The Deviant Athlete
Sports in the American society, and in the world in general, are usually thought of as an institution that "builds character." While there can be an endless number of arguments for or against this belief that sports are a positive influence on those who participate in them, it is clear that there are many negative components of sports in our modern society. It sometimes seems that more is written or said in reporting about drugs, gambling, fines, penalties, suspensions, explosive violence, or the arrests of athletes than about win/loss records, achieving goals, scoring statistics, or the pursuit of championships. While most sports fans would like to see close games and highlights of amazing slam dunks or home runs, it is easy to lose focus on the character building aspects of the institution of sports when all that we see and hear on ESPN or read in Sports Illustrated is clouded by the deviant behavior of the modern athlete. If social deviance can be defined as "behavior that breaks the rules or violates the norms of a group, organization, community, or society" (Frey 1996), then it is obvious that the rule-¬bound structure of sports, whether at the amateur, collegiate, or professional level, is like most other institutions in that it provides a line that determines behavior as either acceptable or deviant. However, within the institution of sports, there seems to be a much higher level of deviant behavior compared to most other institutions. So what are the reasons for the unusual propensity toward deviant behavior within sports? As with any sociological question regarding social problems or phenomena, there are numerous answers, depending on which type of theory one chooses to accept. A structural-functionalist approach to the question would suggest that deviant behavior in sports comes as a result of incompatibilities between culturally approved goals and the opportunities given to those who play certain roles in sports, while a conflict theorist would focus more on the concept that deviant behavior in sports is not unusual or always punished, but rather it is a regular part of sports and society that is encouraged in most cases by powerful authority figures or groups that are looking to pursue their own interests. In fact, both theories have very valid arguments, and it is more likely that the reason for deviant behavior in sports is a combination of the two. While deviance in sports is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged by the media, fans, and people in power in order to achieve the goals of domination, improvement, and success, society can be disapproving of athletes who use deviance as an instrument to achieve these goals. When discussing deviance in sports, there is a very wide spectrum of behavior that must be addressed. Many people tend to think of deviant behavior in sports as merely any behavior that would give one an unfair or unearned advantage over their opponent(s). This behavior is normally labeled "cheating." The most widely known and talked about form of cheating today is drug abuse, which is a very important topic when considering the reasons for deviance in sports. Other forms of deviance could include the involvement in gambling scandals or violations in the recruitment of players. Probably the most popular and widely publicized form of deviant behavior in sports is that of violence. Although violence in almost all other institutions can be and usually is viewed as negative, and it is usually viewed as negative in the institution of sports as well, sports can sometimes allow some justification for an athlete's use of violence, whether it is part of the game or not. After seeing all these types of negative deviance in sports, it would not be unusual for people to disregard sports as a character building institution and see it instead as a means to justifiably deviate from the norms of society, with perhaps some chance of developing positive skills and...
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