Are Sports Making Our Children More Violent?
It's long been known that sports shape their athletes in unusual directions. Scientists have discovered that experienced tennis players, for example, are better at certain perceptual skills (link is external) like anticipation of the direction a bouncing ball will bounce or at what's known as "speed discrimination"-the ability to judge the rate at which a ball is flying through the air so that one can run towards it with the proper amount of acceleration.

But recently some less desirable "learned" abilities have come into question. For years, opponents to combat-esque sports like football and wrestling have argued that these sports make their participants more prone to violence. But there hasn't been much hard data to back up such claims.

Until now.

Recently, Derek Kreager, an assistant professor of sociology at Penn State used a national database of about 7000 students from 120 schools to examine a variety of issues, including popularity, self-esteem and propensity for violence. About the last factor, Kreager wasn't interested in murderous thoughts as much as dangerous actions and thus used scholastic records of prior fights to measure this.

 

He didn't limit his study simply to athletes and non-athletes, instead analyzed his data using everything from participants in team sports like baseball, basketball and football, to participants in individual sports like tennis and wrestling. What he found was that football player and wrestlers have a 40 percent greater chance of being involved in a serious fight than all other athletes.

 

And for those football players and wrestlers who only associate with other football players and wrestlers that propensity towards violence have a 45 percent chance of getting into a serious fight (as opposed to say tennis players who hover around 10 percent).

 

What makes this all so ironic is that ever since the Muscular Christianity (link is external) movement of the 18th Century (a Victorian idea which championed sport as a way of teaching solid Christian values) sports like football have been seen as a way to discourage anti-social behavior in boys. Turns out that alongside those gridiron lessons of self-sacrifice and team play, participants were also learning to not turn the other cheek-a fact that may have high school athletic departments wondering what to try next...

 

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