Views of Violence in American Sports: A Study of College Students

Article excerpt

This study was conducted to investigate perceptions of violence in sport in general and perceptions of violence in intramural sports for university participants in intramural sports. Social learning theory and social exchange theory were incorporated to account for factors contributing to the presence of violence in sports. A four page group administered questionnaire was used to collect data from 200 university intramural sports participants. Based upon an analysis of the data support was found for social learning theory and social exchange theory. Strong support was expressed for the perception that "weak" officials who do not take complete control of player violation contribute to violence in sports for both intramural sports and sports in general. There as also strong support for the perception that violence in sport is likely to result in personal injury.


Since sport is, in part, a mirror of society, and since violence is increasing in society (Smith, 1986), there should be more violence in sport. Research has suggested that the causes of sport violence perceived by students are provocation, encouragement by coaches (Reilly, 1995; O"Brien and Wolff, 1996), peer pressure, wanting to win, because it is an implicit part of the game (Scher, 1993; Weinstein, et al., 1995; Pilz, 1996), revenge and retaliation, and as the result of role models (Pooley and Golding, 1987). Stress on winning at any cost has brought about increased acceptance of violence as a means to achieve that end. Violence has a high probability of taking place when its use constitutes the difference between winning and losing, as well as when there is weak officiating, sanctions are not severe, coaches are not willing or able to control their players, or even encourage them to break laws (Clark, 1981). In addition, among males, some are influenced by the macho image in society (Messner, 1992; Messner and Sabo, 1992; Coakley, 1998). An elbow thrown requires an equally physical reaction; many fail to accept that not to retaliate is the most courageous response. Competitors also increasingly provide what fans like--a situation that is exacerbated by media influences. To summarize, player violence takes place within as well as outside the rules. Pressure to win appears to be the major factor for sports violence (Pooley, 1987).


Social Learning Theory

According to social learning theory (Bandura and Waiters, 1963; Bandura, 1973), the foundation of socialization is grounded in the dual processes of reinforcement and modeling. This theoretical perspective accounts for the social learning of behaviors in three ways. First, social learning results from direct instruction featuring rewards for approved behavior and punishment for disapproved behavior. Second, social learning takes place by repetitive construction of relations between certain circumstances and the behavior that is expected in those circumstances. Third, social learning involves the use of role modeling.

Reinforcement may be either positive, through explicit or implicit approval and/or material reward, or negative, by means of disapproval, criticism or punishment. In sport, reinforcements for violent acts come from several sources. One source is the immediate reference group of the athlete, such as coaches, teammates, and family. Another source is the structure of sport and the implementation of rules by governing bodies and officials. Still another source is the attitude of fans, media, and society.

Coaches, based on their position of control over athletes, provide a strong influence on their team members with respect to the types of violent behavior considered acceptable in sport. One study found that 52% of hockey players between 18-21 perceive their coaches as high approvers of violent behavior (Smith, 1979). Another study by Smith (1977) found that the more coaches support violence, the more their players will engage in violent behavior. …