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Sport as a Release for Aggressive Behaviour

Info: 2331 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in Sports

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Aggression behavior occurs within sport and exercise settings. Many spectators watching sporting events believe these events provide an opportunity for participants to release aggressive behavior. However, research investigations do not support this notion. Nonetheless, based on Baron and Richardson’s (1994; in Gill and Williams, 2008, p. 226) definition of “aggression,” four key points have been identified and associated with aggressive behavior. Identify these four key points pertaining to aggression and provide one sport-specific or exercise-specific example for each key point to support your discussion.

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Aggressive behavior is obvious and prevalent in sport settings.  From tackling in American football to checking in lacrosse and even legal fighting in hockey.  The sport setting requires physical confrontation between participants and makes for an envioronment ripe for the occurrence of aggressive acts (Oproiu, 2013). 

Within athletics there is an accepted norm to the unique aggressive play that is present in each sport and each sport has a set of rules that indicate when aggressive play crosses over and becomes illegal play or aggression.

Aggression is emotional anger accompanied with physiologic arousal with the intention to injure and cause damage another individual.Aggression in a sporting environment falls within the area of social psychology. Aggression is any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment  (1994; in Gill and Williams, 2008, p. 226).

There are two types of aggression- hostile or reactive and instrumental aggression.   Hostile or reactive aggression is the  intent on inflicting injury or psychological harm.  Instrumental aggression occurs in the quest of some non aggressive goal.  Instrumental and reactive aggression are the two ends of a continuum- incidents of aggression usually have some elements of both instrumental and reactive aggression (Anderson & Bushman, 2002).

According to Gill & Williams (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 226) there are four key points that have been identified and associated with aggressive behavior.  The four key points of aggression in sport are:

  1.  Aggression is behavior.  It is not an attitude, emotion, or motive.
  2. Aggression is directed or intentional behavior.
  3. Aggression involves harm or injury- harm can be physical or psychological.
  4. The victim wants to avoid harm.
  1. Aggression is behavior.

The first criteria for aggression in sport: Aggression is behavior. It is not an attitude, emotion, or motive. 

A behavior is the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward other people.  Behavior is a function of the person and the environment (Gill & Willimas, 2008, p. 7).  The individual and the environmental factors interact; they do not operate independently.

The distinction that aggression is a behavior indicates that there must be an act of one person towards another person in order for aggression to have occurred.  Aggression is exhibited by athletes in many different forms including physical aggression, abusiveness, or even encroachment on other’s rights.

Identifying aggression in sports is a relatively easy task; there are accepted norms of physical play- both within the rules of play and as acceptable etiquette among participants.  There is a penalty in American football for unnecessary roughness which implies that there is a necessary roughness to the sport.  When aggression is in question a review of the game video can reveal if the act was outside normally accepted mode of play.  When aggressive play is identified as unnecessary or potentially dangerous tactics a penalty is assessed.

In its ongoing effort to minimize the risk of injury in American football the governing bodies of each level of play has expanded the rule pertaining to unnecessary roughness.

The rule governing unnecessary roughness in American football is an example of the first criteria for aggression in sport sport- that aggression is a behavior.

The standard rule for unnecessary roughness reads “No player or non-player shall make any contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.”

The act of hitting a player within the rules of legal hits and within the play of game used to be an accepted part of the game.  In recent years the act of hitting a defenseless player- a player that cannot defend themselves or is unaware of the pending contact- or a player that is not involved in the flow of the game has become unacceptable by the standard of the rules and accepted ettiquette of the game.  Now it is the responsiblity of the hitter to make contact in a legal way and avoidan illegal act (Play Smart, 2019).

 In January 2010, during a National Football League (NFL) divisional playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner was knocked silly by New Orleans defender Bobby McCray after an interception. At the time of game the hit on Kurt Warner was legal within the rules of the game.  The hit was borderline acceptable with the etiquette of the NFL players unwritten rules. 

 The hit on Kurt Warner was used as evidence in an NFL investigation that proved that the New Orleans Saints were participating in a pool orchestrated by defensive coach Gregg Williams, that reportedly rewarded players a monetary reward for a knockout hit on an opposing player. 

 The current NFL rules would deem the hit on Kurt Warner illegal for multiple violations.  The hit on Kurt Warner is an excellent example for the first criteria for aggression- aggression is behavior.  Evidence shows that the New Orleans Saints wanted to injure Kurt Warner to the point that he could not participate in the game.  The hit by Bobby McCray accomplished what the Saints wanted; no amount of rhetoric or intimidation could achieve what the act/hit did.

2. Aggression is intentional.

The second criteria for aggression is that the behavior or act is intentional.

Intent is the important aspect covered by the second criteria.  In all sports athletes consent to some physical contact and risk, but intentional acts of aggression go beyond the bounds of the game.

 Participants in sporting events are legally protected against intentional acts of aggression. 

Voluntary participants in lawful sporting activity assume, as a matter of law, all ordinary and inherent risks of that sport, so long as the activity is played in good faith (Cozzillio, Levinstein, Dimino, & Feldman, 2007, p. 988).

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Conduct that violates the law protecting voluntary participants and harms another person or their property is generally called a tort. It is a private wrong against a person for which the person may recover damages. Liability in a tort case can be determined by (a) intentional conduct between participants, (b) negligent or reckless conduct between participants or by supervisors, and (c ) equipment defects (Cozzillio et al., 2007, p. 1001).

An example of an intential act of aggression is the action of pitcher, Wichita State pitcher Ben Christensen, who on April 23, 1999, intentionally threw a pitch at a batter that was not in the batter’s box, warming up in between innings- the game was not in session when the event occurred.  Batter Anthony Molina had consented to the risk of getting hit with a pitch while batting- that is an inherent risk that players understand and experience as a regular part of a baseball game.  In no way would anyone have consented to being thrown at while warming up to bat.  No preceding event, in the history of baseball, had occurred to warn Molina that he was in potential danger while warming up.

Molina sued Christensen for battery and Christensen’s coaches for negligence -no criminal charges were be filed against Christensen.  The district attorney’s report stated that “even as distasteful and unsportsmanlike as it may seem, Christensen believed as he had been coached, that it was acceptable, justifiable, and appropriate to respond to Molina’s perceived rules violation and encroachment by throwing a brush-back” (Sullivan, 1999).

3. Aggression involves harm or injury- harm can be physical or psychological.

Aggression is different than violence which refers to aggression with more extreme physical harm as the goal.  Aggression can be verbal or relational as well as physical (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 224).  Verbal aggression such as taunting, name calling, or yelling and is a very real problem among coaching.

A very real and disturbing problem with modern day sports is the coaches that are abussive and detrimental to athletes’ well-being.  While verbal and emotional abuse remains a gray area some coaches cross the line; some coaches bully, demean, and put kids at physical and emotional risk.

For example, some coaches swear at players, including calling them names, and this is accepted as part of the experience.  Good coaches do not belittle or ridicule. The best coaches teach about what was done wrong and why it mattered.

Every person knows the feeling of anger because it is a natural response to a problem, to an in- ternal or external tension (pressure). Therefore it can be directed toward elements or persons from around or at himself.

Coaches in a stressful win-or-get-fired environment must push the boundaries of what is possible.  That type of situation is on full display as administrators are reviewing and analyzing what type of football program was in place at the University of Maryland.  The details reported show workouts that resulted in players vomiting and passing out and a team split into a group favored by coaches and another that was treated like second-class citizens.  While some people on the inside, and on the outside of the program, view such tactics as extreme and sadistic, others saw them as motivational and appropriate for the highest level of college football (Maese & Stubbs, 2018).

There has been an eight person committee that is monitoring an investigation into allegations of abuse, bullying, and toxicity in the program.  The committee will determine whether head football coach D.J. Durkin, the state’s second-highest-paid employee at $2.5 million per year, was performing his job of improving the competitive success of Maryland football program or whether he was leading as a sadistic tyrant (Maese & Stubbs, 2018).

There will be many groups analyzing the Maryland football program and attempting to understand what is acceptable behavior in college athletics- specifically football in the Big Ten conference- and whether the Maryland coach was out of order.  What is shocking to people outside of college athletics is that college football is not like most work environments- success depends on a fanatical devotion and commitment.

Use of verbal aggression was negatively related to motivation and affect (Martin, Rocca, Cayanus, & Weber, 2009).


  • Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27–51.
  • Cozzillio, M.J., Levinstein, M.S., Dimino, Sr., M.R., & Feldman, G. (2007). Sports law, cases and materials (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
  • Gill, D., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Martin, M. M., Rocca, K. A., Cayanus, J. L., & Weber, K. (2009). Relationship between Coaches’ use of Behavor Alteration Techniques and Verbal Aggression on Athletes’ Motivation and Affect. Journal of Sport Behavior, 32(2), 227. Retrieved from http://proxy.ussa.edu:2057/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=39253441&site=ehost-live
  • Miller, S. (2012, August 31).  BP unfiltered: The Anthony Molina incident.  Retrieved from: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/18208/bp-unfiltered-the-anthony-molina-incident/
  • Oproiu, I. (2013). A study on the relationship between sports and aggression. Sport Science Review, 22(1/2), 33-47.
  • Play smart. (2019). NFL Health and Safety Related Rules Changes Since 2002 https://www.playsmartplaysafe.com/newsroom/videos/nfl-health-safety-related-rules-changes-since-2002/
  • Sullivan, P. (1999, June 30).  A cubs prospect that was suspect. Retrieved from:  http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-06-30/sports/9906300020_1_anthony-molina-ben-christensen-apology
  • Wright, B. (2017, December 8).  A brutal attack on a black Heisman favorite let the NCAA to make face masks mandatory. Retrieved on 2 September from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/theundefeated.com/features/brutal-attack-on-black-heisman-favorite-drake-university-johnny-bright-led-the-ncaa-to-make-face-masks-mandatory/amp/


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