A study has revealed that sports like football and wrestling might be stimulate belligerent and violent behavior among teen male players and their friends on and off the field.
The study, conducted by Derek Kreager, assistant professor of sociology in the Crime, Law, and Justice program, players are encouraged to be violent outside the sport because they are rewarded for being violent inside it.
"Sports such as football, basketball, and baseball provide players with a certain status in society. But football and wrestling are associated with violent behaviour because both sports involve some physical domination of the opponent, which is rewarded by the fans, coaches and other players," Kreager said.
In the study, the researcher used a national database of 6397 male students from across 120 schools.
They analysed the effects of team sports, football, basketball, and baseball, and individual sports, wrestling and tennis, on male interpersonal violence.
The study looked at factors such as self-esteem, reports of prior fights, and popularity of the various sports.
The analysis revealed that, compared with non-athletes, football players and wrestlers face higher risks of getting into a serious fight by over 40 per cent.
High-contact sports that are associated with aggression and masculinity increase the risk of violence.
"Players are encouraged to be violent outside the sport because they are rewarded for being violent inside it," Kreager said.
The researcher also found that the risk of getting involved in fights increases with the proportion of friends who play football.
"Males with all-football friends are expected to have a 45 per cent probability of getting into a serious fight, more than 8 percentage points higher than similar individuals with no football friends and almost 20 percentage points higher than males with all-tennis friends," Kreager said.
And, in case of individual sports, wrestlers were 45 percent more likely to get into a fight than non-wrestlers, while tennis players were 35 per cent less likely to be involved in fights. The team sports, basketball and baseball, on the other hand, do not lead to fights.
"My results suggest that high-contact sports fail to protect males from interpersonal violence. Players might be getting cues from parents, peers, coaches, and the local community, who support violence as a way of attaining 'battlefield' victories, becoming more popular, and asserting 'warrior' identities," Kreager said.
Kreager added that the solution to the problem is to break the cycle of aggression.
"There is definitely a gate-keeping role for the coach. You would want to not select those kids you are already aware are uncontrollably aggressive, because they are going to be a problem for others in the team. And that is also going to encourage other kids who are hanging out with them to be violent," he said.
The study is published in the journal American Sociological Review.