Effects Of Violence In Sports

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Violence in sports involves the execution of behaviors that cause harm and happen out of the rules and regulations of sports. Currie (2000) defines violence in sports as "physical assault that is intended to cause physical pain or injury to another player (or fan, coach, game official etc), where such harmful actions bear no direct relationship to the rules and associated competitive goals of the sport". Violence in sports includes aggressive behaviors that are not related to the purposes of the given sport. Reports indicate that there has been and increase in the severity and the frequency of violence in sports. Surveys show that violence has been prevalent mostly in sports such as football, ice hockey, and rugby. Although violence in sports often stems from the players, other people among them being parents, media, coaches, and fans have contributed to the epidemic of violence in sports presently (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

Violence in sports can occur in various ways. Theories have been proposed to explain their occurrence i.e. psychological, biological, and social learning theories. Generally, the theories insinuate that instrumental violence which is usually non-emotional and mission- oriented kind of violence has harm as its main objective. In most instances of violence in sports, it is reactive violence that is depicted whereby fans incite players to engage in violence on the one hand and reflect violence (the fans) on the other. Therefore, violence in sports is an epidemic that is triggered by the involvement of diverse groups of people including the media, fans, parents, coaches, and the players themselves (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

By and large, this paper offers a discussion of theories that explain violence in sports, how violence is sports occurs, and how violence in sports can be prevented.

Theories that Explain Violence in Sports

Basically, there are three theories that have been proposed to explain violence in sports. These theories are the biological theory, the psychological theory, and the social learning theory.

Biological theory

Biological theory suggests that violence is a fundamental inherent human behavior. It is on the basis of this theory therefore that sports have been perceived to be a socially suitable way through which humans can discharge violence that has been built up in them (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). The theory articulates that sport is an acceptable way for athletes to release steam or aggression that has been pent-up. The theory upholds the need for people to engage in sports because it helps them vent out aggression. However, as it regards to violence in sports, the theory is of the opinion that it is the innate feelings of aggression in people that prompts them to engage in violence behaviors hence violence in sport is one of the ways that human beings use to release the vent up aggression within them (Currie, 2000).

Psychological theory

The psychological theory holds that violence is caused by dissatisfaction. That is, violence results from the effect of a situation. For that reason, frustration is generated when the person is blocked from achieving a certain goal. In sports particularly, frustration can result from dubious calls made by the sports officials, inability to make a certain play, injuries that cause interference with best possible performance, boos from spectators, or jeering by players or coaches (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). The act of violence in sports is thus attributed to the socialization process that has been undertaken on athletes and their perception of aggression. This means that the occurrence of violence in sports is dependent on the emotions that have been created in the minds of the athletes especially by coaches. For instance, in the case where a coach emphasizes winning and nothing less, frustration may accrue when the players do not achieve this aim triggering the occurrence of violence. For that reason, the psychological state created in the minds of the players is fundamental to the prevention or occurrence of violence in sports (Jamieson & Orr, 2009).

Social learning theory

The Social learning theory on the other hand suggests that violent behavior results from learning. According to the theory, persons learn new behaviors through modeling and also through modeling by the use of punishments and rewards. In sports, the young players perceive their sports heroes as role models and as a result, they imitate their behaviors. At the same time, coaches, team mates, and parents may also be taken to be role models and may depict support for violent playing styles. Therefore, violence in sports can occur due to young sports persons imitating the behaviors of their role models which may suggest aggression (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). Jamieson and Orr (2009) point out that one of the major social influences in sports include coaches. Coaches depict the values and skills of sports that are esteemed by youngsters and that is why they tend to imitate these values and skills. Primarily, within any given social environment, actions that are exhibited are usually motivated by others and the social circumstances present. In terms of leadership and role models, the behaviors they hold up are the behaviors that will be imitated by those that they lead. Therefore, children will imitate the virtues or the vices as they are executed by coaches. In the case where violence is portrayed by coaches, then the possibility of violence in sports is enhanced.

Violence in Sports

Violence in sports can be undertaken by spectators or by players. According to a wide range of research studies, spectators can incite or reflect sports violence based on the cues that they are given by players, other spectators, cheerleaders, and coaches. In the norm, spectators obtain a sense of self confidence and social identity from their teams. This causes them to emulate the behaviors of these players in order to show identification. It is the connection with a given team that creates group unity between the players, fans, and coaches hence they perceive opposing teams as being enemies. The perception of other teams as enemies promotes hostility towards the enemy groups and the hostility extends to supporters, geographical location, ethnicities, and the alleged social class (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

Furthermore, spectators can engage in violence due to reinforcement of aggressive acts by either players, coaches, parents, or mass media. For example, when a player portrays an aggressive style of playing and he or she is immensely rewarded or paid a huge amount of salary, spectators read such cues and support aggression or engage in aggressive behaviors as well. However, when violence behavior by players is criticized by either parents, media, or coaches, the spectators are not prone to engage in violent behaviors. In that case, violence in sports is dependent on punishments or rewards that are given to reinforce sports (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). According to Jamieson and Orr (2009), the values and skills that are supported by coaches influence how the players play and interact with opponents on the field. In turn, the same attitude is transferred to the spectators hence causing or preventing violence in sports depending on the values that have been supported by the coaches. In most cases, players engage in physical violence against the other teams as a strategy developed by coaches to defeat rival teams. When that happens, the players may opt to fighting instead of playing and the effects of the fights may extend to the fans and the whole field would be chaotic.

Apart from the spectators, players can also be involved in violent behaviors during or after the game. Violence in sports by players is often vented on opposing players. As stated by the social learning theory, it is the reinforcements and punishments at hand that in one way or the other influence the occurrence or the absence of violence in sports. When violence in sports is punished, there is a low likelihood of the same violence being repeated. For example in February 2, 2000 in Gm Place, Vancouver, a cowardly swing was made by Marty McSorley who hit the head of Donald Brashear from behind using a hockey stick (as shown in figure 1). The issue was negatively perceived since Marty was an elite athlete hence his loss of cool through violence in the field was punished by being suspended from the league for the longest time in history of sports confederation. Such incidences reduce cases of violence in sports because players are encouraged to avoid aggressive behaviors and do not create negative cues to spectators or fans (Currie, 2000).

Figure 1: Marty McSorley hitting the head of Donald Brashear from behind using a hockey stick

Source: Currie, J. (2000). Violence in Sports. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from, http://www.records.viu.ca

In other cases, violence in sports can result from verbal abuse by players, parents, coaches, and fans when they do not like moves by the other teams' fans, players, and coaches. These abuses make the opposing teams or supporters angry and eventually release their anger through violence. An example is when fans chant racist chants; the verbal abuse against the opponents augments frustration and forms a stage for violence to occur. Therefore, the loyalty that the fans, players, coaches, and parents have towards a team can prompt them to verbally abuse the supporters of the opposing team and consequently engage in violent behaviors (Jamieson & Orr, 2009).

Mass media also plays a role in promoting sports and in triggering violence in sports. The main aim of the media is to provide its recipients who include sports fans with entertainment. For that reason, the media airs all the leagues, money, and records which in turn stimulate the players to desire excellence leading to the creation of intense competitive sports for the spectators or fans. The media can show how competition in sport is healthy e.g. it promotes the development of sportsmanship skills. Similarly, the media can encourage rough and violent play by giving violent plays more airtime compared to other normal plays (Currie, 2000). By using television, radio, newspapers, and magazines, they inform the public about issues surrounding sports and even glamorize famous players. The media may also expose the viewer to information on how to control and curb violence in sports. On the other hand, the media can show sports and violence related to sports. Consequently, children access examples of sports violence which they may emulate. Some of the commentaries may provide the viewers with descriptions that suggest a link between excitement and violence (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

The mass media can therefore have both positive and negative effect on the fans depending on the manner in which they criticize or condone violence in sports. For example, the airtime the media gives to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) portrays that violence is upheld. Violence is always present in WWF (whether real or fake) and when such behaviors are supported by the media, it suggests to the fans that violence is alright. For example, a cage wrestling match between Mick Foley (shown in figure 2) and the Undertaker depicted how the media has the power to promote violence in sports because the participants engaged in intensively aggressive acts that eventually caused harm to Mick Foley (Currie, 2000).

Figure 2: WWF sport portraying violence

Source: Currie, J. (2000). Violence in Sports. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from, http://www.records.viu.ca

Preventing Violence in Sports

There are a number of ways through which violence in sports can be prevented. Coaches and physical educators are the group of people who are in the best position to curb violence in sports by helping to create positive thoughts in sports. Some of the ways of preventing violence in sports include;

Putting sports in viewpoint: coaches should avoid highlighting the attainment of victory at all costs. It has been found that,some coaches stimulate players to make sure that they win instead of encouraging them to enjoy themselves and seek to develop their individual skills in sports. Coaches are expected to praise skill development and not equate the performance of a player with that player's worth. Similarly, coaches can demonstrate stoic value by not allowing injured players to play. By doing this, coaches would have curbed violence in sports and encourage enjoyment as well as skill development in players (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

Provision of positive role models: according to studies, violence in sports occurs in professional sports. In order to reduce the possibility of violence, coaches should avoid being symbolically associated with professional teams for example by using their names or logos. In addition, coaches should not use coaching techniques that are being used by professional coaches. Instead, it is paramount that coaches use coaching strategies that encourage team work and ownership of the team by the players. Coaches should encourage players to contribute to the success of the team by allowing them to participate in decision making and listening to their feedback about the team. When players develop ownership of the team, togetherness is fostered hence facilitating for better performance (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).

Integration of values that encourage intervention into sports curriculum: strategies that encourage moral development will produce improved or modified behaviors towards sportsmanship. Coaches and teachers should teach positive values related to sports so that when players are in the field, they will show positive attitudes. The same attitudes may be encouraged among spectators. Therefore, inculcation of positive values among players will enhance positive attitude among players and spectators and hence reduce violence in sports (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). For example;

Coaches can emphasize the need of team work or good relations among the players. The coach in charge can also create an environment where relations are enhanced through the involvement of the larger community and especially parents. When parents develop relationships with other parents and other children in the team, they will learn to support the team and not an individual child. As a result, there will be a strong team that works together and this will prevent any possibilities of violence erupting among the players in a team and their fans or parents (Wingate, 2008).

Coaches and teachers can use their behaviors as a guide to how spectators and players should behave. Based on the fact that coaches are role models especially for the young athletes, their behavior in the field contributes significantly to the shaping of the fans' and players' behaviors. For example, a coach who vents his frustration by yelling or throwing clipboards due to wrong moves made the players stimulates similar behavior on the sidelines and can cause violence by the fans or players. In contrast, coaches who show respect and control their behaviors amidst frustration set a stage where fans can follow suite (Wingate, 2008).

Involvement of Parents: parents have a great influence on the life of their children and thus they can immensely influence the attitude that the child develops towards sports. Coaches and physical educators can involve parents by educating them on the activities and objectives of co-curricular activities and how to be vigilant on aggressive behaviors. In addition, parents can be informed on how they can encourage their children to have positive attitudes towards competition (Abdal-Haqq, 1989). Consequently, this involvement will form a platform from which players and spectators can have realistic anticipation for sports performances. Furthermore, parents can be involved in reducing violence in sports by helping to reduce violence among players in the same team. For instance, there can be a get together between parents and the team players. During socialization, the team players and their parents will develop a close relationship that will enable them work together as a team and prevent cases of violence since they will be supporting one team and not an individual child (Wingate, 2008).

Fan Penalties: by initiating the use of fan penalties, violence in sports can be reduced because the measure ensures that the behaviors of the fans are kept constantly in check. Just as referees in normal plays use yellow cards as a warning sign to the players for extreme fouls e.g. use of bad language or ferocious tackles, the fans can as well be assigned a yellow card if the fans are unruly and when the unruly behavior continues, the fans can be given a red card and be automatically forfeited from watching the game (Wingate, 2008).


Violence in sports is the depiction of aggressive behavior against the rules and regulations of a particular sport. Biological, social learning, and psychological theory are the three theories that have been proposed to explain violence in sports. The biological theory suggests that violence results from the innate being of a person, the psychological theory asserts that violence results from frustration caused by lack of achievement of certain goals while the social learning theory states that violence results from imitation. Research shows that violence in sports is common in competitive sports notably ice hockey, football, rugby, wresting, basketball and boxing. Violence in sports can be in the form of verbal abuse, threats, or physical injury executed by players, spectators, coaches, parents of young players, and fans or triggered by mass media. However, there are measures that can be implemented to prevent or curb violence in sports such as involvement of parents, fan penalties, putting sports in viewpoint, provision of positive role models and integration of values that encourage intervention into sports curriculum.