Sports Violence Essay, Research Paper
The Growing Problem of Violence in Sports
Bench clearing brawls in baseball, bloody hockey fights, soccer mobs, post-game
sports riots, and increasing injuries are all images of today s sports that are familiar to
us. In recent years players and fans alike have shown increased aggression when it
comes to sporting events. One of the most disturbing trends in sports is the increasing
frequency and severity of violence. Injuries and deaths among participants are on
the rise, as are injuries and deaths among fans and spectators. Violence in sports is an
important issue because sports themselves are an important aspect in our lives and the
society we live in. Their importance, however, should not be greater than our concern
about preserving the values and aspects of our society. The problem of sports
violence has become a worldwide phenomenon, that is an unacceptable, growing social
Sports violence can be defined as behavior by a player, coach, or fan that is
intended to inflict pain or cause injury (Berger 8). Sports violence causes harm, breaks
the rules of the game, and is unrelated to the competitive objectives of the sport.
Leonard identifies two forms of aggression in sports: Instrumental aggression, which is
non-emotional and task-oriented and reactive aggression, which has an underlying
emotional component, with harm as its goal (165). Violence is the outcome of reactive
aggression. There are three major theories of aggression in sports: The biological theory,
psychological theory, and the social learning theory (Leonard 170-171). The biological
theory sees aggression as a basic, innate human characteristic, in which sports is seen as
a socially acceptable way to discharge built-up aggression (170). The psychological
theory states that aggression is caused by frustration and is situational (170). In sports,
frustration can be caused by questionable calls by officials, failure to make a certain
play, injuries , heckling from spectators, or taunts by coaches and players. The social
learning theory maintains that aggressive behavior is learned through modeling and
reinforced by rewards and punishments (171). Each of these theories could play a role
in the increasing violence in sports. Athletes may be seeing sports as an outlet to vent
there frustration and anger. Young athletes often take sports heroes as role models and
imitate their behavior, which may lead to children imitating such aggressive behavior in
their own sporting activities.
Many continue to argue that sports have always been violent and that today
things are no better or worse than they were years ago. However, according to Berger,
evidence contradicts this and sources show there are more serious injuries and violent
acts on and off the field in today s sports than there were in the past(9-10). Violence in
sports is not a new concept, but it is more prevalent and harmful today than it was in
the past (Yeager 126). There has been an increase in the frequency and seriousness of
acts of violence, which is most prevalent in team contact sports, such as ice hockey,
football, soccer, rugby, and even basketball. This is likely due to the increased
competitiveness in sports. The strive for competitiveness starts in youth sports and
only escalates in college and professional sports (Berger 12). The greater the importance
placed on winning, the more violent the play is likely to become. Emotion is another
element of sports that can easily turn into violence. Competitive sports are emotional
events and when emotions get out of control violence is inevitable. According to Aaseng,
most of the violence in modern sports happens not because of the nature of sports, but
because society does not value the control of emotions held by the code of sportsmanship
(35). In sports, as in other aspects of our lives, the problem is not so much that we have
lost respect for authority, but that we have lost respect for each other. Our society s
preoccupation with winning has caused sports stars to play with the intensity of emotion,
which leads to violence.
While most occurrences of violence come from players, others, including coaches,
parents, fans, and the media, also contribute to the increasing violence in sports today.
Fans seem to emulate the violence they watch in sports and spectator violence is
increasing as participant injuries rise (Yeager 11). Mass media contributes to the
acceptability of sports. It provides exposure to sports-related violence via television,
magazines, newspapers, and radio, which provides many examples to children who may
imitate such behavior. Also it often glamorizes players who are controversial and
aggressive. However, the exposure given to sports violence by the media sometimes
stimulates increased efforts to control and prevent such behavior.
Soccer is a sport known for its spectator violence. In soccer there is more
violence among the fans before, during, and after the game than there is among the
players on the field (Berger 106). Soccer matches attract huge crowds and there is a
threat of violence that officials must prepare for in advance, in order to try and control
it. Soccer mob violence has become so dangerous that authorities often use mounted
police, helicopters, and video monitors to try and control the spectators (106). One
cause of this mob violence may be due to the increased competitiveness in soccer, which
has led to more participant injuries and more aggressive spectators. Hockey also inspires
violence among its spectators. Spectators at soccer and hockey games often fight each
other and throw objects onto the field or ice. Sometimes even the players are the target of
fan violence. Hockey has developed a reputation for being more violent than needed to
play and win the game. A study conducted by the Texas Youth Commission shows that
teams playing with more violence are not more likely to win; in fact the opposite is true
Some experts say spectator violence has little to do with events on the ice or
field. Genevieve Rail, a sports sociologist, believes these are global problems that
require global intervention (qtd. Dying 2). Sports psychologists and sociologists are
concerned about mob violence, because it does not only involve criminals. Instead it is
a sad reflection of society as a whole. These mobs are often composed of young males
who see events, like soccer and hockey games, as a chance to act out and not get caught
(2-3). Sociologists believe these acts cannot be blamed on the sporting events
themselves, but are incited by aspects of society that cause frustration and also by extreme
crowding, and media hype at sporting events (3).
In sports, there is an increasing acceptance of violent acts directed towards others
that some view may translate into greater violence in society. Aaseng states that sports
do not promote violence in society, but rather society promotes violence in sports
(38). Reducing violence in sports is far easier than reducing violence in our
society because the rules of sports are easier to enforce (38). Sports have become more
violent because society views retaliation as manliness and society enjoys violence as
entertainment. However, it seems violence goes both ways. Violence in sports sets a
negative example as well as being a reflection of societal problems. In our society there
is an urge to be number one and sports mirror this, including the violence that can result.
Within sports, the highest level of professional sports sets the example for all the other
levels. The increased violence at the professional level has led to imitation of their
aggression by lower levels of sports. Fighting and spectator violence is now becoming
more common in youth sports.
Some people think we should not be worried by aggression and violence in sports.
They believe that sports serve as a positive outlet for aggressive behavior and that without
competitive sports we would have an even more violent society. However, aggression in
sports increases the competitiveness and violence in our society. Competitive sports
contribute to our violent society. Sports are teaching players that aggression is acceptable
behavior for getting back at someone, helping to win, and seeing that justice is done.
These suggest that violence is permitted and necessary. Violent acts lead to further
aggression and a lowering of control. Sports violence is a serious problem in our society.
Research provides proof that most competitive sports increase anger and aggression in
both players and viewers. Fair play is not taken seriously because most people believe
winning is all that matters. The pressure to win starts early in sports and increases
considerably by the time an athlete reaches the college and professional level. Athletes are
often encouraged to play while injured, which could possibly lead to more serious
problems. Players are also taught to regard their opponents as enemies and to play the
game with vengeance towards them. The media does not help the situation by
emphasizing particularly brutal or violent incidents that occur in sports. Conflicts between
players and rough plays are often given the most attention in sports coverage. Viewers
are becoming more desensitized to violence and are seeking high levels of violence in
sporting events. The promotion of sports violence conveniently overlooks these harmful
effects. By reducing aggression and violence competitive sports can become safer to play
and more enjoyable to watch.
Aaseng, Nathan. The Locker Room Mirror: How Sports Reflect Society. New York:
Walker and Co., 1993.
Berger, Gilda. Violence and Sports. New York: F. Watts, 1990.
Dying For Soccer; Just What Inspires Fan Violence? Montreal Gazette (Newsbank
Online) 16 July 1994: D1.
Leonard, Wilbert Marcellus. A Sociological Perspective of Sport. Third Edition. New
York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988.
Study Shows Hockey Violence Is a Loser. Texas Youth Commission (Online) 15 May
Yeager, Robert C. Seasons of Shame: The New Violence in Sports. San Francisco: