sometimes alone, sometimes in groups — come up to innocent, unsuspecting people and try to knock them out with one punch.

This has been happening all over the place — including dozens of times right here in Philly — and no one in safe. But Barack Obama won’t condemn it. Neither will Al Sharpton.


In fact, the prevailing media narrative of the Knockout Game is starting to look completely wrong.

Yes, the Knockout Game exists. These assaults have happened, and we’ve seen video of them. But the many assumptions associated with the “Game” — that it’s new, that it’s a widespread phenomenon, that it’s a major thing that’s happening everywhere, and that it is always black-on-white — are overhyped if not completely false.

Anyone physically assaulting another person should be arrested and hauled off to jail for a long time, whether they’re playing the “Game” or not. That should go without saying. Those who have been assaulted in this way have my deepest sympathies. If police wish to charge the assailants with a hate crime — as they have in a couple of instances in New York in which Orthodox Jews were allegedly targeted — that’s certainly valid.

It also appears most people committing such assaults have been quickly caught; after all, criminals who videotape their crimes and upload them to social networks under their own names tend to not remain free for long.

But the media narrative of the Knockout Game sounds highly suspicious, and something’s been off about it from the beginning. It reminds a lot me of “wilding” and “Satanic ritual abuse.” It’s something for local newscasts to hype up to scare their audiences — just another thing that just might kill you or your children when you leave the house tomorrow, along with bird flu and unsafe child car seats.

First of all, this “game” is not new. There have been reports of bored teenagers punching random people for years, by some accounts going back to the early 1990s. Nor is random assault a new phenomenon. And the implication that the only people who punch others in the head are black teenagers should come as news to anyone who’s ever spent an afternoon in the upper deck at an Eagles game.

I don’t buy that it’s suddenly widespread, either. Philadelphia police sources told the Daily News in an article published Monday that there has been one — that’s right, one — confirmed case of the Knockout Game in the city among recent assaults, a Fox Chase man. (The suspect in the high-profile Broad Street Puncher case, according to a SEPTA spokeswoman quoted by this website last week, was not participating in the “Game.”)

The skepticism extends outside Philly. A New York Times piece about the game quoted several law enforcement officials in different cities — including New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, no liberal softie he — as questioning and trying to determine whether or not the “Knockout Game” is an urban myth. And while Jersey City, N.J., has been on dozens of lists of cities where Knockout Game assaults have taken place, that city’s police spokesman told the Times that there have been no such incidents reported there.

What we’re seeing is, every time there’s a mugging or violent assault anywhere, it’s attributed in media coverage to the Knockout Game, even when the connection is not confirmed — every single assault is now suddenly a “possible knockout.

That Daily News story also quoted police as saying that the city of Philadelphia, this year, has seen 5,000 aggravated assaults that haven’t involved guns. So if one or ten or 20 of those 5,000 have been the Knockout Game, I’m thinking this story has been somewhat overhyped, in relation to the city’s overall crime problem.

Then there’s the tale of Beulah Montgomery, a 60-year-old woman who pulled a gun and shot and killed a pair of Knockout Game assailants, in a story that got tons of play in social media. Too bad the story was a complete fabrication. 

Of course, there’s another, rather ugly side to this. Go and read the comments of just about every news article published online about the Knockout Game in the last few weeks, and you’ll notice a pattern emerging. It generally goes:  Racial slur, racial slur, complaint that the media is ignoring the story, racial slur, violent gun-toting revenge fantasy, racial slur, complaint that the article downplayed the race of the suspects, concern trolling about absentee fathers, racial slur and “Where is Obama?”

In the last few years, there’s been a concerted effort, in some of the less savory corners of right-wing media, to create a certain impression: That black-on-white violence is skyrocketing to out of control levels, and that white people should all be very, very afraid  Sites like the Drudge Report and World Net Daily have hyped virtually every instance of such violence, always with the implication (or more than the implication) that Obama is president, and why won’t he stop it?

First of all, if there’s any data to show that black-on-white violent crime has spiked in recent years, locally or nationally, it has yet to be released from any reputable source. Overall crime statistics, in fact, have been trending downward for two decades. There’s absolutely no data to speak of showing that any such race-based explosion of violence has taken place- it’s nothing but argument by anecdote.

As for Obama, he’s the president of the United States. His job description does not include supervision and discipline of all black people. The actions of black street criminals reflect on him only in the minds of pure, unreconstructed racists.

Remember all those predictions about “race riots” after the George Zimmerman verdict, the ones that never came to pass? There’s clearly a large audience that wants to hear that “the black kids are running wild,” regardless of whether or not it’s true.

As for Al Sharpton refusing to condemn the attacks? He condemned the attacks, strongly. The New York Post responded by ripping him for not calling for marches against them. 

In the city of Philadelphia this year, there have been around 300 cases of murder and, as stated above, 5,000 assaults. There has been one confirmed case of the Knockout Game and, at most, a couple of dozen unconfirmed ones. Why in the world the Knockout Game has gotten more media attention than the murders is completely unfathomable.

Will we still be talking about the Knockout Game in two months, or six months? Probably not, even though chances are it will be happening as frequently (or infrequently) then as it is now.

Follow @StephenSilver on Twitter.