I will begin with a forewarning: I am not privy to much knowledge about sports, outside of the few I played in grade school, and this blog is in no way stating that all sports negatively influence all people. However, after living at Penn State for nearly two months, I could not help but notice two quite prominent aspects of our college society: football and reports of sexual assault. When the first “Your Right to Know” report came into my mailbox, I was somewhat shaken, as it was reported within the first week of school. We have now had 17 reports of sexual assault and other violent acts such as robbery and physical assault. Many of the reports were filed as occurring either on a game weekend or in the early morning of weekends in general. Although I would like to compare some sort of frequency between game week and the reports, or whether or not the males that committed the attacks played or watched sports, it is simply too difficult to attempt gathering that kind of data at the moment. The amount of games is too small to show convincing data for just Penn State, and none of the assailants are actually identified in the ‘Right to Know reports. Instead, I will do my best to state the findings of some other researchers’ studies done on the topic and also state my own opinion based on my personal experience and any influences the studies had on me.
First, I want to clearly state what I am looking for: Does watching or playing sports directly correlate to an increase in aggression in males? There could, of course, be a factor of reverse causation, in which an increase in aggression leads males to take up watching or playing sports in order to relieve some of that pent up anger. There may also be third variables at play, such as alcohol consumption, gender, and age, among others. Finally, there is always the possibility that any correlation that may occur is only due to chance.
My first avenue of research was through a study done by a student of NYU Steinhardt on the effects of men participating in sports increasing violent behavior. The student, Nina Passero, first provides some examples of famous sports players from two different leagues (four from football, one from basketball) who have all been charged with crimes ranging from sexual assault to domestic abuse. She goes on to consider the effect of social norms and ingrained masculinity to be at play regarding the presence of the aggressive mentality in sports. To expand on her research, I looked up how many National Football League (NFL) arrests there have been since 2000; I came up with a database from USA Today consisting of 833 arrests at the time I accessed it, with about 112 accounts of varying assault and battery chargers, 99 accounts of domestic violence, 8 and 3 charges of animal and child abuse, respectively, 5 homicides, and a large number of charges for DUIs and drugs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find substantial evidence for the other sports leagues in order to contrast with football, and thus was unable to rule out a possible third variable of type of sport influencing aggression. However, the amount of arrests (which I interpret as a representation of aggression and deviant behavior) seems like a convincing argument for a correlation between sports and aggressiveness.
Another study I found, based in Romania, focused their preface on the understanding of aggression and its history in sports, and how sports themselves are designed to be confrontational between athletes, whether they are playing directly with each other or competing against another athlete’s performance. They also quoted other studies to support theirs, which stated that the correlation between sports and aggression, the effect on a coaches wishes increasing aggression on the field, and comparing how women have a lower aggression threshold while playing sports than men. On the conclusion of their study, which surveyed 106 football players of varying ages, they found that the correlation was partially proven. Aggression seems to increase throughout adolescence, when boys are malleable to peer pressure and social norms on masculinity that suggest violence is a key factor in achieving victory.
In an environment where confrontation is an expectation, it is be natural to assume that aggression will be cultivated and even encouraged. While aggression can be beneficial in the world of sports, that cultured behavior can also bleed into daily lift through acts such as the ones committed by the NFL athletes that were arrested in the past sixteen years. Although there may not be hard evidence proving the correlation between sports and aggression, I am convinced there is a strong relationship between the two, based on what I have learned and my experiences here at Penn State. I personally believe that there should not be such a strong influence on young children, boys especially, to fit into the mold of social norms and feel the need to prove that they are men through sports. This century’s society has the capability to accept all types of people, regardless of belief, appearance, or behavior. The standard of dual-gender types is antiquated and oppressive.