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Young Americans

Many sports are physical in nature and inherently violent. More extreme examples of contact sports are wrestling, boxing, rugby, lacrosse, hockey, American football and, arguably, soccer. Each of these sports is played on both local and professional levels, and each requires similar characteristics in order to be successful. A competitive personality, aggressiveness and leadership abilities are positively rewarded in athletic pursuits, which reinforces these characteristics as desirable in the particular society.

America provides the most incentive to develop these characteristics as professional athletes are handsomely rewarded, both financially and socially. In 2006, the average salary for an NBA player was $5 million, while MLB players averaged nearly $3 million. Conversely, the annual salary for a classroom teacher is less than $40,000. The incentive for gaining and utilizing the attributes mentioned is staggering, however, the chances of becoming a professional athlete and earning such obscene amounts of money is extremely unfavorable to the individual, with odds projected at 22,000 to 1 .

Young Americans are overwhelmingly raised in an environment where sports are used as a method of teaching children the skills that will be valuable in adulthood. One of the most important of these characteristics is aggressiveness. Sports are a form of competition between individuals or teams and aggressiveness is an integral part of competition in any capacity. For some children, sports serve as an outlet for their aggression, which manifests itself in the form of legitimized violence against other people. Organized sports are essentially the only socially acceptable arena for violence to occur without ramifications.

According to the Canadian Center for Teaching Peace, “the acceptance of body contact and borderline violence seems to be based on the idea that sports is an area of life in which it is permissible to suspend usual moral standards” (CCTP). The concept of legitimized, socially acceptable violence can be viewed as a patriarchal attempt to maintain traditional notions of masculinity and the status quo thereof. The social construct of masculinity as consisting of strength, control, invulnerability and dominance further reinforces the use of violence within and outside of the athletic arena.

By legitimizing and rewarding the unrestrained aggression necessary to win in many sports, society is communicating to the youth that the end result is the only importance. The “win at any cost” mentality is pervasive among American culture, and is exhibited mostly in athletics. This mentality is detrimental to the development of children since their focus is on winning and not on playing the game properly. Often, the value of sportsmanship is also lost in a single-minded effort to be successful. Thus, children are often deprived of many learning opportunities that organized athletics present.

The influence of parents on athletic children is also a factor as children often feel the need to fulfill or surpass the expectations of their parents in order to have their love or respect. Therefore, the use of violence is continuously perceived as acceptable, even advantageous to young children if they are not coached on the meaning and use of violence. The idea of using violence to achieve goals is learned through many physical sports and can carry over to other aspects of a child’s life where violence is not socially permissible.

According to Professor Lynn Jamieson of Indiana State University, “sport tends to reflect society, and we live in a violent era. We have a violent society where people use violence to solve problems instead of using other means” (Jamieson). Few refuse to acknowledge the pervasive spread of violence in contemporary American culture, yet the connection between violence in sports and violence in society remains to be conclusively researched. There are, however, noticeable connections between professional athletes, violence and its effects on the generation of impressionable youth who consider athletes role-models.

The lesson taught to a child who grew up watching the O. J. Simpson fiasco can presumably be that celebrity-athletes are impervious to the law. Another example of the pervasiveness of athletic violence in our society is presented in the form of hockey, particularly the National Hockey League where a fistfight is expected to occur at each game. This phenomenon is more an illustration of corporate profit-chasing on the part of team owners and the media rather than a genuine wish on the part of the players to injure other players.

Franchise owners and event promoters are aware of the fact that many hockey fans attend games hoping to see “red ice”, and refuse to implement stiffer penalties for fighting, despite the support of higher penalties on the part of the players’ association (CCTP). Along with a widespread fascination with NASCAR race crashes among many of the fans in attendance of the circuit races, an unflattering cultural analogy may be suggested where these examples run parallel with gladiator events conducted at the famed Colosseum in Rome where slaves were forced to battle to the death in gruesome, bloody events for the entertainment of paying spectators.

The existence of the Colosseum and the knowledge of what it was used for indicate that cultures throughout the course of history have participated in violent sports for entertainment and that this is not a contemporary phenomenon limited to our culture. Contemporary American culture, however, is contributing to the cycle of legitimized violence in the athletic arena through its modern capacity of the media and its widespread influence. The lessons taught to children through the actions of professional athletes has become a major concern among professional sports leagues.

In late 2004, during an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, members of both teams exchanged malicious, closed fisted punches with each other and fans in their seats in the final minutes of the game. The result was nine players suspended without pay, with the heaviest penalty being levied upon Pacers player Ron Artest, who can be seen in video footage jumping over rows of seats in an effort to assault a fan in the audience (MSNBC).

In 2001, Boston Bruins hockey player Marty McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon in a Vancouver, Canada court after he intentionally hit an opposing player in the face with his stick (Stone). Examples abound of professional athletes committing vicious violent acts during events. The mainstream popularity of these professional athletes and the amount of time the media devotes to covering them increases the influence these athletes wield in relation to children, and as more athletes are in the headlines for their misdeeds, children can’t help but take notice.

Incidents of violence associated with sports in America are relatively uncommon, however, compared to acts associated with football (soccer) “hooligans” throughout Latin America, Europe and much of Asia. In these countries, national pride is often closely associated with team pride, providing a volatile combination of the mob mentality, nationalism and enthusiastic fervor. Hooligans are widely known for acts of violence verging on anarchy, and many cases have been documented where hooliganism was directly related to deaths during riots or during the games themselves.

Violence and football hooliganism are virtually synonymous in many of these countries where football is the national sport. There are many examples of violent hooliganism available, some as recent as February, 2007 when a vicious riot erupted in the Italian city of Catania, Sicily, killing a police officer (Kiefer). If Professor Jamieson’s assertion that sport tends to reflect the society, the example of football hooliganism should serve as a warning for the future.

American culture is violent, and this is reflected in the popularity of contact sports such as American football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse. The possibility of instilling contradictory values in impressionable young children concerning the appropriate use of violence can confuse them, forcing them to look toward society in general for insight as to how to act in that society. Unfortunately, many children look toward the media for their information as well as for their role models.

Already with an unscrupulous reputation, the American media serves to perpetuate the images of violence, in athletics particularly, glorifying the sheer ability to maim an opponent while downplaying the effects of such violence such as the end of a player’s career due to injury. The long term effects of broadcasting violent sports and children’s participation in these sports from a young age are unclear, but analyses of different facets of the issue indicate that sport-related violence is a major concern in many countries where team enthusiasm has reached a fever pitch.

The psychological effects of introducing children to aggression-inducing competition at too early a stage in their developmental process are also inconclusive, yet through understanding how children view professional athletes as role models and how impressionable young children are, one can intimate the conclusion that violence in sports contributes to violence in the general society and that the culture of glorifying violence must be changed before children can understand that violence does not assert masculinity or social status.

References

Peace. Ca. 2007. Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace. 1 May 2007 <http://www. peace. ca/sports. htm>. Jamieson, Lynn. “Violence in sports reflects society, says IU professor. ” Media Relations. July 2002. Indiana University. 1 May 2007 <http://newsinfo. iu. edu/news/page/normal/449. html>. Keifer, Peter. “Hooligans kill a policeman, throwing Italy soccer into a void.

” Herald-Tribune Sports. 04 Feb 2007. International Herald-Tribune. 2 May 2007 <http://www. iht. com/articles/2007/02/04/sports/fans. php>. MSNBC. “NBA suspends Artest for rest of season. ” MSNBC: Sports. 22 Nov 2004. MSNBC News. 1 May 2007 <http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/6549074/>. Stone, David. “McSorley and Hockey go on Trial. ” Hockey Digest. Jan 2001. Hockey Digest. 1 May 2007 <http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m0FCM/is_3_29/ai_67492132>.

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