Sports Violence Impacts US Society A Key Question: Are Superstars and Professional Teams Becoming Role Models for Mayhem? Experts Say Fans Now Hope to See a Bit of Violence in Televised Sports

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IN the pre-game TV promotion just before last week's Copper Bowl football game in Phoenix, four stars of the Kansas State team stepped off a train dressed like cowboys. All carried guns. Coming at them down the abandoned Western street were four stars from the Wyoming team, all dressed like cowboys with their guns ready.

Suddenly they opened fire, the screen filling with blazing guns and gun smoke. When the smoke cleared, the scene shifted to a packed football stadium at night. An emotional announcer said the shootout had begun.

Football fans in the United States might call it a touch of harmless promotional theater. Critics of the growing violence in and around American sports would cite it as another example of the way violence and sports increasingly cross-pollinated each other in l993.

With the ultimate sports conflict, the Super Bowl, just a few weeks away, some people are asking if the level of violence in professional sports is influencing all levels of social behavior in US society? Are superstars and professional teams becoming role models for violence?

"Sports mirror society," says Albert Applin, vice chancellor of the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala. "In our achievement-oriented society there is the urge to be No. 1. And competitive sports mirror this, including the violence that can result from that urge. Until society resolves it's underlying problems, sports will reflect all of society's problems."

But other observers say today's sports actually are contributing to violent behavior. "I think the violence goes both ways," says Myriam Miedzian, author of the book, "Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence." Her view is that violence in sports sets a negative example as well as being a reflection of societal problems.

According to some experts, a lot of society's enthusiasm for professional sports, particularly among youth gangs and young criminals, stems from the violence and dominance in today's sports, not from sportsmanship or love of the game.

In an extreme example, last year in Lakewood, Calif., a gang of teenagers, calling themselves the Spur Posse after the San Antonio Spurs pro basketball team, were charged with rape and other sexual crimes.

The teenagers were keeping score of their sexual conquests of girls. If a boy had 50 conquests, that equaled the number worn by Spurs player David Robinson. One of the boys' fathers told a reporter the boys were acting just like professional athletes, like Wilt Chamberlain in particular, who boasted in his autobiography that he had sex with 20,000 women. …