Nature always has a way of balancing itself out, and in my opinion, deviant behaviour is no exception. For every report we read about how playing in a sports program has kept someone off the streets and out of a life of crime, we come across another about excessive violence or drug use by an athlete. Sports definitely discourage off the field problems, but they also bring about a whole new set of on the field problems.
Playing sports brings out the competitive sides of many athletes. To most athletes, winning is everything, and they will do absolutely anything to make sure they win, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The idea of athletes using drugs has always been a hot topic, and will probably remain that way. In a recent article, Matt Bernard summed it up best – “We expect our athletes to celebrate nature and the body beautiful, but we also demand that they win competitions. What’s a jock to do?” (Bernard, 1998) World-class athletes are pushed harder than anyone in the world, by fans, by coaches, by themselves. To succeed at a top-level today, you almost have to use some type of performance-enhancing drug.
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According to conflict theory, everything in sports begins with the financial aspect. The drive professional athletes have, despite what they may say about their love of the game, is usually their astronomical salaries. In most professional sports leagues, the salary you are given is based solely on how well you perform. The players with the highest stats are always the highest paid, and most athletes will do anything it takes to improve their personal game.
Since so many players are using drugs today to be bigger, faster, and stronger, more up and coming athletes are forced into using supplements just to keep up. People today accept moderate drug use as “just part of the game,” while only 20 years ago it was a scandal to even be mentioned in the same breath with drugs.
According to the interactionist theory, people play sports as a means to develop their own personality and identity. They use the opinions of their teammates, opponents, coaches, and fans as a way to discover themselves. This type of thinking can often lead players to succumb to peer pressure. Athletes are especially susceptible to this peer pressure because the way their coach views them is oftentimes just as important, if not more, than the way their parents view them. In competitive high school sports, right on up to the professional leagues, coaches are graded solely on how well they do in the win/loss column. This can drive coaches to encourage their young players to take any type of drug – anything to improve their own image.
This type of behaviour is definitely not limited to drug use. Violence in sports has become much more prevalent in today’s games. Fans that attend NHL hockey games are always disappointed that there was not enough fighting or hard checking. Toronto Maple Leafs owner once said, “We’re going to have to do something about all this violence, or people are going to keep showing up.” (Rushin 1998) People stand and cheer when their favourite baseball teams clear the benches and there is a huge melee in the middle of the infield. People have come to accept this violence as just part of the game and to let it go.
Sometimes, however, violent behaviour goes beyond “just part of the game.” On January 15, 1999, there was a high school basketball game between the South San Antonio Bobcats, and their cross-town rivals, the East Central Hornets. The Bobcats were losing badly, and their coach Gary Durbтn was livid with his players. Coach Durbon singled out one player, Tony Limon, and challenged him. The player Tony was guarding had played great and lit up the Bobcats for 29 points. “Is he more of a man than you? What are you going to do about this?”
Soon after the timeout, Tony was posting up his player and viciously elbowed him in the face. It was just a foul, and after the game, the coach patted him on the back and was heard saying, “It’s about time someone shed some blood.” Tony Limon was convicted of assault for this, and sentenced to 5 years in prison. (DiConsiglio 2000)
Stories of this type are popping up with alarming frequency. As I stated before, coaches of sports teams are under constant pressure to win, and will often tell players to intentional hit and hurt opponents to take them out of the game. In turn, the players will do anything to look good in their coach’s eyes. According to the configurational theory, sports celebrate masculinity and male power, and physical strength and aggression are an easy way to show how tough you are. When a coach singles out a player in front of his teammates and challenges his masculinity and toughness, that player will go to extreme lengths in the game to inflict harm on another player just to prove how tough he is.
There is no question that a lot of coaches and administrators teach their players well, and keep the kids out of trouble. When sports are played for fun, they most certainly can detract from deviant behaviour. But, as is too often the case, sports are all about winning and money. Players will do whatever is asked of them, and whatever is necessary, to help their team win. They will intentionally injure other players, and unintentionally injure themselves by using drugs. Sports can discourage certain types of deviance but only leads to a new kind of deviant and violent behaviour.
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