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Sports Violence Essay, Research Paper
This report will briefly examine violence in sports. It will give possible
reasons for the increase in violence, why violence seems to be growing and what
we can do to curb this disturbing tend. While not all theories can we examined
here, the most relevant to the topic will be examined and discussed.
The purpose of this report is to bring into light one of the most talked
about problem in sports today, violence. Many people, spectators, coaches,
players and referees, of nearly all contact sports, have noted that there is
been a large increase in the number of violent encounters. Some believe that
this is a reflection of the problems with society today as a whole; that our
aggressions are simply let out on the playing field. Other people believe that
violence stems from the breakdown of basic family values at home. Whatever
philosophy you are inclined to believe, it is obvious that this is a growing,
and alarming problem. This is a problem that must be dealt with, to not only
protect players and referees, but to find out why we seem to be such an angry
society today. This topic is very close me, because I am a professional soccer
referee. I have dealt with numerous violence situations over the past eleven
years. In some cases, I have merely been a witness. In other cases, I was the
one whom the violence was committed upon.
My goal here is to determine why violence starting to take over our once, fun
and enjoyable sporting events. I believe that this outpouring of violence is
directly related to society. I believe it all comes down to a lack of respect;
Lack of respect for authority, for each other and for ourselves. I expect to
find out also, that our up bringing, and those that influence us, will have a
direct impact upon whether or not we become involved in violence in sports.
The type of research used primarily was observational and literature
investigations. I used many of my own experiences and knowledge to compose
several of my ideas. Also, I wanted to find as many outside sources as possible
to either support with claim to disprove it. Given the time period given to
complete endeavor, I believe that not all theories will be investigated.
However, all data collected is impartial and objective.
Analysis of Results
Sports violence can be defined as behavior which causes harm, occurs outside
of the rules of the sport, and is unrelated to the competitive objectives of the
sport (Terry and Jackson, p.2).( Leonard p. 165) identifies two forms of
aggression in sports. Instrumental aggression is non-emotional and
task-oriented. Reactive aggression has an underlying emotional component, with
harm as its goal. Violence is an outcome of reactive aggression.
An increase in both frequency and seriousness of acts of violence has been
well documented. Violence is most prevalent in team contact sports, such as ice
hockey, football, and rugby. While most occurrences of violence emanate from
players, others, including coaches, parents, fans, and the media, also
contribute to what has been described as an epidemic of violence in sports today
(Leonard, p. 166).
Considerable research has been done on spectator violence. A central issue is
whether fans incite player violence or reflect it (Debenedotte, p. 207). The
evidence is inconclusive. Spectators do take cues from players, coaches,
cheerleaders, and one another. Spectators often derive a sense of social
identity and self-esteem from a team. Emulation of favorite players is an
element of this identification. Group solidarity with players and coaches leads
to a view of opposing teams as enemies and fosters hostility towards the "outgroup"
and, by extension, its supporters, geographical locale, ethnic group, and
perceived social class (Lee, p. 45).
Mass media also contribute to the acceptability of sports. (Leonard p. 166)
maintains that the media occupies a paradoxical position. On the one hand it
affords ample exposure to sports-related violence via television, magazines,
newspapers, and radio, thus providing numerous examples to children who may
imitate such behavior. It glamorizes players, often the most controversial and
aggressive ones. Its commentary is laced with descriptions suggestive of
combat, linking excitement to violent action. On the other hand, the exposure
given to sports violence by the media has stimulated increased efforts to
control and prevent such behavior.
There are several leading theories about sport violence. The following are
the best examples that I encountered.
There are three major theories that seek to explain violent aggression in
sports (Terry and Jackson, p. 27; Leonard, pp. 170-71). The biological theory,
proposed most notably by Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz, sees aggression as a
basic, inherent human characteristic. Within this context, sports are seen as a
socially acceptable way to discharge built-up aggression, a safety valve.
The psychological theory states that aggression is caused by frustration; it
is situational. Frustration results when one’s efforts to reach a particular
goal are blocked (Leonard, p. 170). In sports, frustration can be caused by
questionable calls by officials, failure to make a particular play, injuries
that interfere with optimum performance, heckling from spectators, or taunts by
coaches or players.
The social learning theory has received the most empirical verification
(Leonard, p. 171) and maintains that aggressive behavior is learned through
modeling and reinforced by rewards and punishments. Young athletes take sports
heroes as role models and imitate their behavior. Parents, coaches and teammates
are also models that may demonstrate support for an aggressive style of play.
According to Terry and Jackson (p. 30), reinforcement for acts of violence
may come from three sources: (a) the athlete’s immediate reference
group–coaches, teammates, family, friends; (b) structure of the game and
implementation of rules by officials and governing bodies; (c) attitudes of
fans, media, courts, and society. Reinforcement may take the form of rewards,
such as praise, trophies, starting position, respect of friends and family.
Vicarious reinforcement may be derived from seeing professional players lionized
and paid huge salaries, in spite of, or because of, their aggressive style of
play (Leonard, p. 171). Players who don’t display the desired degree of
aggressiveness may receive negative reinforcement through criticism from parents
and coaches, lack of playing time, harassment by teammates, opponents, or
These theories provide a basis for interventions that may curb excessive
aggression, especially among young athletes. Terry and Jackson (p. 35), suggest
that socialization forces, particularly reinforcement, offer the best focus for
intervention. In addition, psychological forces can be addressed by modifying or
controlling situations that produce frustration.
What is the impact of children participating in sport?
Ideally children’s participation in team sports should be fun, contribute to
their physical development and well being, help to develop social skills, and
promote a desire for continued involvement with physical activity. The objective
education in schools should be to encourage development of appropriate
exercise habits, with emphasis on the recreational aspects of physical
activities (Roskosz, p. 7).
Unfortunately, compelling evidence suggests that, for many children, the
pressures associated with sports produce low self-esteem, excessive anxiety, and
aggressive behavior. Children may eventually experience "sports
burnout" and develop a lifelong avoidance of physical activity (Hellstedt,
p. 60, 62).
In Hellstedt’s opinion (p. 62), these negative outcomes of sports involvement
are caused by adults, particularly parents and coaches. Lip service is paid to
sportsmanship and having fun, but rewards are reserved for winning. Often,
encouragement to pursue victory is accompanied by direct and indirect signals
that aggressive behavior is acceptable to achieve it. Hellstedt also suggests
that anxiety about winning impedes performance and makes players more
susceptible to injury. Physicians have noticed an increase in sports-related
injuries in children (Hellstedt, p. 59).
What can be done to curb the outpouring of violence in sports?
Physical educators and coaches are in a key position to lay the groundwork
for positive attitudes in sports. Guidelines for teaching children to shun
violent behavior in sports include:
(a) Put sports in perspective. Coaches should not emphasize winning at all
cost. Enjoyment and the development of individual skills should be the
objective. Coaches should be alert to and praise improvement. Athletic
performance should not be equated with personal worth (Coakley, p. 106). Players
should not be encouraged or allowed to play when injured or ill, as a
demonstration of stoic virtue.
(b) Stress participation. Hellstedt (p.70) cites studies that show that many
children ages 9-14 drop out of sports because they spend too much time on the
bench and not enough on the field. They perceive themselves as unsuccessful
because their level of performance doesn’t earn them more playing time. A study
of young male athletes indicated that 90% would rather have an opportunity to
play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.
(c) Present positive role models. Sports violence is most prevalent in
professional sports. Coaches should avoid symbolic associations with
professional teams–e.g. names, logos. They should not model their own coaching
techniques on those of professional coaches (Coakley, pp. 107-8). Weiser and
Love (p. 5) recommend that school coaches implement strategies to foster
feelings of team ownership among players, replacing the traditional
hierarchy–authoritarian coach, submissive players–that governs the
coach-player relationship in professional sports. Encourage input, permit
participation in decision-making, and listen to player feedback. Feelings of
team ownership foster team cohesiveness, which in turn leads to better
(d) Integrate values-oriented intervention strategies into the curriculum.
Waldzilak cites a number of intervention strategies, utilizing Kohlberg’s moral
development model and social learning theories, which have been shown to produce
improvement or modification of behavior, moral reasoning and perceptions of
sportsmanship (Wandzilak et al., p. 14). Teachers and coaches should commit
themselves to actively teaching positive sports-related values, and devise
curricula that do so.
(e) Involve parents. As the earliest and potentially the most influential
role models, parents can have a critical impact on a child’s attitudes towards
sports. Physical educators and coaches should inform parents of curricular
activities and goals, alert them to signs of anxiety or aggressive behavior,
encourage positive attitudes toward competition and physical activity, and
promote realistic expectations for performance (Hellstedt, pp. 69-70)
An analysis of all this information suggests that this problem can be solved.
While there is not an easy solution to the problem, there is hope. While Leonard
suggests that the violence in sports is part due to media coverage and the
violent events get the publics attention. Lee submits that the aggression
towards even a single person, either on or off the field, may lead to hostility
towards that person ethnic group, supporters, fans and even their perceived
While there seems to be three central theoretical explanations to violence in
sports, the social learning theory has the most empirical support, according to
Leonard. Do we really reward people for aggressive behavior? Have we created
this problem by supporting it? I believe that we have.
The only true conclusion is that we are all partly responsible for the
violence we witness in sports today. We reward winning; we only pay lip service
to sportsmanship, which to many is a lost art. Sports were at one time about the
enjoyment of the game, learning the game and having fun. Now the message we send
to children is, win at all costs. If you lose, you are a failure. No one wants
to watch a failure.
Until we as I society like the error of our ways, and acknowledge that we
have a serious problem on our hands, little will change. Until be remember why
we have sports, entertainment and for fun, I fear that this problem will only
grow worse in the future.
I wrote this report because I am interested in this problem. As a
professional soccer referee, I see this problem virtually every time I step on
the pitch. I see children of ten years be told that winning is everything; you
only have fun if you win, winning is the only thing. I see professional players
not only disrespecting others, but themselves as well. Professionals are
supposed to be the examples for young people to look up to. What do they see?
They see players fighting, players following spectators into the stands to
fight. They see player spitting at referees. And what happens to these players?
Nothing. They blame everyone else for there actions. The referee was terrible,
the fans are stupid. Whatever their excuses are, that is just what they are,
excuses. Only when people take responsibility for their actions will this
problem start to fix itself. I would not want my children, or anyone for that
matter, see me spitting at a referee. But that is the problem; people don?t
care. We have become a society of people that take no responsibility for our
actions, the blame others for our stupidity. It is becoming a very sad state of
affairs. These sports used to be fun and enjoyable. Now, if you don?t win, you
are nothing. What a great message to send to that six year old watching the
game. What are we teaching our children? I am afraid to ask.
Coakley, Jay J. (1982) Sport in Society, Issues and Controversies (Second
Edition). St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company.
Debendotte, Valerie. (1988, March) Spectator Violence at Sports Events: What
Keeps Enthusiastic Fans in Bounds? The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4)
203-11. EJ 372 800.
Hellstedt, Jon C. (1988, April) Kids, Parents and Sport: Some Questions and
Answers. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4) 59-71. EJ 376 620.
Lee, Martin J. (1985) From Rivalry to Hostility Among Sports Fans. Quest, 37
Leonard, Wilbert Marcellus. (1988) A Sociological Perspective of Sport (Third
Edition). New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.
Roskosz, Francis M. (1988, Late Winter) The Paradoxes of Play. The Physical
Educator, 45 (1) 5-13. EJ 371 284.
Terry, Peter C. and Jackson, John J. (1985) The Determinants and Control of
Violence in Sport. Quest, 37 (1) 27-37.
Wandzilak, Thomas (1985). Values Development Through Physical Education and
Athletics. Quest, 37 (2) 176-85.
Wandzilak, Thomas, et al. (1988, October). Values Development Through
Physical Activity: Promoting Sportsmanlike Behaviors. Perceptions and Moral
Reasoning. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 8 (1) 13-21.*
Weiser, Kathy and Love, Phyllis (1988, September-October). Who Owns Your
Team? Strategies, 2 (1) 5-8
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