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October 01, 2007

Male Adolescent Athletes More Likely to Be Aggressors

New sociological study shows playing contact sports increase the likelihood of male violence.

STATE COLLEGE, PA — For years, proponents of high school athletics have pointed out the positive aspects of youth sports, such as increased bonds to school, self-esteem, achievement, competition, and fair play. However, youth sports have also been marred with high-profile accounts of brawling, sexual assault, and bullying.

New sociological research from Pennsylvania State University, published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review, answers the question, “Are these activities promoting fair play and sportsmanship, or are they encouraging violence?” Lead author Derek Kreager shows male adolescent athletes who participate in contact sports such as football and wrestling face an increased likelihood of violence by over 40% compared to non-athletes.

This study argues that when youth are rewarded for on-the-field violence, there is a flawed expectation that these lessons will not be taken off-the field. Of the 6,400 male adolescents Kreager studied, 25% played football and 7% wrestled. Professor Kreager said, “The results suggest that sports fail to protect males from interpersonal violence. Indeed, contact sports are positively associated with male serious fighting.”

Kreager is not surprised at the results. He looks to the culture surrounding high school football to explain the sports–violence relationship. He says, “On the one hand, parents, coaches, and communities expect athletes to abide by conventional rules, with the threat of team expulsion deterring misbehavior. On the other hand, these same groups provide contact-sport athletes with situational definitions that support violence as a means of attaining ‘battlefield’ victories, increasing peer status, and asserting ‘warrior’ identities.” Professor Kreager suggests that in the classroom, constraint and conformity are expected of contact-sports athletes, but in informal peer situations, power and aggression help male athletes to maintain their status within their peer groups and live up to their masculine reputations.

Kreager believes sports programs, including coaches and parents, ultimately need to emphasize self-control and respect, rather than domination, to reduce sports-related violence. This he says, “increases the likelihood that aggression will be contained within the sport and potentially reduced in non-sporting contexts. It is the values emphasized in the program that can positively affect development.”

For a copy of the article, log on to

The American Sociological Review is the flagship journal of the 101-year-old American Sociological Association (ASA). Vincent J. Roscigno and Randy Hodson, both of Ohio State University, are co-editors of the journal.


About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.