Do Violent Sports Make Us More Violent?


Former NFL player Phillip Adams shot 6, killed 5, and then himself a few weeks ago. After so many cases of aggression perpetrated by football players, people are beginning to question the effect of violence in sports on people’s mental health.

Although sports have been used as aggressive behavior treatments, after cases like Adams’s, they become targets for the public eye. Professionals are looking for a link between these acts and the violence in sports that the aggressors practice. What can be easily appreciated is a greater number of cases of violent crimes in contact sports in relation to other less aggressive sports.

Violent sports make people violent?

This possibility would demolish many theories that are applied in the rehabilitation of inmates through sports such as football and rugby. Although many people believe that this is the same as with video games again.

After so many cases of mass shootings in the United States, the media are looking for who or what to blame, instead of demanding that legislators take action. It seems that this time, the victim is violent sports, as video games were once.

Let’s see what psychology and research say about the effect of violent sports on the behavior of athletes.

Effects of violent sports on people like Phillip Adams

Athletes getting in trouble with the law is not new, it is practically a cliché. Delusions of grandeur, great fortunes at a young age, and a lot of fame breaking the rules would not be surprising. However, we are not talking about a couple of DUIs or huge parties, we are talking about murders and domestic violence.

If we were to make a list of athletes who have been convicted of violent crimes, it would not be a shortlist, but we would note that most of these individuals are involved in sports of notable physical contact. We would see many footballers and not so many tennis players or swimmers.

In fact, the most popular and shocking cases of violent crime have always involved players or former NFL players. Like the cases of Aaron Hernández, Eric Naposki, Robert Rozier, the iconic case of O.J. Simpson, and now the recent event around Phillip Adams.

Many believe that this is not a coincidence and that the aggressive nature in sports like football increases the violent behavior of players rather than draining and channeling them.

Sports as a form of therapy

Sports have always been a tool of society to reform teenagers who are involved in risky and illegal activities. We have seen the story of the boy from a dangerous neighborhood who achieved success thanks to playing a sport. We have seen it thousands of times.

Many institutes and professionals recommend parents of children with attitude problems, violent behavior, and learning problems to enroll them in a sport. Among the best-known benefits are discipline, to build character, it teaches them to work as a team and strive to achieve goals. There is a great relationship between stable mental health and playing sports.

Recent research suggests that not all sports have the same benefits and that there may be a relationship between aggressive behavior and contact sports.

What does science have to say

For several years, the relationship between high-contact sports and violent behavior has been studied, and although useful new information has been released, the results are inconclusive.

An experiment gathered hundreds of college freshmen who participate in sports and separated them into two groups. The first group comprised athletes from high-contact sports, such as football, basketball, and wrestling. The second group, athletes in low-contact sports, such as baseball and tennis. The subjects were studied for months and the data revealed that members of the first group were more likely to engage in violent acts outside of training, much more than that of group 2.

Not only that, football and wrestling athletes were shown to be more dominant and even in some cases aggressive with their female partners.

Phillip Adams had no record of crimes and violent conduct before taking his own life after killing five people. The question is: did football make him a violent person or did he choose football because he was a violent person?

The consequence is not always the cause

You may be reading this and thinking that the experiments were very clear: violent sports athletes are, in fact, more violent people. So these sports have those effects on those who play them.

It is not as simple as that.

The results show that there is a correlation between sports such as football and wrestling with aggressive behavior. However, this does not prove that sports are the source of them, they can be the consequence of having violent behavior traits. It may simply mean that individuals who are more prone to committing violent crimes are often attracted to playing sports of this nature.

The truth is that football still cannot be blamed for promoting violence, although it cannot be denied that there is a link.

What can parents do?

If your child shows interest in playing a high-contact sport, let them do it. You should only be on the lookout for signs that may suggest that he is engaging in violence-prone behavior. The solution will be to seek professional help on time and be very understanding.

All the players who have committed assaults or murders were individuals who may not have had the necessary help to manage their mental health.

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Mindsmatter is written by Bola Kwame, Jack Graves and Emma Buryd. De-stigmatizing mental illness one day at a time.

New York, NY

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