Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Impact of Sports Participation on Female Gang Involvement and Delinquency

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Impact of Sports Participation on Female Gang Involvement and Delinquency

Article excerpt

The early history of sport suggests that it was viewed not just as a means to develop physical fitness, but also as tool through which humans could enhance moral development. In ancient Greek society, sport was inexorably linked to arete (i.e., personal excellence, goodness, and virtue; Reid, 2002). It is this conceptualization that is at the foundation of the longstanding belief that sport can serve as a deterrent to juvenile delinquency, defined by conduct by minors that does not conform to the legal or moral standards of society (Arnold, 1984; Camp, 1913). However, this wedding of sport and virtue may be difficult for the present-day populous to envision, given the seemingly endless media reports of high school, collegiate, and professional athletes under scrutiny for moral and legal infractions. Contemporary social science research, almost exclusively focused on males residing in urban locations, adds more complexity to these associations with its host of divergent findings; some of which suggest that prosocial, moral, and law-abiding behavioral outcomes result from participation in sport, while others conclude this is not always the case.

Gender has long been an impactful variable in juvenile delinquency. Delinquency rates for males (especially with regard to violent offenses) have always been higher than that for females, and this has significantly influenced the amount of research and policy-related focus that the former group has and currently receives. With this historical backdrop, female juvenile delinquency has long been an understudied topic (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 2014; Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). The 1990s saw a considerable increase in all juvenile delinquency arrests, but the increase among girls was profound and caught the attention of the country (Poe-Yamagata & Butts, 1996). After these years of statistical peaks, a variety of intervention programming eventually brought about decreases for both groups, but they were quite dissimilar in nature. The arrest rate for boys has since dropped to its lowest point in some 30 years, while for girls the outcomes were more complex and less straight-forward. Among girls, who now account for 30 percent of juvenile arrests, a decrease in arrest rates was noted for minor offenses, although it was not as substantial as among boys, and for violent offenses, arrest rates actually increased (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2012; Zahn, Hawkins, Chiancone, & Whitworth, 2008). Laidler and Hunt (2001) suggest that gender-based processes and perceptions have played a key role in these recent changes. Specifically, that girls who challenge traditional gender roles, and act in a manner more ascribed to males (i.e., delinquent and gang-involved), are now more apt to be viewed as "troublesome" and this has resulted in increased legal system involvement. To this point, Chesney-Lind and Shelden (2014) suggest that in many jurisdictions, nonviolent status offenses (e.g., disorderly conduct, fighting, liquor law violations), of which girls have been more consistently involved, have come under reclassification as simple assaults, a category of behaviors often viewed as more aggressive/violent and criminal in nature. This, coupled with changes in enforcement policies, has resulted in more young women now being referred to courts for "violent" actions that previously would not have garnered such outcomes.

Sport as a Deterrent to Delinquency

Over the years there has always been a body of work which suggests that sports participation does indeed serve as a deterrent to juvenile delinquency (Gardner, Roth, & Brooks-Gunn, 2009; Hastad, Segrave, Pangrazi, & Petersen, 1984; Raithel, 2006; Taylor, Shoemaker, Welch, & Endsley, 2010). The premise of these notions of sport stem from a number of theoretical frameworks which share the common principle that delinquency is a socially-influenced endeavor, whereby exposure to the behaviors and pro-delinquency communications of influential "others" increases the likelihood of individual delinquency. …

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