Violence and Sport
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Violence and Sports
The lone man to be charged with a felony in the incident was Bryant Jackson. He was the man Oakland County Police (OCPD) say threw a chair into the crowd during the fight. He was charged with felonious batter, according to the OCPD and various wire reports. No, this is not just some random fight that occurred, this was an arrest at a recent National Basketball Association game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers. This violence is something that is starting to occur more and more. It seems to be a common theme, and one that does not even obtain a double-take, sports and violence the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Professional athletes such as Latrell Sprewell, Todd Bertuzzi, and Ron Artest have made common names for themselves with the violence they have endured in their respective sports.
Some sports are violent by nature. Boxing is the obvious example, where physical attack is the point of the exercise. There has been much debate over the sport with many calling for its abolition. Other sports, such as wrestling and the martial arts, also involve one-on-one unarmed combat. These forms of "violence" are within the rules of the sport and the possibility of injury is well known by participants.
Then there is a range of contact sports, particularly the football codes, where there is punishing body contact within the rules but also the scope for borderline or unintentional "violence" such as late tackles, high tackles and tackles on players without the ball. These tactics can be, and are also, used intentionally. However, the use of video replays over recent years has made these tactics more risky for the perpetrators, especially in professional sports where suspension can lead to a significant loss of income.
As we enter the year the beginning stages of 2005, one has to wonder if this violence is going to continue or if the leagues, sports and the people themselves will start to gain some kind of control and realize this is sprot and such violence cannot continue. The fans are even getting themselves invovled. One factor in the increase in violence among fans is an emotional disconnection from their own lives. They have difficulty empathizing with others' pain. Some of this is caused by watching violence on television and computer screens. If you watch the reaction of the first base umpire and the second baseman of the Chicago White Sox in the incident you mentioned, you can see that they watch the violent event and don't get involved.
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They don't connect with what is really happening.
Another factor is the excessive importance of winning. This "win at all costs" mentality has spread from the pros into the sports of our children as well. There was a tragic incident at an ice skating rink. A father killed his son's coach in front of the entire hockey team over some disagreement about coaching methods. A new form of father-son bonding event is growing. "Let's spend the afternoon together and beat up the coach." Sports organizations have become more aware of the growing danger that players, fans and now coaches are exposed to at these events. New rules and policies have been initiated in an attempt to stem the tide. This is especially true since the trauma of 9/11/01. In an attempt to reduce violence, stadiums have also limited the sale of alcohol - which is often the fuel for aggressive behavior. Major league baseball has mandated that no beer should be sold after the sixth inning.
More needs to be done to resolve the issue. In order to have a significant impact, players are going to need to become involved. Fans - both young and old - emulate what they see their heroes doing. It follows then that there will only be a reduction in fan violence when the payers themselves decrease their aggression.
While the "aggressive" vs. "excessive" line remains hard to draw, the need to define and implement clear standards of behavior becomes even more important for players, spectators, and league officials. As economic pressures become greater, equipment becomes stronger, and as the stakes increase, games become more violent. As a result, the leagues and courts must continue to strike a delicate balance between promoting aggressive play and controlling excessive violence in each sport.
Physical aggression, conflict, and violence have long been inherent elements of sporting endeavors, dating back to Roman and medieval contests such as gladiatorial sports, chariot races, and jousting. Current anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests a link between participating in aggressive contact sports and an increased risk of using violence both in and outside of sporting events. In high-contact sports, such as rugby or American football, rough physical exchanges are integral to the game and may contribute to a team’s likelihood of winning, thereby increasing the appeal of aggressiveness. Other sports can be characterized as rule-bound fighting, such as boxing and wrestling. As inherently competitive undertakings, games and matches often inspire intense rivalry and conflict between athletic opponents that can involve physical intimidation and altercations. Athletes in sports characterized by tacit or overt support for verbal and physical intimidation during sporting contests may be at risk for having these behaviors spill over into other arenas of their lives, such as intimate relationships. The vast majority of research on violence in athletics involves male athletes, and high-contact sports such as American football, ice hockey, basketball, rugby, lacrosse, and wrestling are dominated by and nearly exclusively involve men. Therefore, this discussion will focus on violence among male participants in these sporting categories.
Violence During Sporting Events
In a widely cited attempt to categorize types of violence in sports, Michael Smith identified four levels of sports-related violence. The least extreme level is brutal body contact, which is the “legal” contact considered to be inherent in the game, such as tackling in American football or punching in boxing. The second level is borderline violence, which is contact that may breach the official rules of the sport, but which is still widely accepted and rarely criminally prosecuted or even penalized during the game itself. Examples might include side-line scuffles or throwing elbows during basketball or soccer. Quasicriminal violence is aggression that breaks game rules, tacit codes of conduct, and often criminal laws, and can result in serious injury, such as a vicious late hit or a sideline attack with a hockey stick. Finally, criminal violence is severe aggression by athletes during or after sporting events (such as postgame attacks on rival players or coaches) that results in critical injuries or death and often culminates in criminal prosecution.
The prevalence of nonsanctioned aggression during sporting contests is difficult to quantify. Evidence suggests that a majority of coaches and players view instances of verbal intimidation as a widespread problem in sports, and that over one third of coaches feel that athlete violence has reached problematic levels. Across studies, researchers estimate that aggression in the context of sports events constitutes between 10% and 15% of all violence depicted on television.
Athletes’ Violence Off The Playing Field
Most studies of athletes’ aggression outside of sports events examine the behavior of adolescent and college-age competitors. Male participation in high contact athletics appears to be associated with an increased risk for non-sports-related aggression, such as fighting or hurting friends or peers. Male athletes may also be at increased risk of other nonviolent antisocial behavior, such as vandalism or theft. Further, entry into aggressive sports can be associated with an increase in violent conduct among boys.
Other evidence suggests that mere participation in athletics does not, by itself, increase the likelihood of aggression, but that the characteristics and norms of particular sports teams and/or athletes themselves may ameliorate or exacerbate risk for violence. Athletes who endorse toughness as desirable; who identify with rigid, stereotypic notions of masculinity; who use alcohol excessively; and/or who have engaged in on-field violence are at greater risk of generalized aggression outside of sports events. Further, coaches who emphasize and reward extreme aggression or toughness increase the likelihood of violent behavior among their athletes. Older players and participants on more skilled, select teams are more likely to use or endorse the use of violence. These factors may be of more importance in determining risk for aggression than is membership on an athletic team.
Athletes And Violence Against Women
Extensive attention has been paid to sexual and physical violence against women by male athletes. On an anecdotal level, mass media accounts are replete with stories of professional athletes who have been accused of or charged with physical or sexual assaults against their female partners or acquaintances. Indeed, college athletes are overrepresented among defendants in sexual assault complaints filed with campus judiciary systems, and participation in “aggressive” sports such as football or wrestling is related to both self-reports of sexually aggressive behavior and to physical aggression with a female partner among some high school and college-age men. Athletic participation is also associated with increased levels of rape myth acceptance and endorsement of interpersonal violence.
Similar to more generalized violence off the playing field, however, the relationship between athletic participation and violence against women may be impacted by additional factors. The connection between athletic team membership and aggression toward women tends to diminish once factors such as attitudes, problem drinking, and perceived male support for aggression have been accounted for. Thus, binge drinking, the degree to which males endorse attributes of “traditional” masculinity (such as toughness, dominance, and sexual prowess), and norms of disrespect for women among peers may be more critical determinants of a male’s risk for intimate aggression than whether or not he participates on a particular athletic team.
Theories Of Violence And Sport
Although the relationship between sports and violence is likely complex, theoretical explanations for the link tend to fall along two lines. Invoking cultural spillover theory, Gordon Bloom and Michael Smith have suggested that sports can become arenas in which violence is legitimated and rewarded, increasing the likelihood that the use of violence is perceived to be acceptable and will subsequently spill over outside the sports arena into public and private settings. Violence and aggression in sports may be glorified and supported in multiple ways. Excessive roughness or intimidation during a game may increase an athlete’s or team’s chance of winning, reinforcing the strategic value of violence. Athletes report that extreme toughness is sometimes encouraged by coaches and modeled by teammates, and that status and perceptions of competence may be conferred on team members who are willing to use excessive force or to fight. Fans and the media may also contribute to an athletic atmosphere in which violence becomes normalized and legitimized. Research suggests that, in addition to the action and display of athletic skills, the opportunity to view violent incidents is a top reason that viewers tune into televised sports. Violent incidents during games may get as much or more media air time than the outcome of sporting events. Taken together, these multiple reinforcers for aggressive behavior during competition may increase an athlete’s sense of entitlement to the use of force or violence in other contexts.
The second explanation focuses more specifically on the role of masculinity both in athletic participation and in aggression. Sports have been identified as an arena in which boys are socialized into and can demonstrate stereotypical traits associated with masculinity, such as dominance, achievement, toughness, rejection of anything perceived to be feminine, and suppression of emotion. Participating in all-male high-contact sports can serve both to expose boys and men to hyper masculine attitudes and beliefs and to provide them with an acceptable outlet to display traditional masculinity. Although certainly not universal, athletes report that coaching and training may be infused with “masculine” injunctions to “tough it out,” as well as sexist or homophobic insults comparing failure to being feminine or gay. Given the longstanding connection between adherence to traditional norms of masculinity and the risk for interpersonal violence, athletic teams that particularly reinforce narrow conceptions of masculinity, and that couple notions of masculinity with violence, may exacerbate risk for aggression among their male players.
- Bloom, G. A., & Smith, M. D. (1996). Hockey violence: A test of the cultural spillover theory. Sociology of Sport Journal, 13, 65–78.
- Forbes, G. B., Adams-Curtis, L. E., Pakalka, A. H., & White, K. B. (2006). Dating aggression, sexual coercion, and aggression-supporting attitudes among college men as a function of participation in aggressive high school sports. Violence Against Women, 12, 441–455.
- Smith, M. D. (1983). What is sports violence? A sociolegal perspective. In J. H. Goldstein (Ed.), Sports violence (pp. 33–45). New York: Springer.
- Young, K. (2000). Sport and violence. In J. Coakley & E. Dunning (Eds.), Handbook of sports studies (pp. 382–407). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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