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Concepts Theories Prevention Spectators References


What are these concepts?

What is Violence?
Although the terms violence and aggression are often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions that can be made between them. Violence can be seen as a form of physical assault based on an intent to injure another person or destroy the property of others. To continue this definition, "violence in sport violates the norms and rules of the contest, threatens lives and property, and usually cannot be anticipated by the persons affected" (Smith, 1983, p. 6).

There may be several causes for why some athletes value violence: societal, institutional, and personal. Historian Richard Maxwell Brown (1969) stated "we must realize that violence has not been the action only of roughnecks and racists among us but has been the tactic of the most upright and respected of our people" (pp. 75-76). Also mentioned was the integration of violence into the American value system. We have all become immune to certain levels of violence and this is a cause for concern. Today's world tends to call violent or aggressive acts "unsportsmanlike conduct." Is this term softening the negative reality of the acts it is representing?

Coakley (1981) pointed out:
"The commercialization of sport has led to an emphasis on heroic values (including violence) for the purpose of generating and maintaining spectator interest. And violence has come to be used as an effective tactic in winning games and enhancing the commercial reputation and popularity of individual athletes.

The socialization experiences of athletes in many sports includes the learning of violent tactics. The approval of these tactics by significant others in the lives of young athletes serves to intensify the extent to which they incorporate violence into their own sport behavior" (p. 52).

What is Aggression?
Aggression can be generally defined as all behavior intended to destroy another person's property or to injure another person, physically or psychologically. It has been reported that action has to violate norms and rules shared by society in order to be defined as aggressive. Several experiments (Tedeschi, Gaes, & Rivera, 1977) found that a protagonist who intends to cause injury is only judged by witnesses to be aggressive when his behavior is also judged to be antinormative; in other words, when they are opposing the social rules that apply to that particular situation. Judgment is the same when the action or "intent to injure" constitutes a response to a previous provocation. If, however, the action exceeds the preceding deed, the revenge is viewed as excessive and judged as inappropriate and aggressive.

What is Deviance?
All behavior which would be prohibited or defined as criminal in another setting outside of sports can be considered deviant. Deviant behavior is usually that which departs from the norm; anything that goes against the accepted societal standards could be classified as such.

There have been discussions among theorists and researchers that identify a correlation between competition level and deviance. The higher the competitive level of sport, the more lenient we are to deviance in sport; which could be "fueling the fire" of our athletes since they are usually able to get away with it or there are only minimal punishments. As mentioned in the discussion of violence, once society accepts a mode of behavior (whether deviant or not), it is very difficult to change that attitude. Many administrators, officials, and coaches may find punishing athletes for certain behaviors that were previously rewarded is not easy.

There are several elements of deviance:

  • compulsive or self-destructive
  • use of performance enhancing drugs
  • viewing the goal of winning as the end to justify the means
  • various crimes that are less violent (property damage, stealing, etc.)
What theories exist to explain deviance?

Differential Association Theory
Edwin Sutherland (1939) developed a theory of delinquency that focuses on patterns of differential association. This means that individuals learn deviant behavior from other people within a cultural setting. "Socialization into delinquent and criminal behavior occurs in much the same way that one leans to be a conformist or any other social behavior" (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989, p. 136). To explain this, let's look at the coaches influence on their players. If the coach were to exert an influence on the players' behavior off the field in the form of training rules and regulations that are contrary to the delinquent subculture, the delinquent associations would probably discontinue.

Subcultural Theory of Deviance
This theory takes a look at the negativism and anti-establishment values, norms, and behaviors that are inherent in the delinquent subculture (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989). This means that delinquent behavior often represents a rebellion that flows from the perception of a lack of benefits received from school and resentment of punitive sanctions. Today's society typically rewards sport participation in the form of positive public recognition and self-satisfaction. For this reason, athletes are more likely to embrace the dominant culture rather than a deviant subculture, who's benefits are not as readily identified.

Labeling Theory
This theory refrains from focusing on the individual and holds that deviance is not inherent in the person but is socially determined and applied by social control agents. Becker (1963) described this by:

"Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an 'offender.' The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label" (p.9).

This theory can be observed when the behavior of poor and minority groups is more likely to be defined as deviant than the same behavior by middle class groups. As an example, when "applied to the behavior of athletes, they may be defined as 'good kids,' and the 'delinquent acts' they commit may be labeled merely 'mischievous' pranks" (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989, p. 137).

Control Theory
This theory assumes that delinquent behavior is restrained or contained by social control mechanisms. This control of delinquency could develop from internal or external ideals about oneself. An example of an internal control would be an individual's identity being based on the perception that he/she is law abiding or conformist. External control may come from external agencies such as family, school, church, or youth organizations. "In short, the social bonds or attachments to these organizations are satisfying; consequently, a violation of these norms would threaten one's participation in them"(Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989, p. 138).

What resources exist for prevention?

The first step in prevention is to recognize that there is a problem. If you have made it this far, then you're on the right track! There are many different programs and methods of prevention that an organization or program could utilize, but you need to make sure that you are implementing a strategy that is appropriate for the sport participants you are dealing with and the environment within which the sport takes place.

In her article "Sports and violence discussed," Emily McNiel addresses several issues dealing with sport and aggression. As Steve McDonnell, manager of Iowa State's Athletic Academic Services stated, the Iowa State Athletic Department is addressing the issue of athletes and violence in three ways.

"One way we're addressing this issue is that our coaches are taking a stronger stance of requiting athletes of character. Two is that our staff has a new student-athlete orientation program that is designed to educate them on the rules and expectations of the university," he said. He identified the third way as the ongoing use of an education program. This program covers several topical areas dealing with sexual responsibility: acquaintance rape, sexual harassment, and appropriate sexual behavior. The department endorses other programs as well; these deal with alcohol use and abuse.

Dr. Jean Mundy (1997), in an article for the National Recreation and Park Association's Journal, Parks & Recreation, she outlined a procedure that could be utilized for social skills training. There are five basic steps in developing social skills:

Step One: Instruction
Step one in the training process begins with an introduction to, and verbal instruction in, the skill to be learned.

Step Two: Demonstration
The trainer gives several demonstrations (modeling) of the behaviors that constitute the skill. It is critical at this point that the leader be very familiar with performing the skill correctly.

Step Three: Practice
Each participant is given guided opportunities to rehearse and practice the behaviors that comprise the skill (role playing) in a nonthreatening and supportive environment.

Step Four: Performance Feedback
Following role plays, each participant is given: (a) feedback regarding how well he or she performed the technique being used (performance feedback), (b) reinforcement and (c) suggestions for improvement. Goldstein and Glick (1987) offer the following guidelines for providing reinforcement effectively:

  • Provide positive reinforcement only after the skill is performed properly.
  • Provide the degree of reinforcement that matches the quality of the performance of the skill.
  • Provide no reinforcement when the skill practice departs significantly from the proper practice of the skill.
  • Provide reinforcement for improvement in the use of the skill.

Step Five: Real-Life Situations
Once the specific skill has been mastered in a controlled environment, participants then use the skills in their everyday lives. Reports of successes and problems are provided by participants to the facilitator weekly for follow up and additional practice if necessary.

Mundy also suggests some possible topics to address when dealing with anger and aggression (she lists more in her article than what is listed below):

  • discuss how to know when you are getting angry
  • discuss what you can do when you know you are getting angry to reduce your anger
  • demonstrate and practice anger reducers
  • discuss what "triggers" anger or aggression: external and internal factors
  • discuss the possible consequences (of angry and aggressive responses in conflict situations) on the person, the other people involved in the situation, and on the situation itself
  • have the participants identify and discuss their behaviors that trigger anger in other people
  • introduce learning new, alternative behaviors to use in place of behaviors that trigger angry responses in people

Where Can I Get Some Help?
The mission of Project TEAMWORK is to encourage greater sensitivity among people to racial, ethnic, and gender issues impacting their lives. Project TEAMWORK seeks to train young people in conflict resolution skills, providing them with alternative strategies to handle the conflicts they face.

Harassment and Abuse in Sport
A policy dealing with harassment and abuse is essential--without such a policy, a sport organization would have difficulty demonstrating that they have satisfied their legal obligation to provide a safe environment for their participants. This site contains information regarding laws governing sport organizations, risk management to prevent harassment and abuse in sport, harassment and abuse policy, among other pertinent topics.

Stop the Violence Campaign
This campaign is aimed at trying to stop soccer fan violence.

Sport Prevention

What about spectator violence?
Check these out!
8,000 watchers at a doubles final of the Player's international tennis championship in Toronto roar in expectation when John McEnroe challenges opponent Steve Denton to a fight and strides purposefully toward him (Toronto Star, August 16, 1982: C1).
Quebec City: the city's coordinator of ice sports bans spectators from minor hockey games because they "have been encouraging players to attack their opponents." Six games have been brought to a halt by battling fans (Toronto Star, January 25, 1979: A1).
Over 400 matadors have died from injuries received in Spanish bullrings since 1850, many, perhaps most, as a result of taking dangerous chances in an effort to please the crowd (Collins and LaPierre, 1969).
The team doctor of the Bath Rugby Club, and a former player, on rugby union: "Before, the crowds would exhort their team to better efforts. Now they exhort their team to maim. Now you hear cries like 'Kill him! Sort him out. Fix him!'" (Atyeo, 1979: 189)

Why do spectators behave this way?
Many theories attempt to explain this, but few have supporting evidence. Some believe that sports teams "become a central symbol for the community in which they are based, and consequently, an important source of identification and pride" (Semyonov & Farbstein, 1989). A strong identification often develops between the spectator and the team for which he/she has an association. This identification will lead to spectators feeling as if the competitions between teams represents competition among communities as well. These communities may be ethnic, social, economic, political, or class related.

Semyonov & Farbstein (1989), in a study entitled "Ecology of Sports Violence: The case of Israeli soccer" found that there appeared to be a correlation between player violence and the type of community that team represented. They stated, "player violence tends to be higher in urban communities and lower in rural places" (p. 54).

Other causes, aside from player violence, have been identified as factors that promote violence in spectators. These may include the creation of increased intergroup hostility by the news media, high expectations of team success, and conscious efforts to heighten crowd excitement through rallies, pageantry, cheerleaders, and school songs. An extensive study of fan aggression, associated with 79 sport events in one university community, was conducted by Bryan and Horton during the 1974-1975 academic year. The results of this study pinpointed several factors as increasing the likelihood of collective violence.

  • Spectator violence and aggression will be more likely to occur during and after team sport spectacles than for individual sports. Spectators can more easily identify with team than with individuals.
  • Spectator violence and aggression will be more likely to occur if and when the losing team becomes frustrated and aggressive. Anger causes anger.
  • Spectator violence and aggression will be more likely to occur when one or more of the competing teams is sponsored by a large school. Small schools provide more legitimate opportunities for students self-display; urban spectators are more likely to anchor their identities in spectatorship.
  • Team members are likely to exhibit more violence and aggression if spectators are present. The presence of spectators changes the nature of the game from "play" to "display."
  • Spectator violence and aggression are more likely to occur at the end of a game rather than during its actual progress.
  • Spectator violence and aggression are more likely to occur at homecoming games than during other, more typical contests. More time and effort are given toward the development of in-group solidarity and out-group hostility by the sponsoring schools.
  • Spectator violence and aggression are more likely to occur at games which are played between traditional rivals.
  • Patterns of spectator violence and aggression at college sports events will be similar to those which occur at high school games. "More education" is not a deterrent to fan aggression.
  • Spectator violence and aggression are more likely to occur when the competing teams are from neighboring communities or schools than when the schools are geographically separated.

Atyeo, D. (1979). Blood and Guts. New York: Paddington.

Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: The Free Press.

Brown, R. (1969). Historical patterns of violence in America. In H. Graham & T. Gurr (Eds.), The history of violence in America: Historical and comparative perspectives. A report submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. New York: Praeger.

Bryan, C., & Horton, R. (1976). Athletic events and spectacular spectators: A longitudinal study of fan aggression. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association.

Coakley, J. (1981). The sociological perspective: Alternative causations of violence in sport. Arena, 5(1), 44-56.

Collins, L., & LaPierre, D. (1969). Or I'll Dress You in Mourning. Toronto: Signet.

Mundy, J. (1997). Developing anger and aggression control in recreation and park systems. Parks & Recreation, (March), 63-69.

Semyonov, M. & Farbstein, M. (1989). Ecology of sports violence: The case of Israeli soccer. Sociology of Sport Journal, 6, 50-59.

Smith, M. D. (1983). Violence and Sport. Toronto: Butterworth & Co.

Snyder, E. E., & Spreitzer, E. A. (1989). Social Aspects of Sport. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Sutherland, E. H. (1939). Principles of Criminology. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

Tedeschi, J. T., Gaes, G. G., & Rivera, A. N. (1977). Aggression and the use of coercive power. Journal of Social Issues, 33, 101-125.