Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Sport-Related Identities and the "Toxic Jock"

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Sport-Related Identities and the "Toxic Jock"

Article excerpt

Recognition is growing that engagement with sport is a multidimensional experience and should be measured as such (e.g., Lantz & Schroeder, 1999). Although several researchers (Barber, Eccles, & Stone, 2001; Miller, Melnick, Barnes, Farrell, & Sabo, 2005; Miller, Melnick, Barnes, Sabo, & Farrell, 2007) have disaggregated the effects of objective athletic activity (e.g., team membership or frequency of sports participation) from those of subjective identity (how we perceive ourselves, or are perceived by others), less attention has been devoted to the identification of contrasting sport-related identities. For example, "athlete" and "jock" are generally treated as equivalent constructs in common parlance. A few studies (Miller & Hoffman, in press; Miller, Sabo, Melnick, Farrell, & Barnes, 2006) have begun to identify these as separate and distinct identities with implications not only for the lived athletic experience but also for other, less-obviously related domains, including gender norms and health-risk behavior. This study is intended to examine differences between athletes and jocks and to advance understanding of the conditions--such as participation in a high-profile, high status sport marked by pervasive, hegemonically masculine imagery--under which a dangerously risk-oriented jock identity may develop. Applying basic principles of identity theory to the specific case of sport-related identities, these insights provide the underpinnings of a nascent "toxic jock" theory.

The present study employs a sample of 581 sport-involved undergraduate students at a large Northeastern U.S. public university to address two key questions. (1) To what degree do students identify themselves as "athletes" and/or as "jocks"? How much overlap is there in these identities? (2) How are sport-related identities related to three conditions hypothesized to promote a "toxic jock" outcome: ego-focused goal orientation, high primary sport ratings, and conformity to masculine norms?

Identity theory and sport. Identity theory (Stryker & Burke, 2000) conceptualizes identity as an accretion of the composite meanings individuals attach to the roles they typically play in interpersonal situations, meanings that to some degree frame our interpretations of social reality and guide our behavioral expectations. As encapsulated by Mead's classic observations about the recursive relationship between self and society (Mead, 1934), identity plays out in ways both internal (the individual's self-reflective evaluation) and social (others' evaluations of the individual); in fact, the dialectic between these two components fuels an ongoing renegotiation of the meanings of the identities we hold, even those associated with conventionally well-defined roles. Moreover, role identities may be organized hierarchically in terms of their relative salience. The more salient an identity is relative to other identities, the more likely that it will be invoked across a variety of contexts (Stryker, 1968; Stryker & Serpe, 1994). For example, a college student for whom "jock" is a highly salient identity might well bring this paradigmatic frame not only to the basketball court but also to the classroom, the workplace, or even the family dinner table. Identities may also be stratified by level of commitment, which strengthens the link between identity and role performance (Burke & Reitzes, 1991). In fact, the excessive predominance of one social self over others may lead to identity foreclosure, premature commitment to a career or lifestyle to the exclusion of other, unexplored alternatives; some college sports participants may be a particularly high risk for identity foreclosure (Adler & Adler, 1989; Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996; Sparkes, 1998).

The relationship between behavior and identity is circular. An individual may construct an identity that reflects his or her activities, and subsequently seek out other activities congruent with that now-existing identity. …

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