The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of sports participation and race/ethnicity on violence and victimization among a sample of white, African American, and Hispanic rural-area high school girls. It was hypothesized that girls who participated in sports would report lower rates of violent behavior and fewer incidents of victimization. Using logistic regression and multivariate analysis of variance, evidence for the hypotheses was mixed and appeared to be related to the type of violence and victimization. Sports participants were less likely to engage in general violence and reported less physical and sexual victimization, but did not experience less intimate partner violence victimization. Conversely, sports participants were more likely to engage in verbal and physical reactive violence. While sports participation may have some preventative impact on violence and victimization, this relationship may also be influenced by community characteristics and not a universal outcome.
It has long been a popularly held belief that sports participation serves as a buffer to the development of problems such as low self-esteem, delinquency, and substance abuse among adolescents. The first highlighted expression and implementation of this belief was noted among the ancient Greeks (Arnold, 1984). Later, in the mid-19th century, English public schools included physical activity as a part of educational curricula and American education would later follow suit (Donnelly, 1981; Schafer, 1971). The first modern-day endorsement of significance concerning the delinquency-reducing potential of sport came in 1954 from the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, which passed a resolution stating that they "sincerely believe that sound programs of health, physical education and recreation can help lessen delinquency" (as cited in Segrave, 1983, p. 182). However, the early discussion of sport and its multiple benefits did not include the potential of these outcomes for women and girls. The view of women and girls as "legitimate" athletes consistently remained at the periphery of sport culture and it was not until the advent of Title IX (1972) that this view began to shift. The ripple effect of this broad educational policy resulted in more sporting opportunities for school-age girls and college-going women, and transformed the cultural schema of the female athlete. Since 1972, the number of high school girls participating in school-sponsored sports has increased from 1 in 27 to 1 in 2.5, and during the 2008-2009 academic year, 3.1 million girls (41% of high school athletes) participated, which represents the largest number to date (Miller, Sabo, Melnick, Farrell, & Barnes, 2000; National Federation of State High School Associations, 2009). In spite of this progression, two weaknesses in the sport-as-deterrent framework appear: (1) the existing research remains mixed about both the efficacy and outcomes of such programs; and (2) the bulk of this research focuses almost exclusively on males and residents of urban locations.
Violence, Victimization, and the Interaction of Rurality, Gender, and Race
More than one-fifth of the United States population lives in rural areas. A rural area is defined as a non-metropolitan, small urban cluster with one third of the population being under the age of 18 (U. S. Census Bureau, 2000). Rural areas have seen an increase in problems and behaviors that were once viewed as exclusively "urban." U.S. Department of Justice data suggest that while the annual violent crime rate in urban and suburban areas has declined, it has increased in rural locales (DeVoe, Peter, Noonan, Snyder, & Baum, 2005). Furthermore, for some crimes, such as intimate partner violence, there is little difference between urban and rural rates (Catalano, 2006). In general, students 12-18 years of age are more at risk for becoming victims of crime at school than away from school. …