Intimidation and Violence by Males in High School Athletics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study examined verbal intimidation (VI), physical intimidation (VI), and physical violence (PV) in high school athletics, both by program and by sport. Antecedents were identified via principal component analysis; they included contextual setting, attitude, pressure, and coaching. Multiple regression analysis was used to assess relationships between antecedents and VI, PI, and PV. Coaching was the only significant predictor in 9 of 15 regression analyses of overall VI, PI, and PV, and one of two significant predictors in 4 of 6 additional analyses. Coaching was the only significant predictor of VI in basketball and football, PI in football and soccer, and PV in basketball and soccer. In addition to coaching, contextual setting was a significant predictor of PI in basketball, attitude was a significant predictor of PV in football, and pressure was a significant predictor of VI in soccer. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Intimidation and violence are common in many sports and pose a serious problem. While journalists report it, sociologists and psychologists try to explain it, and athletes brag, complain, and testify in court about it (Goldstein, 1983; Horrow, 1980; Smith, 1983), athletic-program administrators are in the unenviable position of being held accountable. Some have even suggested that violence is good as long as it does not go too far, while others have argued that the fighting and slashing in ice hockey, spearing and late hits in football, and beanballs in baseball are already too harmful (Croakley, 1986).

Violence and intimidation occur mostly in heavy-contact sports (e.g., football, ice hockey, rugby) and incidental-contact sports (e.g., basketball, soccer, lacrosse, water polo), and have become widely used strategies, especially in the former. They are seen as helping to win games, thus producing rewards for players and increasing profits for sponsors. Although injuries are expected in any sport, there is often a fine line between intimidating tactics and violence that produces serious harm (Croakley, 1986).

One of the more infamous incidents occurred in a 1978 exhibition football game. Jack Tatum, an Oakland Raiders defensive back, broke the neck of Darryl Stingley, a receiver for the New England Patriots. Although Tatum was not trying to cause permanent injury, he later wrote a book titled They Call Me Assassin, in which he describes how to intimidate and hurt opposing players (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989). Fortunately, incidents similar to that of the Tatum-Stingley affair are rare.

Intimidation and violence are often perceived to be a "part of the game," particularly in contact and collision sports (Snyder & Spreitzer, 1989). For example, the brushback, a fastball intentionally thrown near a baseball batter's head or body, theoretically allows the pitcher to become more effective by intimidating the batter. In football, hard hits by defensive backs are thought to make pass receivers less effective ("they hear footsteps"). Although these and similar strategies may be functional forms of intimidation, they are nevertheless dangerous (Silva & Weinberg, 1984).

Although many players do not feel comfortable with the amount of violence in their sports, they have generally come to accept it. Silva (1983) and Bredemeier and Shields (1983, 1984) found that those playing contact sports accept rule-violating behavior and certain forms of violence, and as the amount of contact increases in a sport, so does this acceptance. Even players who do not like violence may reluctantly use it as a way of maintaining or improving their position on the team, as well as popularity with spectators. Athletes in contact sports learn early that they may be evaluated on not only their physical skills, but also their ability to use violence (Vaz, 1982). They may be encouraged to engage in violent behaviors by peers and teammates, and sometimes by coaches and parents (Smith, 1983). …