Psychological Impact of Violence in Sports
Only a small portion of the world’s population play sports professionally, but almost everyone is affected by sports one way or another. People are surrounded with youth sports, intramurals, adult recreational and professional leagues, and passionate fans. There are many positive benefits to viewing and participating in sport activities; however, some of the most common sports have a very violent nature to them, and it's important to be aware of their psychological effects and how those affect physical and emotional health.
They Say It's Cathartic
Everyone has heard the phrase, “It’s healthy, let them get it out of their system.” Many are under the impression that exerting aggression in a violent sport is a healthy outlet for aggressive energy but this may not be an accurate approach. Sport philosophers Mark Holowchak and Heather Reid, writing in their book "Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World," believe that exposure to aggression within a sport setting leads to heightened and more frequent aggression 3. While it may be helpful to take out anger and frustration on an inanimate object, it can be detrimental in sports. Aggression toward another human being through sports becomes a learned behavior, one that is cheered for, and leads to increased aggression in everyday life.
At the forefront of the sport violence conversation is injury. There has been increased coverage on the topic of concussions in football and other sports. Concussions are not just being seen among professional athletes but among school-aged children. Sport violence leads to an increase in injury. A concussion is a serious form of head trauma that is commonly seen in violent sports. Many athletes sustain multiple concussions throughout their sport careers which increases their chances of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE can lead to memory loss, confusion, paranoia, aggression, depression and dementia.
Off the Field
Not everyone actively participates in sports, but that doesn't mean die-hard and casual fans can’t be affected from watching and cheering on their favorite team. The idea that viewing aggression leads to increased aggression is not a new theory. In a study published in the "Journal of Language and Social Psychology" in 2010, participants were randomly selected to view one of four violent or nonviolent clips 1. They found that viewing sport violence increased feelings of hostility and hostile expectancy. For decades there have been incidents of sport-related fights, riots and even deaths induced by fans.
Decreasing Negative Effects
Reducing the negative effects of violence in sports is a hot topic. In a report published in the "Canadian Medical Association Journal" in 2013, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of changing ice hockey rules to lessen aggression 2. They observed a reduction in penalty and injury rates in relation to the rule changes. Reduction of aggression on the field can lead to a reduction off the field. Providing young athletes with non-aggressive but assertive role models, rewarding restraint patience and promoting athletic events as family affairs can also reduce the negative psychological effects of sport violence.
- Journal of Language and Social Psychology: Scriptedness and Televised Sports: Violent Consumption and Viewer Enjoyment
- Canadian Medical Association Journal: Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Aggression and Injuries Among Ice Hockey Players: A Systematic Review
- Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World; M. Andrew Holowchak, Heather L. Reid
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