A debate has persisted for years whether violent sports and the
locker-room atmosphere create violent citizens. In light of the
O.J. Simpson trial and other reports of male athletes abusing
women, here is an examination of the arguments on both sides.
Violence against women - everything from murder and rape to
oral abuse - evolves from a pattern of beliefs and experiences
deeper than mere athletic experience, some say. For people such as
former Dallas Cowboys player John Niland, it amay have evolved from
the violence he witnessed in his home as he grew up.
Niland said he probably still would have abused his first wife
had he never played football. But he believes that football
exacerbated his violent emotions.
"There's no way you can play a violent game and leave it on the
field," he said. "It affects the rest of your life."
The Rev. George Mason, pastor of Dallas' Wilshire Baptist
Church and a former quarterback at the University of Miami, said
football in itself is not necessarily harmful.
"But the external pressure of your peers is often a tremendous
challenge to who you are," he said. "If you don't have a strong
sense of self, you're more likely to be influenced by the
environment you're in. If you come from a family with good moral
values and a fairly clear sense of what is right and wrong, a
locker room is not likely to alter your values."
Sketchy Evidence Cited
The presentation of evidence about spousal abuse is part of the
problem. In cases of violence against women, victims often have
been the focus. As a result, experts say, domestic violence often
is regarded as a woman's issue.
In some reports and on talk shows, authors and sociologists
have purported that traditional male sports such as football are
harmful, at times citing sketchy evidence. One widely reported
statistic - that athletes commit one-third of campus assaults - has
not been validated, even by its author.
"That's not to say there's not a serious problem," said Richard
Lapchick, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
"But we're talking about something that's a problem across the
board. It's just taken something this monstrous (the Simpson case)
to make people realize it."
In "The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football," author
Mariah Burton Nelson passed along questionable reporting. She
failed to acknowledge the conclusions of some sociologists whose
work she cited. But her premise - a male sports culture that treats
women as sex objects "is bound to lead to that type of culture that
breeds rape and violence against women" - is accepted by some
sociologists as probable, said Michael Messner, a sociology
professor and author.
Stress in competitive sports can be a factor in domestic
violence as well. Cal Botterill, a sports psychologist who has
worked with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago
Blackhawks, and whose son, Jason, was the Dallas Stars' top choice
in the last National Hockey League draft, said hockey players are
not violent by nature.
But they could become violent under the "tremendous stress
emotions involved," he said.
"Everything's great when you're winning," he said. "But when
you're losing, there's no place for it to go. The problems tend to
gravitate to the home environment."
Non-athletes experience pressures, too. Their responses are
just as violent as those described in news reports about athletes,
and worse. Athletes who have exhibited violent tendencies outside
their sport are part of a greater social problem, sociologists say.
But what concerns experts is athletes' lack of concern for the
issue, given their public standing.
As several experts noted, shoe companies would not pay millions
of dollars to athletes to be spokesmen if they did not believe that
they had influence. Because of athletes' standing, sociologists
say, they could be a force for change in a country where one of
every four women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in
adulthood and where abusers believe that they are entitled to the
violence they perpetrate. …