Sports are an important part of our world. Take a look at any newspaper, listen to any radio, or watch TV for any length of time and there will surely be some sports information that is being passed along. The fact that sports figures get paid salaries that teachers can only dream about lets us know where our priorities lie in this society. Sports consume a lot of our time and energy, and because of this, they have great influence in our culture.
Because sports news and sports figures are constantly in the news, sports reflect our values. We are living in a society that is filled with violence. Many adults choose to solve their problems in violent ways. When the stress of life becomes too much, or events at work or home are not going their way, they turn to violence to help them feel better. We hear the stories all the time on the news: the unhappy postal worker who lashes out at co-workers with a gun; the rejected husband or suitor who beat up or kill their girlfriends or wives; or even the angry employee who has been let go and takes his frustrations out on innocent passers-by.
It is conceivable that many people get their ideas of physical revenge from watching or listening to sporting events. There are many sports, such as football and wrestling, that feature body contact as an integral part of their program. Fans further encourage violence by cheering players who resort to violence when plays do not go players’ ways. The crowd’s behavior in turn encourages athletes to fight and show off because the cheers and boos of a crowd create excitement and drama. Attendance soars at games with players who are prone to violent outbursts. Referees often “look the other way” when such players are involved because they know that such violent antics are good for the sports business. As a result, athletes will try and get away with grossly outrageous and dangerous plays since they know they might be able to get away with such behavior. Playing fair does is nice but it does not sell tickets. Note the popularity of a Dennis Rodman during his heyday as a player for the Chicago Bulls. At one point he physically hurt a cameraman. Dennis was given a slap on the hand, a fine and some suspended days, but he was not permanently expelled from the game. Hockey is another sport that is well known for the violence of its players. Fans revel in the violence of the sport. Players are specifically hired to act as “goons” or “enforcers”. Players who commit a violent act have to sit in a penalty box, but the cheers and enthusiasm of fans upon witnessing the violent plans ensure that such plays are destined to be repeated.
Having gone through both elementary and middle school, we have all run into peers who spent a lot of time and energy trying to act like the most popular athlete in any given time period. Kids often try to imitate controversial athletes to bring attention to themselves. Such behavior can bring popularity to a young person. A sad outcome of violence in adult sports is that youth sports end up mirroring adult sports. Young people are encouraged to be aggressive, and often those who are the stars of the team are those who know how to “stretch the rules”. Often, young people who do play by the rules are relegated to the bench. As a result, youth athletic teams, even at the elementary school level, are getting away from the concept of a team working together. Professional athletes are role models for young people. Young people who imitate the behavior of superstars also help to bring in crowds for their schools. Because of this, children tend to emulate these athletes. It would be hard for children to escape from the influence of violence when such behavior is glorified in the media.
How often have we seen parents behaving badly at our past Little League games? Parents encourage violent behavior by their own examples. Frequently, parents who don’t agree with a call will argue with a referee to the point of physical violence. It is not unusual to have parents ejected from games for their behavior. Children also observe their parents behaving badly at sporting events, cheering on or cussing at controversial athletes. Young people join in with the crowd behavior at sporting events with the blessings of their parents. Parents who would normally discipline their children for violent behavior at home accept the same behavior as being normal for a spectator at an athletic event.
Economics provides a driving incentive for sports violence to continue. Violence brings in a crowd, along with a great deal of money. Superstars who lose their tempers gain media attention. In turn, more newspaper articles are written about the controversial athletes and more tickets are sold. Violence also makes for good television ratings. More viewers will tune in to watch sports that have violent conflicts. Fewer viewers watch non-violent sports such as skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, or golf. Many sports would not thrive without television coverage, so media attention is very important.
For years, Indiana University basketball has received attention because of the behavior of its head coach, Bobby Knight. From throwing chairs to cussing out players, Bob Knight has given the media enough fuel to write books about this colorful coach. Would Indiana University have received as much attention over the past twenty years if their coach had been a less controversial person? I don’t think so. Bobby Knight helped to keep IU basketball in the spotlight over the years. People loved him and other people hated him, but the result was that his basketball program received a lot of publicity. It will be interesting to see how the media focuses on IU basketball now that Bobby Knight has been forced out of IU.
Some sports violence takes place specifically for the sake of the TV audience. The sports figures involved play up to the crowd or cameras with overly aggressive behavior because they know that the resulting drama hooks fans into tuning in week after week. A good example would be the present popularity of professional wrestling. This sport has become so popular that it is winning the TV ratings race in its time slot on more than one evening per week. This sport actually has writers that script the outcome of the wrestling matches. Week after week viewers tune in to watch wrestlers perform their moves on fellow wrestlers that have done them wrong”. Storylines include wrestlers involved with family problems, problems of betrayal, and other personal problems with which everyday people can relate. Professional wrestling shows people solving these problems using violence. The reason for the popularity of professional wrestling is that its continuing stories are similar to soap operas with continued drama from week to week. Fans tune in to find out the continuation or conclusion of the problem from the week before. This sport is highly entertaining and highly violent. Children as well as adults watch each week with great attention to see what is going to happen next. The problem is, professional wrestling, with its great popularity, encourages people to use violence for their everyday problems.
The influence of professional wrestling and other sports may have far reaching effects on young people. Children are encouraged to participate in sports and life in a dangerous way. They often act out various sports scenarios that they see on TV. For most youngsters, this is not a problem. However, some young people have problems separating fantasy from reality As a result, we are seeing an increase in school violence, playground violence, and aggressive behavior towards family members.
Do sports have any responsibility towards the fans that watch? I believe that TV executives are going to have to tackle this question and answer it with their hearts, not their wallets. If the people in charge of sports step back and take an honest look at the state of sports today, they would have to answer that there are some steps they can take to clean up the problem.
But they have to commit to cutting out the violence and punishing the athletes who break the rules. I believe that this can be done if the people who control sports make this commitment. We must all take a look at where our priorities lie. If our major priority continues to be making money, then we can expect more and more violence in years to come. If, on the other hand, the most important priority is making sure that young people grow up with the principles of good sportsmanship, then no amount of money or power could steer us away from our goal. In the end, young people’s values are more important than greed. Our future is at stake here, because when we grow up, we might encounter a very corrupt society. Do we want our future to be one of violence and dishonesty, or do we want a future with some integrity? The future will be here sooner than we think. It is time to use what influence we have by choosing to watch programs that exclude violence from their content.
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