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The nfl is a brutal sport. that’s partly why fans love it.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Daewood Davis (87) rolls over after getting hit by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Dequan Jackson (55) and cornerback Kaleb Hayes during the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

Josh Houtz’s love for the Miami Dolphins goes back decades.

It started when he was a kid, just 5 or 6 years old, watching the players fly across the TV screen. To him, they almost seemed like superheroes.

Back then, Houtz never thought about the toll the game could take on a player’s body. He celebrated the big hits and the jarring tackles without a second thought.

But now he’s 36 and he has three kids of his own, all 5 years old and younger. And because of what he now knows about football injuries, NFL players don’t seem so superhuman anymore.

“You start to realize how big these injuries can be, and how some of these hits they take can alter their careers,” Houtz told CNN. “You definitely start to look at it in a different lens.”

Houtz, who lives in Pennsylvania and hosts a podcast about the Dolphins , isn’t the only one looking at the NFL a little differently these days.

Over the past year, a handful of frightening on-field incidents, like Damar Hamlin’s frightening collapse in January and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s multiple concussions last fall that left him stumbling on the turf, have continued to raise questions surrounding the safety of America’s most-watched sport.

Players gather on the field after an injury to Miami Dolphins wide receiver Daewood Davis during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday in Jacksonville.

Miami Dolphins player Daewood Davis ‘has movement in all extremities’ after injury that led to suspension of game, team says

And as another NFL season kicks off this week, these questions haven’t gone away.

In a preseason game last month, Daewood Davis, a rookie wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, laid motionless on the field for several minutes after a hit by a Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker. He was taken to a nearby hospital and later placed in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

A similar injury happened a week earlier to the New England Patriots’ Isaiah Bolden . And on that same day, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback John Wolford was carted off the field with a neck injury. In the cases of Bolden and Davis, the league suspended the rest of the game.

The NFL has long faced questions about player safety as players grow bigger and faster and more research shows how damaging repeated hits to the head can be. Long-term degenerative brain diseases such as CTE and Parkinson’s have become huge concerns for football players and their families.

And yet even with the inherent risks, fans still flock to games and football seems as popular as ever. Of the top 100 most-watched TV programs in the US last year, including scripted shows, 82 were NFL games .

Why do so many people like to watch ferocious, 250-pound men slam into each other over and over? The answer, scholars say, may have to do with our fascination with violence.

In the right context, humans like to cheer violence

Football isn’t the only collision and combat sport people are attracted to. UFC and MMA fights draw huge crowds as well, as do sports like boxing and ice hockey.

“(People) have this need to find ways to bring excitement and arousal and energy into their life,” says Daniel Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University who studies sports fans. “Sports is one of the things that will do that.”

Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills presents the Pat Tillman award for service at the ESPY awards Wednesday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

An emotional Damar Hamlin presents the Buffalo Bills training staff that saved his life with an award during the ESPYS

And it’s not just sports. That same excitement over violence drives much of our entertainment – just look at the success of shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones” and “Squid Game.”

People may be drawn to violence in media as an arousal boost, says Arthur Raney, a communications professor at the University at Buffalo. Through sports, movies, books, and other diversions, those feelings can bring a thrill to our otherwise dull daily lives, he says.

And while celebrating someone’s demise isn’t usually acceptable in broader society, within the context of a sport or fictional story it is “perfectly permissible,” Raney says.

“This is one reason why NFL fans can cheer for the most violent-looking tackles imaginable – because they are allowed in the game. But when that tackle leaves a player injured, everyone falls silent,” Raney says. “The game context is broken, and spectators see the situation through the lens of ‘real-life.’ And everyone stops cheering.”

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 01: Lamarcus Joyner #29 of the New York Jets on the field with an injury during the first half in the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on January 01, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Humans like conflict, Raney adds, and violence is one way to portray that. We cheer for the triumph of good over evil, and the more we like the hero, the more we want them to destroy their enemies, he says. Our sports teams are the same way.

“When they win, when they dominate another team, you get a boost to your self-esteem. You feel better about yourself,” Raney says. “We like the violence because it leads to the outcome that we hope for, and that makes us feel good.”

That endorphin rush is what fans are looking for – not necessarily the injuries themselves, says Wann, the Murray State professor.

“Wanting to see two people run into each other at incredibly fast speeds, with chiseled bodies, that’s one thing,” says Wann, who describes himself as a football fan. “That’s different than saying ‘I hope they get hurt.’”

But it’s hard to have one, he notes, without the other.

‘People still love to see a huge tackle’

Sarah Bowman is a 27-year-old athletic trainer in Boone, North Carolina. She’s been a football fan most of her life, she says, having grown up watching the sport with her father. Even now, she still texts him on game days.

“There’s a level of excitement over a really physical play, (when) somebody … shows a level of courage or fearlessness,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily drawn to the sheer brute force of it, but there’s something to me that’s exciting and admirable about the physicality of the sport.”

Aug 17, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Moro Ojomo (72) is injured against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter and was carted off the field at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles players carted off after suffering neck injuries have ‘movement in all extremities’

There are few sports in the US with the ability within the rules to “quite literally lay your body out on the line,” Bowman adds.

“We’ve done a decent job in the sport to limit head and neck injuries. But people still love to see a huge tackle.”

It’s unclear whether fears over serious injuries to players have affected the sport’s popularity.

The NFL did see a dip last season in viewership, with an average of 16.7 million people tuning in to a game during the regular season – down from 17.1 million the season before. Still, some attribute the decline to Thursday Night Football being moved to Amazon Prime , rather than cable.

Some fans have questioned their love of the game and have even chosen to turn away from the sport altogether . Youth participation in tackle football has declined almost 20% over the last decade, according to one 2022 study . The reason? Concern over concussions and long-term brain damage.

“Football fans are like, ‘I love the physicality, but I’m certainly not going to put my child into that,” Wann says.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is examined during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Cincinnati.

But others have remained steadfast.

Houtz remembers watching last season’s Dolphins game against the Cincinnati Bengals when Tagovailoa’s fingers locked up after a big hit, just four days after another game in which a hit to the head left him wobbly. For Houtz, it was an “image that you just can’t get out of your head.”

“It weighs on you a little bit, as a fan,” he says. “But overall, if you’ve been a fan for 30 years, it’s hard to turn away now.”

Some football fans rationalize their love of the sport

When it comes to the ethics of supporting football, many fans must do a careful dance, Wann says, rationalizing their love for the sport in spite of its dangers with statements like, “No one is forcing them to play,” “They make millions,” and “The league is trying to make it safer.”

“They’re figuring out ways to convince themselves that it’s OK,” he says. “For most fans, it works.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. This ethical debate can be a struggle, especially since injuries are inevitable in sports like football.

“You try to remember that everyone playing it knows how intense it is. So they’re willing to do it,” Houtz says. “But it can definitely be brutal to watch sometimes.”

After all, the physicality and the violence is part of what makes football, well, football. Fans don’t want to see players get hurt, but many still want to see hard hits on the field.

Buffalo Bills players react as teammate Damar Hamlin is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Just look at the 2023 Pro Bowl game, essentially the league’s all-star game, which takes place the weekend before the Super Bowl. For the first time last season, the NFL replaced the traditional tackle football game with a gentler flag football matchup. Viewership dropped by 6% compared to the year before.

To mitigate the risk of serious injury the NFL has made a series of changes, including safer helmets , fair catches on kickoffs , new safety protocols around concussions and penalties for players who “target” opponents with their helmets during hits .

Houtz gives credit to the league for trying to make the sport safer. But he says it’s always going to be a violent game.

According to data from the league, last season the NFL saw 149 concussions – a head injury that can lead to long-term changes in the brain particularly when repeated. That number was an 18% jump from the season prior .

And still, 70% of NFL fans said head injuries do not impact their interest in watching games, according to a survey by Morning Consult conducted last October, before Hamlin’s injury scare.

“There’s some sort of primal thing in us that likes to see the intensity of athletics,” says Bowman, the athletic trainer.  “But I think it’s important to pause and think about why we’re drawn to these things (and) how we can make these sports sustainable, especially when you’re talking about the NFL.”  

Sure, the players know the risks they’re taking, she says. But Bowman believes people related to the sport, from referees to sports medicine professionals, have a responsibility to keep things “within a boundary of reasonable risk.”

Even with all its injuries and risks, football is not going away anytime soon.

Wann recalls watching a preseason game last month and witnessing two players get carted off the field in stretchers with apparent head injuries. He hated seeing it.

But that didn’t make him want to quit watching football. The next game, he says, he knew he’d be right back.

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Aggression and Violence in Sport: Moving Beyond the Debate

This paper is the latest in a series of articles published in The Sport Psychologist in recent years on aggression and violence in sport ( Kerr, 1999 , 2002 ; Tenenbaum, Sacks, Miller, Golden, & Doolin, 2000 ; Tenenbaum, Stewart, Singer, & Duda, 1997 ). While these respective articles have presented dissenting views on the nature and prevention of aggression and violence in sport, the present paper proposes that much of the apparent disagreement is semantic in nature. Thus, this paper begins by clarifying some definitional issues before specifying both areas of agreement and continued dissention among recent authors. Major emphases in this paper include the importance of adopting preventative rather than reactive measures to reduce the dangers associated with aggression and violence in sport, as well as the manner in which adult sport norms affect youth sport environments. In addition, several broader issues, which have emerged from these recent published debates, are presented for future consideration.

Articles published in sequence during the last few years in The Sport Psychologist , beginning with the ISSP Position Stand (PS) ( Tenenbaum, Stewart, Singer, & Duda, 1997 ) followed by Kerr’s rejoinder ( Kerr, 1999 ), the reply to this rejoinder ( Tenenbaum, Sacks, Miller, Golden, & Doolin, 2000 ), and ending with Kerr’s (2002) response, indicate that much disagreement exists regarding not only the nature of aggressive and violent behaviors in sport, but also the appropriate strategies for addressing them. The present paper, however, proposes that there is also a good deal of agreement, which has been masked largely by semantic differences, among the authors on both sides of these recent debates. The purposes of this article are: (a) to draw attention to these areas of agreement, (b) to discuss some points of continued dissension, and most importantly, (c) to summarize some topics for further consideration that have emerged from, yet extend beyond, this ongoing debate regarding aggression and violence in sport. Before addressing these aims, however, a few comments regarding possible misrepresentations and misinterpretations of recent published arguments are warranted, as is a brief discussion of definitional and semantic issues.


In his most recent paper, Kerr (2002) states that a number of his earlier arguments ( Kerr, 1999 ) were misinterpreted and misrepresented by Tenenbaum et al. (2000) . The latter authors had also implied that Kerr (1999) had fashioned unfair and somewhat careless criticisms of the original PS ( Tenenbaum et al., 1997 ). One consequence of airing a debate in a public forum such as the one provided by The Sport Psychologist is that any arguments put forward are subject to the personal opinions and reactions of the audience. Once published, the content of a paper enters the public domain and is subject to public scrutiny. While authors might reasonably expect the readership of a journal to which they submit their work to act as reasonable consumers, they also accept the possibility that readers’ perceptions of their efforts may not perfectly reflect the intended message. Thus, the author carries the burden of crafting a clear argument, yet yields the right of interpreting the published ideas to the reader.

This being stated, it is not our intention to defend any of the previous authors for skewing the opposing sides’ statements in order to gain favor for their own views, but rather to suggest a different tone be adopted from this point forward. That is, rather than relying on this forum to publicly air a personal debate (while attempting to convince readers that ours is the “true” or “correct” view), our aim is to move beyond the previous arguments and towards a productive discourse on aggression and violence in sport. In this regard, we agree with the sentiment Kerr (2002) has conveyed by stating, “Readers can judge the merits of the arguments and counterarguments by returning to these earlier publications” (p. 69). To provide a further disclaimer, of sorts, we want to make it clear that references made here to Kerr’s (1999 , 2002) previous arguments, and indeed to others’ as well, reflect the present authors’ interpretations of the published articles.

The preceding discussion notwithstanding, there is one purported misinterpretation identified by Kerr (2002) that we would like to clarify. Towards the closing of their reply, Tenenbaum et al. (2000) cited an aggressive and illegal action in a youth hockey game that left the then 15year-old player Neal Goss paralyzed ( Swift & Munson, 1999 ). Kerr accurately refers to this as an “emotive example” (p. 69), which was used by Tenenbaum et al. to refute some of his earlier arguments. After reading Kerr’s latest article, it is apparent that one could interpret this passage as implying that Kerr himself would endorse the illegal action described. This was not the intention, and the present authors wish to make it clear that none of Kerr’s (1999 , 2002) statements would directly support the specific, injury-causing action described by Swift and Munson. The point that Tenenbaum et al. were trying to make was that this, indeed, was a tragic example of the type of behavior that occurs in youth sports as an indirect consequence of norms relating to aggression in adult sport.


In the most recent paper, while critiquing the definition of aggression used in the original PS, Kerr (2002) states, “Physically aggressive acts, like blocking in American football, regular tackles in rugby, and body checks in ice hockey, can be ferociously violent actions yet both within the rules of the game and not intended to injure” (p. 70). If one recognizes the operational definition of aggression provided by the PS (i.e. behavior with the intent to injure), then an action executed without intent to injure cannot be classified as aggressive. Such an action would be considered assertive, as the term is used by Tenenbaum et al. (2000) . Readers will note that one need not endorse an operational definition in order to recognize the manner in which a term is used. In the passage cited, Kerr appears to have juxtaposed his preferred definition of aggression with that provided in the PS, with ensuing passages describing sanctioned “aggressive” acts, despite the fact that such acts would not be deemed aggressive, as the term was defined in the PS. Thus, our concern is that Kerr’s criticism of the PS largely reflects an interpretation of aggression in sport as he would have defined the term, as opposed to responding in light of the operational definition actually provided by the authors.

Notwithstanding Kerr’s (1999 , 2002) contention that the traditional definitions of aggression do not apply to team contact sports, a recent review by Anderson and Bushman (2002) presents a definition similar to that contained in the PS. These authors describe human aggression as, “Any behavior directed toward another individual that is carried out with the proximate (immediate) intent to cause harm. In addition, the perpetrator must believe that the behavior will harm the target, and that the target is motivated to avoid the behavior” (p. 28).

Of course, we recognize that the terms “aggressive” and “assertive,” as employed by many sport participants and spectators, carry a different meaning than that assigned by psychologists. Kerr (2002) questions whether viewers would describe the type of intense physical contact exhibited in the Super Bowl of American football as assertive rather than aggressive actions. He contends that referring to such behaviors as assertive, “Lacks credibility and remains unconvincing” (p.72). In the context of discussing such behaviors as a sports fan, Kerr may be correct. The PS’s definitions of these particular terms may not coincide with their usage among many spectators, who would not meditate over this “academic” distinction. Nevertheless, we remain confident that readers of The Sport Psychologist will consider arguments presented in its articles in light of the definitions provided and supported by the authors.

We do believe, however, that the foregoing discussion regarding definitional issues has highlighted a topic worthy of further consideration (thus, it is addressed specifically in a later section of this paper). Namely, when a similar term is ascribed different meanings by sport psychologists than by spectators, players, and coaches, potential problems exist. We believe that a large part of the dissenting views presented up to now reflect differing connotations of the term “aggression,” when used in a formal as opposed to informal context.

A laudable goal would be to arrive at an agreement on terms that capture both what Tenenbaum et al. (1997) refer to as aggression and what Kerr (1999 , 2002) identifies as “unsanctioned aggression” in sport, as well as what these authors refer to as assertive behavior and “sanctioned aggression,” respectively. Kerr (2002) has stated, “Attempting to produce a satisfactory definition of aggression and violence in sport…may not be easy” (p.71). We agree with this statement, yet we also hold that if these definitional issues could be resolved, we might find that much (though perhaps not all) of the opposing arguments presented in past publications have been more a reflection of differences in semantics, rather than in actual viewpoints.


An example of an area in which we agree with statements made by Kerr (2002) concerns the necessity of intense, physical actions in several contact sports. Relying on Brink’s (1995) term hard play to describe this type of behavior, which is acceptable within the rules of rugby union, Kerr explains that such behaviors often border quite closely with foul play . Foul play, Kerr explains, is not sanctioned by the rules and is not justified. We agree that in a variety of contact sports, including both individual and team events, the distinction between what Brink has called fair play and foul play is often difficult to discern. In fact, these popular phrases capture the distinction between assertive and aggressive acts, as the terms were employed in the original PS, based upon their usage in the scientific literature.

Contrary to Kerr’s (2002) statement that the PS and Tenenbaum et al. (2000) seem to be arguing for “sanitized” sports (p. 76), this is not our goal, nor was it the goal of the earlier authors. In contrast, we agree that intense, physical contact – whether termed fair play, assertiveness, or sanctioned aggression – is an integral part of many sports. We further believe that steps should be taken to allow athletes to engage and, indeed, to revel in such behaviors without concern that others in the sport environment will react with intent to harm. As Tenenbaum et al. (2000) have stated “Athletes should never be compelled nor expected to proceed with the assumption that it is permissible to intentionally harm another participant” (p.318).

This is the rationale that leads us to support the spirit of the PS recommendations. Realizing that there is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable acts in contact sports, we support strict enforcement of the rules in order to protect those who play hard while deterring participants from crossing that line. Of course, judging where that line falls is a difficult task: one that usually rests with the officials. Their role in minimizing aggressive behaviors is discussed in a later section. This approach is analogous to the strict enforcement of safety precautions in certain high-risk sports, which allows athletes to “push the envelope” while minimizing the risk of serious injury or death.

There also appears to be agreement among all parties regarding their desire to minimize behaviors that are intended to harm others, though this point may have been diminished in Kerr’s (1999 , 2002) recent publications via the author’s emphasis on rejecting the PS. It is our interpretation that while Kerr objects to using the term aggression to characterize such actions in sport contexts, he does not support behaviors performed with the intent to harm.

Having directed his discussion largely at adult sports, Kerr (2002) claims, “The PS, as it stands, will have little or no credibility among those involved as players, coaches, or administrators in team contact sports” (p. 76). He also states that his motivation for writing both papers was “Based on a real concern that the PS would be seen by those at the cutting edge of sport as just one more unhelpful, unrealistic piece of muddled thinking from academics” (p. 76). After considering these tenacious comments, the present authors tend to agree that many participants, coaches, and spectators will ignore the PS’s recommendations, though not because we concur that the PS itself is catastrophically flawed.

Given his extensive experience playing and coaching rugby union, Kerr (2002) may, in fact, be in a position to predict how this particular community of coaches, players, and administrators would react to any set of recommendations. According to Kerr (1999 , 2002) the culture of Rugby Union in Australia eventually changed as a result of declining audiences, who were frustrated with the aggression, violence, and foul play in the sport. In this instance, changes were secondary to spectators’ self-regulation, which was unfortunate for professional rugby interests, but not tragic.

Unfortunately, despite recommendations to enact proactive changes, for the culture of some sports to change, tragedy must occur. Two examples will illustrate this point. The first concerns amateur wrestlers and their long-held practice of rapid weight loss through severe dehydration and other potentially harmful methods. Despite continual cautions offered by many physiologists, dieticians, and other researchers ( Hursh, 1979 ; Webster & Weltman, 1990 ; Yarrows, 1988 ) that such practices were harmful, participants, coaches, and administrators in amateur wrestling dismissed these warnings, maintaining that “cutting weight” was “part of the sport.” Even a position stand issued by the American College of Sports Medicine (1996) about fluid replacement during exercise had little effect on these practices. It was not until these routines led to three deaths in one year that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States took major steps to change the culture of the sport (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998 ). Shortly after these tragedies, the NCAA’s Safeguards Committee, along with the Wrestling Rules Committee, instituted major changes to systematically reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of rapid weight loss. A member of the Rules Committee at the time has communicated to the first author that, “Without those three deaths, we never would have fully addressed this problem. I believe a version of our NCAA rules will eventually be used in every state for high school wrestling too... which is a good thing” (C.M. Horpel, personal communication, August 8, 2002).

The second example concerns NASCAR automobile racing. After the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt, those involved in the sport took steps to require all NASCAR drivers to use the Head and Neck Restraint (HANS) system ( Hubbard/Downing, 2002 ). Though safety specialists had been recommending the mandatory use of this system for some time, and though other deaths had occurred which might possibly have been prevented, it took the death of a high profile athlete to effect serious change to require all participants to protect themselves, despite their willingness not to reduce the risks inherent in their sport. The HANS® Device has been made mandatory in Formula 1 for the 2003 racing season. Other racing circuits, including CART and Formula Atlantic, have made HANS ® mandatory for all its series beginning 2002. A head and neck restraining system is mandatory in NASCAR’s Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series, ASA, and ARCA ( NASCAR, 2002 ).

In short, while we agree with Kerr (2002) that the PS, in its present form, may be ignored by some of the very groups at which it is aimed, this, in itself, is not an indictment of the recommendations. Perhaps the culture of some team contact sports will not take steps to curtail aggression, as it has been defined in the PS, until such behaviors cause a serious enough tragedy to occur. Perhaps if the much-publicized aggressive act committed by professional hockey player Marty McSorley (see Kerr, 2002 , pp. 70–71) had resulted in a more tragic outcome, then in addition to penalizing the offender, the National Hockey League would be taking more serious and systematic steps to reduce the occurrence of fights and other forms of violence.


The role of officials.

Responding to Kerr’s (1999) suggestion that references to officials should have been omitted from the PS and that attacks committed against officials or as a result of their decisions are rare, Tenenbaum et al. (2000) countered by citing studies on officials and aggressive acts. Three of these studies ( Rainey, 1994 ; Rainey & Hardy, 1999 ; Wann, Carlson & Schrader, 1999 ) addressed aggression directed towards officials. Focusing on these studies, Kerr (2002) points out that Rainey, referring to baseball umpires, concluded that though, “Assaults on umpires are not rare…they are not common, occurring to perhaps 1 out of 100 umpires per year” (p. 154). In the Rainey and Hardy study, 5.6% of rugby referees reported being assaulted. Having restated these findings, we will leave it to the reader to judge whether these percentages provide cause for concern. More recently, media reports, though perhaps exaggerated, reveal that assaults occur frequently enough that insurance policies are available to protect youth sports officials from this potential danger ( Greenburg & Bernstein, 2000 ). In fairness, Kerr (2002) did not focus on youth sports in his most recent paper. We should note, however, that debating the prevalence of assaults on officials might be counterproductive for two reasons. First, at present, as Kerr (2002) points out, those who have done the research concluded that many questions remain. Second, this debate about aggressive acts targeted at officials diverts attention from the question of how much influence officials actually have in reducing aggression in general.

Tenenbaum et al. (2000) provide references to some of the literature addressing this more central question. A few studies of sport-related injuries shed additional light on the probable importance of the official’s role. According to Brust, Roberts, and Leonard (1996) , rule enforcement is especially important in contact sports. Brust, Leonard, Pheley, and Roberts (1992) found that for 29 injuries resulting from tactics judged illegal in hockey, only four penalties were assessed. Studying catastrophic injuries, Tator, Edmonds, and Lapezak (1991) noted that rules were frequently not enforced and hockey players were injured as a result of illegal play. Brust et al. (1996) describe 3 hockey games in which injuries occurred as hostile players called each other names and fought, parents expressed anger, and referees’ calls were “hotly disputed.” As officials are charged with enforcing rules, these studies indicate that their proficiency in doing so, or lack thereof, appears to have a meaningful effect not only on the (unsanctioned) behavior of players, but also on the injuries that can result.

As mentioned above, the line between hard play and foul play can be difficult to discern, though doing so is an important challenge for officials, especially those overseeing contact sports. Despite Kerr’s (2002) cautions regarding judging a player’s intent, this is exactly what officials are frequently called upon to do in distinguishing permissible conduct from illegal actions. For example, “spearing” in American football is defined as “Intentionally driving the helmet into a player in an attempt to punish him” ( Adams, 2002 , p. 47). In addition, international rules forbid wrestlers to, “Perform actions, gestures, or holds with the intention of torturing the opponent or of making him suffer to force him to withdraw.” ( USA Wrestling, 2002 , p. 48)

Providing further support for including officials in this discussion, a recent survey of leading scholastic officials revealed most believe that preventing aggression is an important aspect of their vocation ( Sacks & Watson, 2002 ). It is worth noting that, in this study, the term used to query participants on this matter was unsanctioned aggression. Partially as a response to Kerr’s (1999) rejoinder, the researchers wanted to be certain that the officials surveyed would not confuse the word aggression with physically intense actions that are permissible in certain sports.

In their professional publications, officials often use the term “poor sportsmanship” to describe various unacceptable behaviors, including fighting and other forms of aggression. Encouraging sportsmanship has become an increasingly popular topic in these publications during recent years. In a recent edition of NFHS Official’s Quarterly ( Gillis, 2002 ), for example, two of the four feature articles were written by officials addressing sportsmanship.

Another recent article in Referee magazine ( Arehart, 2002 ) presents the view that poor sportsmanship at the professional level has led to similar problems among high school athletes. Mike Pereira, Director of Officiating for the National Football League (of American football; NFL) is quoted as saying, “The pros and college sports have a huge impact on the play of the game at the lower levels. To turn our backs on that is a huge mistake” (p. 25). This reference to the vicarious learning effects of watching adult sport relates to another area of ongoing disagreement.

Effects of Observing Aggression and Violence in Sport

Specific behaviors identified in the Arehart (2002) article that were first noticed at the professional level and then in youth sports include the throat slashing gesture (in American football) and headbutting (in basketball). According to Pereira:

It’s incumbent on the NFL and everybody else (at the pro level) to assume responsibility, to work on our games, to work on those individuals who are creating those highlight clips on ESPN, and try to discourage that so that they emulate a positive role model for young people involved in the game. (p. 25)

This is but one of many references made by those on the cutting edge of sport regarding the detrimental effects that can result when youth observe undesirable behaviors by adult athletes. Writing for Sports Illustrated for Kids, Mickey Rathbun ( Rathbun, 1997 , ¶ 1) states, “When a superstar athlete misbehaves, his antics make headlines and TV news everywhere-including, most likely, in your house. Your child gets a lesson in sportsmanship, whether you like it or not. And it probably isn’t the kind of lesson you like.”

Evidence suggests that some of the recent violence in youth sport settings stems at least in part from modeling effects of observing adult sports. In a well-publicized incident that resulted in the death of a hockey parent, the conflict reportedly began with overly violent play among young athletes during a scrimmage. Prior to being attacked by another parent, the victim is reported to have argued that such actions were part of the game (see Nack & Munson, 2000 , p. 88). One might also speculate that one factor influencing the type of play that eventually injured Neal Goss, who was apparently retaliated upon for his successful performance, is the youth league’s modeling of professional hockey norms (see Swift & Munson, 1999 ).

These anecdotal accounts are supported by a vast body of scientific literature demonstrating the saliency of learning through observing others, and several studies are cited by Tenenbaum et al. (2000) . Kerr (2002) appears skeptical of this literature and criticizes the PS and Tenenbaum et al. for making, “Definite statements about the effects of observing aggression and violence on those viewing sport” (p. 72). He also points out that not all psychologists are convinced of the saliency of learning aggressive behavior from models. While perhaps it is unscientific to make definite conclusions about any phenomenon, we believe that findings regarding learning through observation are among the most consistent in the psychological literature.

Not surprisingly, professional athletes are often perceived as having very valued characteristics and, therefore, are more likely to be imitated by those who observe them ( Singer & Singer, 1981 ). This may be especially harmful if the viewer is young. Research shows that aggressive habits are often learned at an early age and become more and more resistant to change in later years ( Anderson & Bushman, 2002 ; Huesmann & Eron, 1986 ). Additional studies have supported the notion that early observations of aggression may serve as precursors to future aggressive tendencies ( Huesmann, Eron, Klein, Brice, & Fischer, 1983 ; Huesmann, Moise, Podolski, & Eron, 1997 ). In addition, a study exploring 724 male football players and non-players in a Midwestern community found a significant positive relationship between observed illegal aggressive acts and the eventual use of these acts in competition ( Mugno & Feltz, 1985 ). In summary, both scientific research and logical inferences based upon anecdotal reports present an extremely strong case that individuals are more likely to behave aggressively in a sport context after viewing aggressive acts by other athletes.

Limiting Discussion to Adult Team Contact Sports

The possible effects of learning aggressive and violent behaviors by observing adult models in sport has important implications in recent debates, given that Kerr (2002) has restricted his comments largely to adult sport (p. 69). This stated limitation contrasts with the goals of the PS, Tenenbaum et al. (2000) , and the present paper. If, in fact, adult sport were played in isolation from viewers, then it might be defensible to argue that competitors, as consenting adults, should be free to compete as they see fit. However, if the evidence suggests that the actions of adult athletes influence youth sports as well (and we strongly believe this is the case), then it seems rather irresponsible to address aggression and violence in adult sport without considering both the immediate and secondary impacts.

We are also somewhat surprised that Kerr (2002) has confined his comments to team contact sports. While Kerr reports that his own playing and coaching experience is in a team sport, we are puzzled that he ignored individual contact sports. Tenenbaum et al. (2000) list boxing, judo, and wrestling as sports in which physically intense actions are crucial. Certainly, many of the same issues that Kerr (1999 , 2002) has explored are relevant to these individual combat sports as well.

Despite Kerr’s (1999 , 2002) comments (and our acknowledgements above) that the PS will have little credibility for contact sport participants, many organizations and youth leagues have instituted policies that are very much in line with the PS. A recent web-based search, for example, yielded a number of codes of conduct that mirror many of the PS recommendations (see Appleton Area Hockey Association, 2002 ; National Alliance for Youth Sport, 2002 ; Northern California Junior Hockey Association, 2002 ; Positive Coaching Alliance, 2001). In summary, while Kerr prefers to limit his discussion to adult team-contact sports, there has been little controversy regarding the applicability of the PS to other sport contexts.


Respecting the culture of a sport.

In the preceding section, we have stated our belief that norms characterizing adult sport have an effect on younger athletes. Given this assumption, one might question whether a desire to preserve the culture of a sport, however violent, is outweighed by a need to prevent undesirable consequences from “trickling down” to youth. As this dilemma is somewhat abstruse and philosophical, considering the number of injuries incurred by young athletes provides some concrete data. In releasing its policy on the practice of checking in youth ice hockey, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that 86% of injuries sustained by 9–15 year old hockey players resulted from high-speed collisions ( American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000 ). Since most youth hockey injuries result from body checking, the AAP recommended that hockey players, ages 15 and younger, should not check other players. While it is difficult to prove definitively that these injuries stem from the practices of professional sports, it is likely that the norms of the adult game are a contributing factor.

Notwithstanding these points, those who participate in, coach, and administer adult sports certainly possess the right to do so as they see fit. At what point, then, should an organization such as the ISSP offer statements that would impede upon the will of those parties? This is indeed an issue with moral and ethical overtones, and we would expect responses to this rhetorical question to be colored by readers’ personal philosophies. It is not our purpose to resolve this question here, but rather to illustrate this issue as an overriding concern – one worthy of future consideration – that has emerged from recent debates on aggression and violence in sports. For the interested reader, a number of studies have revealed some interesting associations between moral reasoning and aggressive tendencies (see, for example, Bredemeier, 1985 , 1994 ; Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields, & Cooper, 1986 ).

In lieu of discussing the moral nature of aggression in sport, Kerr (2002) does invoke a legal argument in its favor by citing Smith’s statement, “Volenti non fit injuria – to one who consents no injury is done” (p. 71). According to this premise, athletes who agree to participate in sports where competitors intentionally harm one another are, in fact, justified in doing so. For example, if the norms in professional ice hockey make it permissible for one player to provoke a fight with another, then such behavior is acceptable – at least legally. The same would hold true for athletes who accept the possibility of serious injury or death for the sake of the thrill in various high-risk sports. Legal precedence indicates that permissible behavior by consenting adults becomes unacceptable when an athlete’s “reasonable assumption of risk” has been violated. As for identifying the point at which respect for the culture of a sport conflicts with moral and ethical considerations: that is a task for continued deliberation.

The Purpose of a Position Stand

Another broader issue emerging from the recent debates concerns the original purpose for issuing a position stand. While Kerr (1999 , 2002) has criticized the ISSP PS for its alleged lack of potency in effecting change, others might consider that one purpose of a position stand is to argue for the ideal, while making recommendations based upon sound research, experience, and, indeed, moral and ethical considerations. Again, while Kerr may be correct that the PS may not lead to changes in certain sports, we maintain that an effective position stand should recommend proactive steps to effect change, rather than reactive changes that are so often the case.

Problems with Professional Versus Popular Jargon

An ongoing point of contention since the PS was issued concerns the definition of terms such as aggression, assertiveness, and violence. In this paper, we have attempted to point out that disagreements regarding the semantics of these terms have clouded other topics, some of which actually represent areas of agreement among “dissenting” authors. If there are lessons to be learned here, they involve paying vigilant attention to how psychological constructs are operationalized, as well as considering the context in which terms are to be used.

The present authors recognize that the term aggression has various connotations in differing contexts. As we would imagine is the case with many readers, we have used the term in an academic environment to describe undesirable behaviors executed with the intent to harm another (similar to the use of the PS’s definition of the term) and later, in a sport setting, employed the same word to encourage athletes to engage in hard but fair play (which is similar to Kerr’s usage). Perhaps this variability in usage necessitates that a document like the PS be presented in two versions: one for an academic audience, and one for the “larger sectors of society.”

The preceding is but one example of a term meaning one thing to psychologists or academics and another in other contexts. While we would expect contributions to a journal like The Sport Psychologist to be considered in light of the operational definitions included, it is not a trivial matter that various parties referred to in this paper use the terms aggression, unsanctioned aggression, foul play, and “unsportsmanlike” conduct to refer to similar concepts.


In the present effort, we have attempted to summarize the recent exchanges regarding aggression and violence in sport. In doing so, we have found that despite some points of continued dissention, there are a number of issues upon which all authors agree. It is our hope that the discussion has moved beyond the level of public debate and towards a forum that will prove useful to those concerned with aggression and violence in sport.

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Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

Sport and Competition

The strange role of violence in american sports, when is a fight not a fight.

Posted November 3, 2020

On a recent Sunday afternoon, during an NFL game between Chicago and New Orleans, the Bears' wide receiver Javon Wims sucker-punched the Saints' safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and was immediately ejected from the game. Earlier in the year, during the shortened NHL season, several brawls erupted on the ice, reflecting the accuracy of a fan who said "...I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."

It seems that violence in sports—fights in particular—are viewed differently depending on the athletic contest in question. Whereas football has been moving toward making the sport less violent (reduced kickoff returns, rules against targeting, helmet to helmet contact, etc), other sports like boxing and MMA continue to exist for the sole purpose of beating one's opponent into unconsciousness.

It is sad but true that the typical American sports fan seems to enjoy the violent aspect of sports, even when the purpose of the contest is not meant to encourage it. NASCAR enthusiasts will dwell on spectacular crashes, football color commentators will show highlight reels of body-crushing tackles, and baseball fans anticipate the moment when a pitcher will throw a 100 mph head-high, inside fastball to "retaliate" for some indiscretion by an opposing player. And, of course, there is the WWE—not actually a sport but an expertly enacted display of mayhem that equals or surpasses a really serious bar fight.

In a sense, American sports reflect the pent-up hostilities that seem to be building up in its citizens of late. The divisiveness of our politics , the aggressiveness on our roadways, the frustrations boiling over from COVID weariness — we see it in our interactions and identify with it on the playing fields.

Is there a solution to this vicarious enjoyment of violence in sports? Is there a way to ramp down our hunger for this type of need. Well, getting the COVID epidemic under control would be a step in the right direction. But, as far as sports are concerned, the best way to reduce our dependence on violence is to watch more soccer, where simply head-bumping a guy in the chest can get you thrown out of a championship game! I mean, watching 90 minutes of soccer should pretty well get even the most violent-prone fan to "chill out" and enjoy the match.

Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

Marvin Karlins, Ph.D. , is a psychologist, author, international consultant/speaker, professor (University of South Florida) and journalist.

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'It seems to be more extreme': Violent sports fans are causing alarm at every level

From high schools to the pros, there are nearly daily incidents of abusive behavior in the stands. what is behind it.

sports violence articles

On Saturday, a  violent brawl in the stands at a Mexican soccer game left more than two dozen people injured and led to 14 arrests. 

On Sunday, an unidentified fan told an Iowa basketball player to kill himself after he missed a free throw near the end of a loss to Illinois. 

On Monday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook talked about not wanting to bring his kids to NBA games , because of the terrible things they'll likely hear fans say about their dad.

And on Tuesday, a fight between spectators delayed the Northeast Conference men's championship game between Bryant and Wagner.

"Athletic competition should bring out the best in us," the league's commissioner, Noreen Morris, said in a statement the next day . "Sadly, we didn’t see that last night."

The four-day stretch prompts a question that has been simmering at all levels of sports for decades but come to the forefront over the past year, as fans have returned to arenas and stadiums after the worst of COVID-19. 

Are sports fans getting more aggressive, more abusive, more downright violent?

To Karissa Niehoff, the chief executive officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations, it sure seems that way.

"We've noticed, anecdotally, a rapid rise" in instances of aggressive or abusive behavior at high school sporting events, she said in a phone interview.

"It seems to be more frequent, and it seems to be more extreme," she continued. "So it’s not just somebody was swearing at the official. We’re now having bench-clearing brawls at a greater number than we’ve seen. Physical assaults. ... We’re just seeing, more commonly, a more extreme example of bad sportsmanship."

There is little public data available on the rates of arrests or ejections at sports venues, according to Murray State professor of psychology Daniel Wann, who has been studying the issue for more than three decades. And even the most comprehensive datasets couldn't account for every vulgar taunt directed at an athlete, or stray object thrown.

So it's difficult to say, empirically, whether instances of fan misbehavior have increased over a certain period of time, Wann said. But theoretically, it would make sense.

"Civility is going down in our society. Empathy is going down in our society," Wann said. "Why would you expect anything different in the stands?"

Wann described the bleachers at a sporting event as a unique tinderbox for aggression. There are two diametrically opposed groups of people, many with a deep emotional attachment to the performance of their team. Large crowds, which can lend themselves to mob mentalities or embolden individual fans to go rogue, with a belief that they'll never be caught or identified by security.

And then, in many cases, you've got alcohol.

"There's a strong connection between drinking and fan misbehavior," Harvard professor Henry Wechsler said in 2003 . "When you win, you're supposed to drink to celebrate, and when you lose, you're supposed to cry in your beer."

It was on Ten Cent Beer Night, after all, that fans stormed the field in one of the most infamous incidents of fan aggression at a baseball game in Cleveland in 1974 – which also illustrates that fan misbehavior is hardly a new phenomenon.

Nor is it limited to certain sports, or certain levels of competition.

After fans returned to sports venues en masse last year, the NBA saw a string of abusive and aggressive incidents , from popcorn being dumped on Westbrook's head to a water bottle being thrown at Kyrie Irving. At a Tennessee football game, fans threw a variety of objects – including a mustard bottle and a golf ball  – onto the field. And in the United Kingdom, the country's "football policing unit" reported a 47% increase in arrests at soccer games this season over the same period in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, at the high school level, Niehoff ticked off a number of recent incidents in a newsletter distributed last month , from a referee being knocked unconscious at a tournament to a student shouting racist comments at an opposing player.

Even a youth basketball league in the small town of Rome, New York, had to cancel its season last month after a series of incidents involving parents in the stands.

"I think we have lost our way a little," Rome Parks and Recreation Department Deputy Director Ryan Hickey told league stakeholders in a message, according to the city's local newspaper, The Rome Sentinel .

While the fan incidents in the pros tend to draw more national media scrutiny, Niehoff said outbursts at the amateur level are having severe consequences. She said the high school sports landscape has lost an estimated 50,000 officials and referees over the past three years – and that, when surveyed, their most common reason for leaving is parent and fan behavior.

"People are angry. And they’re bringing that anger, for any number of reasons, into the high school gym," she said. "We cannot have it."

Wann wonders if maybe the rash of fan incidents since COVID-19 could stem, in some way, from the culture of abuse and aggression that exists online. He noted that many fans likely got accustomed to watching games at home, where they could lash out without repercussion or make hateful comments behind the anonymity of their keyboards.

"Most of the time, people are less likely to do those things in person than they are in private, because in private, they can get away with it," he said. "Maybe some of these fans kind of forgot that they’re not in private anymore."

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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  • Violence in youth sports: hazing, brawling and foul play
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  • S K Fields 1 ,
  • C L Collins 2 ,
  • R D Comstock 2 , 3
  • 1 The Ohio State University, College of Education, School of Physical Activity and Educational Services, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • 2 Center for Injury Research and Policy, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • 3 The Ohio State University, College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and College of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology, Ohio, USA
  • Correspondence to Dr R D Comstock, Center for Injury Research and Policy, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, The Ohio State University, 700 Children’s Drive, Columbus, OH 43205, USA; dawn.comstock{at}

By separating hazing, brawling, and foul play and failing to recognise that their connection to sport binds them together into a cohesive subset of sport injury and youth violence, past research has failed to show how sports-related violence is a broad example of interpersonal violence. The acceptance of violence within the sporting culture may, in part, explain why sports-related violence has not yet been widely recognised as a public health concern. This review shows that sports-related violence, including hazing, brawling and foul play, occurs among youth athletes of all ages and in a variety of different sports. The few studies to address this issue have all acknowledged the dangers of sports-related violence; however, no incident tracking method has been developed. Future research must provide accurate national estimates of the incidence of sports-related violence among youth, identify associated risk factors, evaluate preventive interventions and identify effective methods of distributing and implementing evidence-based interventions. Monitoring the magnitude and distribution of the burden of sports-related violence and building the scientific infrastructure necessary to support the development and widespread application of effective sports-related prevention interventions are essential first steps toward a reduction in the incidence of sports-related violence.

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Participation in sports is one of the most popular ways for adolescents to incorporate physical activity into a healthy lifestyle. Over 7.4 million adolescents participated in high school sports in the USA during the 2007–2008 academic year alone. 1 Alongside the health benefits of school sports runs the potential for injury. 2 3 Sports-related violence is a subset of sports injury that has, to date, gone largely unrecognised.

Sports-related violence, which includes incidents of hazing, foul play and brawling, can result in both physical and emotional injury. This unique subset of youth violence has been largely unacknowledged as a public health problem. For example, behaviour that is readily identified as violence outside the sports arena is largely dismissed as “part of the game” or “just boys being boys” when it occurs in the context of sporting competition. In addition to the direct morbidity and mortality resulting from incidents of sports-related violence, fear of sports-related violence (on the part of adolescents or their parents) may dissuade some individuals from participating in sports activities. Thus, the negative effects of sports-related violence could extend far beyond the initial injuries by decreasing adolescents’ physical activity level which, in turn, could have a long-lasting impact on their general health and quality of life.

Because sports-related violence as defined here has not been extensively studied in the public health arena and because the problem and potential solutions are linked to both medical and sociological concerns, we describe the current state of the epidemiological and the sociocultural literature on the topic.


Youth violence is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, exerted by or against children, adolescents or young adults which results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” 4 Therefore, sports-related violence among youth can be defined as youth violence occurring in the sporting context, which includes violence between individuals or groups at both organised and informal sporting activities.

Sports-related violence encompasses three distinct categories: hazing, foul play and brawling. Hazing among youth is sports-related violence perpetrated by member(s) of a sports-related group against individual(s) seeking inclusion within, admittance to, and/or acceptance by that group. Hazing may be perpetrated by and/or endorsed by parents, coaches or other non-athlete members of the sports-related group as well as by adolescent athletes. Foul play among youth is sports-related violence during the game that is perpetrated by member(s) of one sports-related group against member(s) of an opposing sports-related group that is identified as an illegal activity by the rules of the sport. Foul play may or may not be penalised by a referee/official during the sporting competition or during subsequent disciplinary committee reviews by the sport’s governing body. Brawling among youth is sports-related violence that occurs before, during, or after a sporting event among individuals with interest in the sporting event. Brawling may occur among or between athletes and/or non-athlete participants (parents, coaches, referees, spectators, security personnel, etc) and may or may not disrupt the sporting event itself.

Although scholars in a wide range of disciplines have addressed the three subsets of sports-related violence, they have done so by looking at hazing, brawling and foul play as independent problems. 5 By separating hazing, brawling and foul play, and failing to recognise that their connection to sport binds them together into a cohesive subset of sport injury and youth violence, past research has failed to show how sports-related violence is a broad example of interpersonal violence.

Although there is a large body of literature examining bullying among youth and hazing in collegiate fraternities, 6 7 8 9 10 very few studies have examined the hazing that occurs among youth, adolescents and young adults who participate in sporting activities. The most detailed examination of hazing and sport in the US especially can be found in descriptive, case-series examples of individual incidents, stories which are often first reported in the news media. Stories in the past several years have been published on and in, Sports Illustrated for Kids , People and Sports Illustrated . 11 12 13 14 Hank Nuwer, a journalism instructor, is the most prolific of all hazing scholars, with four books. 15 16 17 18 Nuwer’s descriptive stories of hazing incidents include non-sporting as well as athletic team related hazing on high school and collegiate levels. Nuwer advocates for strong antihazing policies and laws, and to support his position he tells poignant tales of young lives tragically lost or altered through hazing incidents. Athletes themselves have documented hazing by posting photographs online. 19 Some examples of egregious behaviours in sport in the USA in the last 10 years are presented in table 1

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Examples of egregious behaviours in sport in the USA in the last 10 years

Despite the lack of scholarly literature on sports and hazing, the problem appears to be widespread. One national study of hazing among NCAA sports teams found that 80% of collegiate athletes experienced some form of hazing. 20 Of the athletes who experienced hazing, 42% reported also being hazed in high school, and 5% reported being hazed in middle school. 20 More recently, researchers from the National Study of Student Hazing found that 47% of college freshmen reported being hazed in high school. 21 Hazing among adolescent athletes compared with collegiate athletes may be particularly dangerous for several reasons including youths’ increased need to belong to a group, vulnerability to peer pressure and lack of awareness of what constitutes hazing. 17

One of the few US studies of youth hazing among athletes found that 17.4% of the 1105 sixth- to 12th-grade athletes surveyed at three middle schools and five high schools in the New York City area had been hazed. 22 A study conducted by researchers at Alfred University found that in a nationally representative sample of students, almost half (48%) were subjected to hazing. 23 Furthermore, hazing was particularly common for high school athletes. Of the 67% of high school students who reported being involved in athletics, over half reported they were hazed. Based on these findings, researchers estimate that over 800 000 high school athletes in the USA experience some form of hazing each year. 23 While this study gives us some idea of the incidence of hazing among high school athletes, there are limitations. Although this study used a national random sample of high school students, there was a very low response rate (8.28%) with only 1541 of 18 600 surveys returned. Additionally, the students who completed the survey were not representative of all high school students across the nation, as 90% of the respondent students attended public school, and 84% reported above average grades.

To our knowledge, the previous studies that have examined injuries associated with hazing have not focused specifically on adolescents or athletes. 7 10 24 25

While many colleges and high schools have adopted antihazing policies and educational awareness policies related to hazing, middle and grade schools have just begun to adopt similar policies. Standards have not been set for the appropriate level of punishment for the perpetrators of hazing. Past punishments have ranged from lesser punishments such as having to apologise or a one- or two-game suspension, to more severe punishments like forfeiting an entire season and being suspended from school. 17

Because of the prevalence of hazing and the serious risk of injury and death (at least 30 college students died from hazing related incidents between 2000 and 2009), 43 states have enacted antihazing laws. 26 27 Some of the legal scholarship argues that holding institutions liable for hazing is the most effective deterrent. The idea is that if the schools are held financially responsible, they will take a proactive stance and prevent hazing. 28 Theoretically, the states with specific antihazing statutes are effectively establishing that hazing is not a teambuilding experience. 29 30 Antihazing statutes vary dramatically between states, and federal legislation might be necessary to establish a consistent antihazing policy. 31

Hazing scholars generally argue that clear articulation and enforcement of antihazing policies along with increased adult supervision may reduce hazing. Victims are urged to report hazing incidents, and sports leaders are urged to take immediate action. 32 Teams could replace hazing with positive teambuilding experiences like community service, mentoring, travel and outdoor recreation. 33 Without changing the culture of sport, however, and ending the subtle tolerance of hazing, nothing will change, and the myth that hazing helps build team cohesion will prevail. 34

While the USA has not seen the kind of organised football hooliganism observed in Europe and other parts of the world, physical fist-fights surrounding sporting events are not uncommon. This includes fights between participants before, during and after competitions as well as fights in the stands or just outside the venue. This article will describe some of the literature that explores violence directly connected to the sporting venue and not violence perpetrated by athletes away from the game (eg, athletes fighting in bars and athletes arrested for sexual assault).

Of the existing sociocultural literature, much explores the violence in and around the game of ice hockey. Perhaps more than any other sport, ice hockey, especially in the National Hockey League (NHL), seems to pride itself on the fights (unlike most other sports, fighting does not lead to automatic ejection from the game), and the attendance at NHL games between teams with a history of fighting increases. 35 Organisers of pro sport may view punishment of fighting more as a public relations tool than a deterrent of future misconduct. 36 Fighting can also be a demonstration of the players’ masculinity and toughness. 37 38 39

Fights can be linked to perceived foul play. Players in ice hockey (a game predicated on speed and physical contact) may fight in part to protect themselves against fouls that the referee could not or did not see ( table 1 ). 40 Additionally, a study of undergraduate intramural participants found that the participants were more likely to fight or to retaliate with foul play if they perceived the officiating to be poor. 41 Fan violence during or immediately after a game can also be based on a sense that poor or unfair officiating wronged their team. 42 Tragically, in 2000, a father of a youth ice hockey player killed the father of another player after a practice session where the perpetrator believed the victim’s son had played too rough.

To combat the conventional wisdom that sports-related brawls are on the rise, several communities have taken action. Some leagues have silent game days where parents are either excluded from the playing area or required to remain silent so as not to provoke the players into fights. 43 Silence, however, may not be the solution because positive spectator behaviour has predicted positive player behaviour, at least among young children, and negative coach and spectator behaviour has predicted negative player behaviour. 44 Thus, silent venues would not help promote positive play among the children. Other communities have required parents to attend sportsmanship clinics or to pledge good behaviour on pain of banishment, although one study suggests that communities with no-tolerance policies for violence will still see spectators yell at and humiliate players. 45

Several studies have found that many youth and adolescent athletes have come to believe that some forms of violence are acceptable in sports. 46 47 48 One study found that at least 59% of the surveyed high school athletic programmes had athletes who accepted physical intimidation, defined as pushing, shoving, bumping or other physical contact short of striking, including unnecessarily rough play, in an attempt to gain a psychological advantage over an opponent, as part of the game. 47 Additionally, an estimated 29% of high school athletes accepted physical violence, defined as striking, punching, wrestling and other forms of physical assault with the intent to injury an opponent, as just part of the game. Another study found that of the 162 intercollegiate athletes surveyed, men found sports-related aggression more acceptable than women, and athletes in non-contact sports found sports-related aggression less acceptable than those in contact sports. 49 The acceptance of intimidation and violence appears to be influenced by several factors including the contextual setting, athletes’ attitudes, pressure to win and coaching. 47 50

Although foul play is widespread across all cultures and levels of sport, 5 to date, there have been a limited number of studies that have investigated the impact of foul play on sports injury rates. The majority of these studies have focused on foul play in individual sports such as rugby, 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 soccer, 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 gaelic football, 73 74 hurling 75 and ice hockey, 76 77 finding that the proportion of injuries associated with foul play ranges from 41% for hurling, 75 33% for ice hockey, 76 5% 54 to 33% 60 for rugby, 10% 72 to 50% 70 for soccer and 6% 73 to 35% 74 for Gaelic football. The most comprehensive study of foul play, which used an internet-based surveillance system to capture exposure and injury data in a nationally representative sample of US high school athletes participating in nine sports, found that over 10% of injuries in four of the nine sports studied were directly related to illegal activity/foul play. 78 Other research examining foul play in athletes across multiple sports has been limited to reviews of athletes presenting for treatment at emergency departments (foul play was blamed for 7% 79 to 14% 80 of injuries) as well as a 1-year prospective study of school children in which foul play was identified as a major risk factor for injury. 81

Although very little peer-reviewed scientific research has examined the prevalence of foul play among US adolescent athletes, several non-profit organisations have funded research investigating sportsmanship and illegal conduct/foul play. For example, the Josephson Institute of Ethics conducted the 2006 Sportsmanship Survey to measure high school athletes’ attitudes and behaviours related to sportsmanship, cheating, and other illegal conduct in sports. 82 Of the 5275 high school athletes who responded to the survey, 60% of males and 27% of females reported they thought it was acceptable to “deliberately inflict pain in football to intimidate an opponent.” Moreover, one in four males and one in 10 females reported they felt it was acceptable for a pitcher to follow a coach’s orders to throw at an opposing hitter intentionally.

Additionally, the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) asks visitors of their website each week to answer a question related to youth sports. Several of these questions have dealt with sports-related violence issues including brawling and foul play. 83 For example, 70% (n = 268) of respondents felt that children would be negatively impacted by the Pistons–Pacers brawl, a large, widely televised brawl involving both US National Basketball Association (NBA) players and fans that occurred in November 2004. Additionally, 85% of respondents believed that pro-athletes’ behaviour impacts how children act while playing sports (n = 301). When asked what the biggest problem in youth sports was today, the number one answer was out-of-control parents/spectators (108 of 241 respondents). Though these studies have provided valuable information on the prevalence of sports-related violence among youth, the usefulness of this information is generally limited by the inability to generalise findings from small non-representative samples and relatively low response rates.

In 2000, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1500 children aged 10–17 and 1950 parents. 84 The study, entitled “A National Survey of Kids (and their Parents) About Famous Athletes as Role Models,” found that nearly 60% of kids described incidents of poor-sportsmanship such as taunting and yelling at the referee or umpire as commonplace among their peers. Furthermore, almost half of all kids surveyed reported that taking cheap shots or hitting an opponent is common in youth sports. Unfortunately, while this study used a nationally representative sample, the survey included a limited number of questions related to the prevalence of foul play and no questions about other forms of sports-related violence including hazing and brawling.

Scholars and advocates have offered suggestions to minimise sports-related violence in the form of foul play. Some call for limiting or eliminating fans’ alcohol consumption at sporting events, certifying youth coaches and banning the use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications that allow youth to play injured. 50 Several organisations are devoted to promoting sportsmanship, which they believe will lead to a decrease in poor behaviour. The Institute for International Sport sells a card game to promote good sportsmanship as well as promoting an annual National Sportsmanship Day in the USA. The Josephson Institute of Ethics publishes the “Character Counts” newsletter and has programme materials to promote sportsmanship.

Sports-related violence among youth has been largely overlooked or ignored rather than being recognised as a subset of youth violence worthy of concern and attention. Because relatively few studies have examined the prevalence of sports-related violence among youth or measures of the resultant morbidity and mortality, there are no reliable estimates of the magnitude of the problem. In addition, because hazing, brawling and foul play have been previously studied separately rather than collectively, seeing how sports-related violence may serve as a broad example of interpersonal violence can be difficult.

The acceptance of violence within the sporting culture may, in part, explain why sports-related violence has not yet been widely recognised as a public health concern. Other forms of popular culture like television and movies as well as video games and music recordings feature ratings or descriptions to warn parents and consumers that the medium contains violence. Parental controls like the v-chip on televisions even allow users to block televisions shows with ratings of excessive violence. No such ratings or warnings, however, exist for sporting events. When a brawl breaks out in the stands or a soccer player head butts another player, the cameras capture the moment live for the viewer and then the clip can be replayed extensively. While we do not necessarily advocate a violence rating for sport, we do argue that the lack of such a system represents how accepted violence in sport is. This social tolerance may in part be why sports-related violence continues and why it is not studied more extensively.

Little is known about potential preventative factors for sports-related violence among youth. Perpetrators of sports-related violence likely do not share the more common attributes/profiles of perpetrators of other youth interpersonal violence (poor academic performance, poor social skills, poor anger management skills, substance abuse problems, etc) because adolescents often must meet minimum academic and citizenship standards to be allowed to participate in athletics. Because of these differences, it is unknown whether or not interventions proven to be effective in preventing traditionally defined interpersonal youth violence will be similarly effective in preventing sports-related violence among youth. Figure 1 , based on a social-ecological model of behaviour, 85 shows how violence is influenced by both individual and social environmental factors. 5 Effective interventions will likely require multifactoral approaches addressing diverse issues including peer-pressure, coaches’ influence, parental examples and expectations, media’s influence, sports figures’ influence, community and school legislation, referee enforcement of sporting rules, environmental design of sporting venues, etc.

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Social-ecological model of sports-related violence.

The few studies that have addressed hazing, brawling and foul play all acknowledged the dangers of sports-related violence; however, no incident-tracking method has been developed. Thus, the urgent need for future research to provide accurate national estimates of the incidence of sports-related violence among youth, identify associated risk factors, evaluate preventive interventions, and identify effective methods of distributing and implementing evidence-based interventions. Prior studies that called for education about hazing, brawling and foul play have not provided proven methods for effectively distributing and implementing educational interventions. 22 43 86 87 Monitoring the magnitude and distribution of the burden of sports-related violence and building the scientific infrastructure necessary to support the development and widespread application of effective sports-related prevention interventions are essential first steps toward a reduction in the incidence of sports-related violence.

What is already known on the topic

Sports-related violence, including hazing, brawling and foul play, occurs among youth athletes of all ages and in a variety of different sports and can result in both physical and emotional injury.

Despite this knowledge, sports-related violence among youth has been largely overlooked or ignored rather than being recognised as a subset of youth violence worthy of concern and attention.

What this paper adds

This paper demonstrates the urgent need for future research to provide accurate national estimates of the incidence of sports-related violence among youth, identify associated risk factors, evaluate preventive interventions and identify effective methods of distributing and implementing evidence-based interventions.

Effective interventions for sports-related violence will likely require multifactoral approaches addressing diverse issues.

  • ↵ National Federation of State High School Associations . 2007–08 High School Athletics Participation Survey . 2008 .
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Competing interests None.

Provenance and Peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Linked Articles

  • Warm up Are kids having a rough time of it in sports? Dennis J Caine British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 44 1-3 Published Online First: 21 Dec 2009. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.069484

Read the full text or download the PDF:

There is no place for fan violence in the stands at our sporting events

There used to be other considerations when pondering whether to attend an NFL game. There were the exorbitant ticket prices, parking, the $15 hot dogs, and the $22 beers. You had to decide whether you wanted to pass on the luxury of watching the game on a widescreen TV with your preferred snacks in favor of needing binoculars to catch those pivotal plays.

Those are no longer significant concerns. The most critical and pressing concern has become safety. Are you safe at any NFL game? Do you dare wear a jersey of the opposing team, realizing you will be jeered or even confronted? Do you trust that those fans around you will keep their composure for three-plus hours?


Fan safety has become the foremost problem because some of us don’t know how to act when we attend a game.

The Patriots and rest of the NFL community are reeling after the tragic death of New England fan Dale Mooney , who died at Gillette Stadium during Sunday night’s loss to Miami because of a medical issue that occurred during a physical altercation with a Dolphins fan. He was 53.

Every week on X (formerly Twitter), we see videos of fan fights at NFL games.

Grown men take haymakers at each other, arguing over who has the better team or sour grapes about losing or even something as minor as stepping on a foot while passing in a row or spilling popcorn.

While fights may be entertaining morsels for social media minds that love to watch others misbehave for amusement, it isn’t funny. What’s more, it’s dangerous and can be deadly.

The NFL culture of five-hour tailgating filled with alcohol, table diving (Buffalo), tackle football games in the parking lot, and other escapades has led to this behavior.

Years of watching NFL gladiators crash into each other to prove their physical superiority have made a generation of fans think they can do the same when they attend a game. Some of us paint our faces, put on costumes, and become an alter ego once we pull up to the stadium filled with beer.

NFL Sunday is the one day we don’t have to live conventionally or follow rules. We want to live out our delusions of football grandeur.

And this is not to absolve the female fans. There are plenty of women who act foolishly at NFL games, pushing other fans, instigating fights, or tossing beer in the middle of the scrums and then ducking behind another onlooker. This is not a male or female problem but a people problem, a conduct issue, a matter of respect and safety.

Most of us have to go to work on Monday, face our coworkers, and actually serve as a role model for our children. Normal life does resume when the clock hits zero and the Patriots win or lose.

Maybe it’s as simple as imploring people to stop fighting at NFL games. Stop with the obnoxious statements to rival fans when your team is winning. Stop trying to instigate altercations over a football game. We all love our teams. We have all followed our teams since childhood. It’s a lifetime bond. It’s a long-term commitment.

But none of us are on the team payroll. We are not paid to be fans. Winning a fight at an NFL game does not make you the heavyweight champion of Gillette Stadium. It makes you a fool.

We come to the stadium with our masculinity and bravado brimming. We’re ready to see the bone-crushing hits. We’re ready for our team to reign supreme so we can take that walk to our cars bursting with pride.

But we can’t attach our personal pride and stature to a football game, regardless of how much we adore our team. We can’t view a fan wearing the jersey of the opposing team as our unquestioned enemy. We all have jobs, families, responsibilities, and more important priorities.

If your primary goal is to whip somebody’s butt once you to get to the stadium, you should take yourself back home or listen to the game on the radio in the parking lot. There are too many other fans there to have a good time, then get home safely to resume their lives.

Do we take our sports too seriously in Boston? That’s a legitimate question, and with the emergence of legal sports betting, the passion is not going to subside any time soon.

But we have to find a way to control our emotions, be more respectful of each other, and ignore those snide remarks from rival fans, because it could be a matter of life and death.

NFL games aren’t as fun anymore. Alcohol consumption has become too much of a priority, which leads to bad decisions and boorish behavior. It will require a collective effort to stop this trend, and it has to start this Sunday.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected] . Follow him @GwashburnGlobe .

Violence and Abuse in Competitive Sports


  • 1 Practice for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Winterthur, Switzerland.
  • 2 Shared first authorship.
  • 3 Adult Psychiatry, Psychiatric Services Grisons, Chur, Switzerland.
  • 4 Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  • 5 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, USA.
  • 6 Addiction Centre, Zurich, Switzerland.
  • 7 Practice for Psychotherapy, Meiringen, Switzerland.
  • 8 Psychology Section, Psychology and Educational Sciences Faculty, University of Geneva, Suisse.
  • 9 Practice for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Romanshorn, Switzerland.
  • 10 Private Clinic Wyss AG, Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland.
  • 11 Geriatric and Neuropsychiatry, Psychiatric Service St. Gallen North, Wil, Switzerland.
  • PMID: 35291864
  • DOI: 10.1024/1661-8157/a003852

Violence and abuse in competitive sports, such as physical and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect and sexual abuse, affect children, adolescents and adults alike and lead to severe physical, psychological and social consequences. In current medical and educational care concepts of athletes, there is a lack of consistent integration of sports/psychiatric, clinical psychological and psychotherapeutic, developmental pediatric and developmental psychological expertise. Problem areas arise from fine lines between harassment, non-physical and physical violence. The present position paper includes recommendations for the development of a concept for the protection of mental health in competitive sports and for coping with mental stress and psychological disorders by qualified medical experts in mental health, i.e., child, adolescent and adult psychiatrists with specific expertise in competitive sports: sports psychiatrists. According to the recommendations, experts should also have and further develop competence in other fields, especially in ethics, child protection, protection against violence and abuse in competitive sports, awareness of and dealing with transgression of boundaries, knowledge about child development, and transparency in training structures and relationships.

Keywords: Gewalt und Missbrauch; Leistungssport; Psychiatrie et psychothérapie du sport; Sportpsychiatrie und -psychotherapie; Sports psychiatry; Traumafolgestörungen; competitive sports; mental health; post-traumatic disorders; psychische Gesundheit; santé mentale; sport de compétition; troubles post-traumatiques; violence and abuse; violence et abus.

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  • > Violence in youth sports -- a bottom-line issue

Violence in youth sports -- a bottom-line issue

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Less than 1 percent of high school graduates in the United States receive sports scholarships to college. Still, financial pressure, fueled by the prospect of a scholarship and the expense of competitive youth sports teams, increasingly is pushing parents beyond the brink of good sportsmanship when youth sports become viewed as an investment.

Youth Sport Violence image

Photo by: Chris Meyer

Fan violence at youth sporting events can range from yelling to physical violence.

Print-Quality Photo

Fan violence at youth sporting events can range from yelling to physical violence, such as parents striking coaches. Lynn Jamieson, professor and chair of IU Bloomington's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, said the amount of sports violence occurring at youth sporting events has not increased, but the negative influence of financial pressures has.

"I know a woman who worked two full-time jobs so her child could compete with a traveling team," said Jamieson, whose research interests includes sports violence. "When your life revolves around the sport and competition, the stress and frustration can manifest itself in the player and parents."

She suggests that parents consider the benefits of investing in a college savings plan. "There are other avenues of success for youth," Jamieson said. "Every dollar spent on leisure could be saved for higher education."

Jamieson offers these tips and resources to minimize the occurrence of violence in the bleachers and on the playing field:

  • Verbal abuse can be worse than physical abuse when it comes from coaches, parents or other players. It also can accelerate physical violence. To address this, "silent" matches are held across the country. During these special athletic events, fans can only applaud -- no yelling or commenting on the game is permitted.
  • Remove children from situations where there are abusive patterns. A bad experience can have a long-term effect on how youth view sports. "There's no reason to put yourself in a situation where there are no choices," Jamieson said.
  • Keep the family's sporting activities affordable for the whole family.
  • Be vigilant about unsportsmanlike behavior -- and don't take it. Jamieson encourages people to report unsportsmanlike behavior and to become aware of relevant codes of conduct and solutions employed by other communities. This can include lobbying community leaders for change.

Often youth sports leagues rely on parents and other volunteers to coach and referee. Volunteers might not be aware of training programs and other resources that could help them deal with violence and ethical issues. These resources could help:

  •, , contains information about many aspects of hazing including fraternity, sorority, athletic, high school and military hazing.
  • The National Alliance for Youth Sports, , is a good source for codes of ethics and other youth sports guidelines.
  • IUB's Center for Sport Policy and Conduct, , has a useful "resource" link.

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sports violence articles

Violent sports: the “most perfect of contests”?

sports violence articles

Sport in the Greek and Roman Worlds: Volume 1

  • By Thomas F. Scanlon
  • July 29 th 2016

The “most perfect of contests” is the praise given to pankration , the ancient forerunner of modern “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) which employs a brutal blend of boxing, wrestling, judo, and karate. This acclaim is found in an inscription from Asia Minor (Aphrodisias) from the 3 rd century CE ( Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, 1984). The big money prize for pankration in this period suggests that the event was also the most popular. Another inscription from the same city lists the cash prize as greater than that for boxing or wrestling (3000 denarii vs. 2000 for the other slightly less violent events) and much more than the 1200 denarii for the traditionally esteemed 200 metre footrace, the stadion . Finger-breaking and even strangulation to death were known to occur in such contests. Greek ‘combat sports’ (boxing, wrestling and pankration ) held a prominent place among the games from the earliest period, evident from the intense drama of boxing matches in Homer’s Iliad 23 and Odyssey 18 (about 700 BCE).

Violent sports like American football, ice hockey, rugby, boxing, and MMA are perennially among the most popular. Their status is a frightening indication of the flowering of violence in sports in the 21 st century, booming to a level unknown since ancient Greece and Rome. In the ancient Mediterranean, the audiences both in the Greek East and in the Roman West mutually enjoyed Greek athletic contests and Roman spectacles. Roman chariot races were famous for their fatal collisions, and gladiatorial battles were also held in the chariot ‘circus’ venues, as well as in arenas, and even in Greek theaters throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The only concern of the populace was “bread and circuses,” according to Juvenal ( Satire 10; ca. 100 CE), while the “circuses” included not only chariot races, but gladiator games and even Greek athletics. Greek athletic performances were regularly held in the western Mediterranean, especially in Italy [S. Remijsen. 2015. The End of Greek Athletics in Late Antiquity ]. Gladiatorial bouts in the eastern Roman empire were regularly given the Greek terms for boxing ( pugmē and pukteuein ) in inscriptions, a usage that points to the popular equation of gladiatorial bouts to combat sports. [L. Robert. 1940. Les gladiateurs dans l’Orient grec ]. The audience cared little for what was Greek and what Roman; the brutality itself was the draw. Violent sports are to be sure evidenced in other historical cultures like Mesoamerica, Egypt, the Middle East, and East Asia, but none match the popularity and legacy of the Greco-Roman phenomena.

Gladiatorial mosaic from Mérida, Spain. Death of Maternus, killed by Symmachus. 3rd century CE. Photo by Ángel M. Felicísimo, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The reason for the lure of violence shared by our western ancient and modern cultures is a more complex question that has puzzled scholars. The ancient and modern cases all coincide with affluence among the elite who funded the expensive games, in antiquity with free admission. The spread of sports also occurs in cultures with numerous occasions for leisure among the general populace, namely religious festivals in antiquity and the free time enjoyed by a bigger middle class today.

These conditions partly explain the spread of public contests then and now. But they do not explain the passion to witness physical aggression. What we can establish is that the ancient contests were, with few exceptions, an almost exclusively male space for Greek and Roman participants and fans. This fact is perhaps not surprising in societies where the public presence of women was hugely limited by our standards. More amazing is that today’s sports have been maintained as a male enclave; Professor Cheryl Cooky of Purdue University has dubbed sport media outlets “‘mediated man caves’… a space where men can go and know it’s going to be by, for, and about men.”

In the last hundred years, and especially in the last half century, women have slowly been admitted to physical education, athletic training and participation in many sports. But the delay in admission is startling. It may be, unfortunately, that the contemporary inclusion of women in public sports is a gesture to social equity, not a response to public demand. Public interest measured by media presence and by the salaries of top women players indicates that most fans, male and female, prefer watching men compete. The example to the contrary is in Mixed Martial Arts where female combat athletes, most notably starting with Ronda Rousey (2.2. million followers) have gained a fandom. But this is marginalized in comparison with MMA fans for males. Women’s games are, for a minority of men (and for me), as exciting to watch as men’s. So why the discrepancy?

Gina Carano in full mount position performing ground and pound. Photo by Matthew Walsh. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The image of sporting machismo has been long established in the past century, fed in part no doubt by testosterone and by the custom of the more heavily muscled gender that evolved for hunting and tribal fighting. Fitness is still crucial, but the aggressive expression of physical violence is ever less required in our mechanized society, far less required than among the Greeks and Romans. But when daily life places fewer demands for strong physical force for aggression or defense, there seems to be an even greater compulsion for men’s sporting spectacles today. Two reasons suggest themselves: the attempt of the male to re-claim physical esteem in the face of his shrinking value in the industrial and information ages, and the longing of fans to share in the honor and glory of the hero on the playing field, aided in the last half century by television and the internet.

The historical comparisons here suggest that it is culture more than nature that fosters violent games. In each society different social forces are at play, encouraging the wealthy and powerful to exploit the visceral lure of violence among men. Greek games offered male athletes a venue to obtain fame resembling that of military heroes, and to do it for the glory of the state as well as themselves. Romans forced male non-citizens to brutalize and kill one another with some promise of freedom or reward, but more self-interestedly to display the power of empire and to put on show to citizens their status above the outlaws. The flood of violent games today evidences no clear social benefit to the state. Yes, local municipalities fund sports programs, as do schools and universities. But the serious money for professional sports is in the hands of corporate conglomerates, e.g. NFL team revenues of over $9 billion per year, and the sale of Ultimate Fighting Championships for $4.2 billion in June 2016.

Professional teams and sporting associations of course thrive on the team or national loyalties of the fans, and provide entertainment in return, but the revenues are their main raison d’etre . Yes, pro-sports can inspire fitness among non-professionals, but the most popular non-pro sports are non-violent. The reality is that violent professional sports represent an anachronism of a brutal past to which our global era has not yet adapted. These sports are in effect a restoration of the bread-and-circus strategy of the Romans that pandered to the baser (and mainly male) instincts that are drawn to view violence. Modern concerns about the deleterious effects on the brain from concussions (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in US football and in boxing have heightened collective concerns about the tolerable limits of sanctioned violence. Surely we cannot say, as the Greeks did of pankration , that our violent sports are “the most perfect of contests.” Unless we realize their anachronism, we have missed an opportunity for more productive physical activity and for the better expenditures of such large sums.

Featured image credit: Boxers, side B from an Attic black-figure amphora of Panathenaic shape. Antimenes Painter, circa 520 BC. CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons .

Thomas F. Scanlon is Professor of at the University of California, Riverside. For the Oxford Readings in Classical Studies series, he is editor of Sport in the Greek and Roman Worlds Vol I and Vol II ; he is also the author of Eros and Greek Athletics , and of Greek Historiography (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015) .

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Violence crisis in American sports: Why is it happening and how can it be fixed?

An analysis of the motivations behind recent unfortunate events

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  • New York Yankees. Yankees fans pelt Oscar Mercado with debris in Cleveland Guardians loss
  • MLB. Angel Hernández is confronted in parking lot by Philies fan after terrible game

I n recent times, the behavior of fans attending stadiums in different sports in the United States , without generalizing, has not been the best.

From protests of various kinds for animal rights issues, anger with players, coaches and referees, direct or indirect aggressions to superstars, without incident that have caused real tragedies like what happened in Queretaro in Liga MX .

We have lived a week like no other, here are several explanations that are possible symptoms of this disease.

The social networks

For a long time, some of the main social networks such as Twitter and Facebook , were used, in sports, to express opinions, share information, etc. However, since a couple of years, aggressions and violent interaction between the once unattainable sports personalities and fans has been shortened to a dangerous degree.

The return to stadiums in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

Physical violence doesn't occur until the face-to-face events return, all the anger and repression contained behind a computer has found fertile ground to explode when fans, long cloistered, have been able to express their own frustrations by now having license to return to the stands.

Surely many of those who were violent in networks with certain athletes, have now manifested all that frustration detained for months and months, expressing it irresponsibly and putting at risk not only their physical integrity , but also that of the athletes, who also, in some cases, have responded in a very unfortunate way.

What can be done to solve the problem?

Certainly there are important corrective measures that have to do with increasing the number of security elements that are on the lookout for these incidents and invasions, however, it is also important to emphasize that the athletes themselves, the teams, have to understand this problem, get closer to their fans, seek dialogue, make them understand the importance of the difference between expressing their discontent in civilized places and doing so in a violent and illegal manner.

On the other hand, it is important that those who break this behavior suffer legal consequences, to set clear examples of what is allowed and what is forbidden .

It is the right time to cut off these outbreaks of violence in sporting events, otherwise, there is a risk that this will grow and tragedies will occur that, in other parts of the world, are already part of the routine.

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The Most Violent Sports in the World Top Five

The most violent sports in the world is an article that exposes the darker side of humanity.  The purpose of sports is to create tolerance, patient and acceptance the opponent. Sports are signs of peace and sophistication. They also create sportsmanship, team work and corporation in human societies. Sports are sign of civilization and they are symbols of superiority of man over other animals. But these are certain sports in the world that exhibit the brutality, cruelty and barbarism of “the king of creation”.

The element of violence in sports cannot be ignored because many athletes cannot control their emotions and anger and become a part of violence. But this is athlete’s fault not sport’s fault.  This article is about those violent sports that are violent by nature. Where blood and injuries are not accidental but these are means to score points on opponents.  As knuckles crumple noses and heads split open, blood arcs across the ground all are the part of these violent sports.

1. Bull Fighting

Bull Fighting Most Violent Sports in the World

2. Calcio Storico

Calcio Storico Most Violent Sports in the World

Calcio storico was originally devised in the 16th century by aristocratic noblemen to settle disputes. It passed out for a couple of centuries before enjoying a renaissance in the 1930s. It has been played annually ever since at this beautiful piazza, in the shadow of the Basilica of Santa Croce – the largest Franciscan church in the world.

In 50 minutes game the key aim of calcio storico is to score a goal, and then to score more than your opponent. Players can kick, punch, head-butt and elbow each other. The aim is to pin your opponents down to the ground and keep them there for the whole match so your team-mates can score. Or it is to hurt them so much that they have to leave the field and not return. Substitutes are not permitted, so the stronger team is the one that outnumbers and suppresses its opponents.

3. Running of Bulls

Running of Bulls Most Violent Sports in the World

4. Mixed Martial Art (MMA)

Mixed Martial Art Most Violent Sports in the World

5. American Football

American Football Most Violent Sports in the World

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Sweden’s leader turns to the military for help as gang violence escalates

Police stand on the site of a powerful explosion that occurred early Thursday morning Sept. 28, 2023, in a housing area in Storvreta outside Uppsala, Sweden. A 25-year-old woman died in the blast. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via AP)

A police officer stands on the site of a powerful explosion that occurred early Thursday morning Sept. 28, 2023, in a housing area in Storvreta outside Uppsala, Sweden. A 25-year-old woman died in the blast. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via AP)

Police stand on the scene after a man was shot dead and another person was injured in Jordbro, south of Stockholm, in the early hours of Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. Three people were killed overnight in separate incidents in Sweden as deadly violence linked to a feud between criminal gangs escalated. Late Wednesday, an 18-year-old man was shot dead in a Stockholm suburb. Hours later, a man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting in Jordbro, south of the Swedish capital. (Nils Petter Nilsson/TT News Agency via AP)

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s prime minister on Thursday said that he’s summoned the head of the military to discuss how the armed forces can help police deal with an unprecedented crime wave that has shocked the country with almost daily shootings and bombings.

Getting the military involved in crime-fighting would be a highly unusual step for Sweden, underscoring the severity of the gang violence that has claimed a dozen lives across the country this month, including teenagers and innocent bystanders.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that he would meet with the armed forces’ supreme commander and the national police commissioner on Friday to explore “how the armed forces can help police in their work against the criminal gangs.”

It wasn’t immediately clear in what capacity the military would get involved, but previous proposals have focused on soldiers taking over protection duties from police to free up more resources for crime-fighting.

People look at the damages caused by an explosion in a residential building in the Ekholmen area, in Linköping, Sweden, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. (Stefan Jerrevång/TT News Agency via AP)

“Sweden has never before seen anything like this,” Kristersson said in a televised speech to the nation. “No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this.”

Sweden has grappled with gang violence for years, but the surge in shootings and bombings in September has been exceptional. Three people were killed overnight in separate attacks with suspected links to criminal gangs, which often recruit teenagers in socially disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods to carry out hits.

One of the victims was a woman in her 20s who died in an explosion in Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Swedish media said she was likely not the intended target of the attack.

Newspaper Dagens Nyheter said an 18-year-old rapper was killed late Wednesday in a shooting outside a sports complex on the outskirts of Stockholm.

More than 60 people died in shootings last year in Sweden, the highest figure on record. This year is on track to be the same or worse. Swedish media have linked the latest surge in violence to a feud between rival factions of a criminal gang known as the Foxtrot network.

Earlier this week, two powerful blasts ripped through dwellings in central Sweden, wounding at least three people and damaging buildings.

Kristersson’s center-right government took power last year with a promise to get tough on crime, but so far hasn’t been able to stem the violence. The government and the leftist opposition have been trading accusations over who’s to blame for the situation. The opposition says the government has made the country less safe while Kristersson put the blame on “irresponsible migration policies and failed integration” under the previous government.

Sweden long stood out in Europe along with Germany for having liberal immigration policies and welcoming hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa. Sweden has since sharply restricted migration levels, citing rising crime levels and other social problems.

Kristersson said that he met with New York Mayor Eric Adams last week to learn from the city’s efforts to fight crime, including surveillance methods and weapon detection systems.

The prime minister said that the government is overhauling Sweden’s criminal code to give police more powers, criminals longer sentences and witnesses better protection.

“Swedish laws aren’t designed for gang wars and child soldiers,” Kristersson said.

___ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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The Psychology Of Violence In Sports — On The Field And In The Stands

  • Leonard L. Glass

In this Aug. 20, 2011 photo, football fans fight in the stands during a preseason NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders in San Francisco. (Ben Margot/AP)

I thought my mother was a quintessentially maternal woman. But at one of my college’s football games, just before the last crucial goal line play, she yelled out her wish for the rival fullback: “Kill him! Kill him!” she shouted.

My father, always much more contained, leaned toward her and said quietly, “Pauline, that’s somebody’s son.”

Many years later, as a psychoanalyst and sports fan, I continue to wonder about this dichotomy among fans: we view our team's athletic rivals as the enemy, but they are also us. Consider our reaction to the friendly chat between the first baseman and the new base runner whose single just knocked in a crucial run; the hug between two spent heavyweights who’ve been pounding one another for 15 rounds; the lingering chat at midfield between two opposing football players after the last play. Did they go to high school together? Were they teammates on a youth team? Are they perchance cousins?

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in violence. In other words, it is war without shooting. George Orwell

When my kids were young, I coached their youth soccer teams. After every game the teams would line up to shake hands. Depending on the players’ age and maturity, this gesture was empty at worst and enforced proto-sportsmanship at best. I’d have to check to make sure the younger boys weren’t spitting on their hands to spite their opponents.

The handshakes are a ritual acknowledgement that, fundamentally, opponents are necessary for the game to take place and to make the play transcendent.

George Orwell notably observed , “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in violence. In other words, it is war without shooting.”

If that sounds hyperbolic, we must acknowledge how easy it is for us to excuse the professional foul by our team. A bean ball by an opposing pitcher we call a headhunter. But when our guy throws it it's just a “brush-back,” a time-honored warning. We see our linebacker as a hard player; but last year, when he played for our rival, he was a thug. Did he have a criminal record then? Maybe, but now we imagine him redeemed.

Studies have shown that violence in the game, particularly if perceived as unfair, increases the likelihood of violent acts by spectators. Fan violence is further magnified by strong identification with the team, underlying racial and ethnic tensions, social alienation, alcohol consumption, and predominance of young men in the crowd. The 2011 savage beating of Bryan Stow, a Giants fan, by two Dodger fans is a recent and egregious example .

Most of us seek the spectacle of the game to escape the struggles and banality of everyday life: we want to see exceptional displays of skill, strategy, teamwork, character, and yes, aggression, but within the rules of the game, what researcher Jennings Bryant termed “ sanctioned violence .” And that’s the purpose of penalties: to keep aggression in check.

Spectators recognize a spectrum for permissible vs. unacceptable aggression in sport, and we’re gripped by the tension between them. To disavow our interest in the varied displays of aggression would be hypocritical, denying a core aspect of our complex humanity. Experimental evidence in mice supports Freud’s hypothesis that aggression is rewarding in itself, akin to sex; and it’s mediated by the same brain neurochemistry.

As the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dana White, tells CNN: “Everyone loves a fight. It's in our DNA ... if you're in an intersection and there's a basketball game on one corner, a soccer game on another, a baseball game on the third, and a fight on the fourth, everyone will go watch the fight.”

But we want to see that aggression channeled, contained, ‘sublimated’ as we analysts say, on artful but safe display. Jennings Bryant concludes that the fans’ moral judgment of the lawfulness of their team’s violent actions mitigates the satisfaction felt even at the defeat of a hated rival team.

When players genuinely recognize and acknowledge one another, it marks the game for us as a humane competition.

Since we seek organized displays of aggression, we cannot deny our complicity when players are routinely hurt in the service of our entertainment. Can we convince ourselves that the brain injury that so often and predictably comes from playing in the NFL is a side matter, separate from our enjoyment of big hits? Do we pretend that the New Orleans Saints’ bounty system for disabling opponents was an aberration? Don’t we feel queasy at the promotion of games as wars between enemies? Are we devoid of responsibility for uncritically supporting the NFL, which dangles enormous sums in front of players some of whom have little more to market than their capacity to inflict or bear life-altering injury?

We need to balance our appetite to watch aggressive sports action with the other side of our natures, the part that wants to affirm our identification with the humanity and vulnerability of the players on both sides. When players genuinely recognize and acknowledge one another, it marks the game for us as a humane competition. That exchange at first base tempers our sense of blood rivalry and reminds us that it is actually a game. We can indulge in the fantasy of do-or-die because we’re reassured that those are not really the stakes.

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sports violence articles

Leonard L. Glass Cognoscenti contributor Leonard L. Glass, M.D. is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He is also an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a senior attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital.

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September 14, 1999 Muscovites Feel Helpless Against Terror Related Articles Moscow Blast, 3d in 2 Weeks, Kills at Least 76 Issue in Deoth: Russia's Turmoil Forum Join a Discussion on Russia's Turmoil By CELESTINE BOHLEN OSCOW -- "We go to bed wondering whether we are going to get up in the morning," Lyudmila Yegorova said grimly as she closed up her soft-drink and flower stand before heading home into a gray and soggy evening. "What else can we do?" Mrs. Yegorova, 51, left for work on Monday morning without listening to the news, so the first she heard of the latest bomb blast in Moscow was from her customers as they piled out of the Tsvetnoi Boulevard subway station on their way to work. "It is something horrible, something beyond comprehension," she said, shaking the rain off her kerchiefed head as she heard the latest death toll from the eight-story building on Kashirskoye Highway shattered by the most recent explosion. "And as always, it is the innocent people who suffer." Across Moscow, people were battling their feelings of helplessness in the face of what now seems to be a wave of random violence and terror. Two weeks ago, a bomb went off in an underground video arcade in a shopping center beneath the Kremlin walls. Since then, two apartment blocks, notable only for their ordinariness, have been reduced to rubble, killing more than 160 people, in what the authorities said were back-to-back terrorist attacks. "The worst is feeling defenseless," said Zinaida Tiskhova, a former engineer who now works in tourism. "After the first apartment blast, I thought maybe it could be accidental, a one-time thing. But now that there has been another one, there is no guarantee that there won't be more, or that I can be safe." By Monday afternoon, the city and its citizens were on full alert. A hot line was established for reports of suspicious activities. In one high-rise, policemen armed with automatic weapons came twice to check reports of an unidentified man walking across the roof. Neighbors searched empty basements, and summoned local housing officials to check the permits of offices and shops, which in the last eight years have sprouted like mushrooms in residential buildings around the city. Schools reported uncollected knapsacks, and shoppers were keeping a keen eye out for untended parcels. To some, it seemed like a reawakening of Soviet times when everyone was quick to mind everyone else's business. "There is suspicion everywhere," said a 35-year-old mother who identified herself as Svetlana. Her shopping bag was searched at her son's school, where she had left it to go run an errand. As officials linked the terrorist attacks to Chechen militants now at war with the Russian army in the southern province of Dagestan, Chechens and other people of the Caucasus, identified by their black hair and dark complexions, were feeling the brunt of the city's heightened vigilance. In normal times, members of ethnic minorities are often stopped by policemen who check their documents. Now, some Chechen residents of Moscow said they did not dare go outside, and those who did said the checks were more frequent, even though police officials have said they are not targeting any ethnic groups. Remarks overheard on streets and city buses turned up a range of suspects. from the dark southerners to builders, who some said may be blowing up buildings to get rid of empty apartments, to the government and politicians, who have let Caucasus tensions simmer to the point of explosion. One woman, interviewed Monday night on television, said she would happily go back to Soviet rule, to the days of communal apartments and long lines, rather than live with fear and uncertainty. Mrs. Yegorova said: "The government is guilty. Elections are coming soon, and that may be influencing what is going on. The people on the top are settling their accounts, and it is the people on the bottom who have to pay."


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