The general public perceives professional sports as an idealistic form of how a culture represents itself. This view from below the pedestal is tainted by the rampant deviance that has always existed, but only recently been publicized enough to make people question whether professional sports is truly reflective of the excellence in society. Upon striving for this brilliance, athletes, as well as fans, become identified with their teams/sport and at times act out in ways that disrupt the romanticized view of professional sports. Reviewing deviance finds a deeply rooted history in sports, athletes acting out as passionate individuals, and fans disgracing the image they have given sports. Social Problems in Major League Baseball and Vancouver, We Hardly Knew You, represent a small portion of deviances that athletes, in addition to fans, display on a professional level.
To begin with, deviance in sports is not something that has just begun; rather, it has been portrayed and, at times, exaggerated to the extent where there are reflections of obvious problems in professional sports if not society as a whole. Deviance in sports began as soon as sports became an important competitive lifestyle for the individuals participating and witnessing the events. For example, Mark Vermillion reports in his article on John T. Talamini’s study that gambling in baseball predates the civil war. Another excellent example of the negative deviance of gambling in sports was the story of the Chicago Black Sox Scandal where players were paid to throw the World Series. This took place in a time period where gambling on such an event could make the players more money than they had all year; my great grandfather could have played professional baseball in New York but instead chose to be a logger in Idaho because he could make more money. The reason for deviance in sports has changed throughout time but the cause of this deviance has always remained on the individual and learned qualities from cliques in that individual’s life. (Vermillion, 2009).
Moving on, the athlete is often the most scrutinized individual in terms of sports deviance. This holds especially true today as the American culture has embraced individuals who have lived out their childhood dream to become a professional athlete and view them as role models. With this constant pressure to perform well and the agenizing lifestyle of constantly being in the spotlight, many athletes find themselves doing anything it takes to win; after all, this is what the fans who identify with their sport/team expect because of regional/national identification. (Tinley, 2011). Once these athletes realize they hold this status in society, it is easier for them to be “hubris” thinking that they are above the law and have more rights and privileges than other people. This hubris is magnified once deviant behaviors are learned within their fraternity of fortuitous individuals because, “once the deviant behavior is learned, it can then be socialized to future ballplayers that may eventually become managers and sport organization personnel.” (Vermillion, 2009, pg. 32). Vermillion and his colleagues recognize that deviance in baseball and all sports is often accepted on many different levels. For example, player fights in hockey or a runner sliding out of the baseline to break up a double play are acceptable forms of deviance in sports. The author of this article discourages acts like this however, because he believes that this form of acceptance will lead to other forms of deviance based on a, “win-at-all-costs” mentality. Vermillion provides the steroids in baseball controversy as a perfect example of this theory: The overall value of sport in society is deteriorated when those values are overshadowed by the importance of winning. Most modern deviance is based off of the desire to win because professional athletes of today are financially taken care of and learn to bend the rules as part of the culture of the game.
Finally, it is important to look at deviance amongst fans because their deviant behavior is not managed in the same manner as professional athletes. Although many fans were likely athletes at one time, their deviance in the stands differs from professional athletes because their connection to the game is not professional but only by personal identification. Athletes feed off competition and sacrifice values of the game at times because they want to win; fans do not have the same control over the game as professional athletes and, therefore, their deviant behavior – although learned from small groups and acted out individually like athletes – is not the same monster. Vermillion suggests that fan deviance must also be controlled in a different manner as, “identifying single disruptions and finding ways to curb individual disruptions help prevent collective violence before it becomes widespread at the sporting event.” (Vermillion, 2009, pg. 33). This differs from athlete deviance because identifying individual problems would not solve the collective nature of deviance as it is shared in the culture of athletes. This is why drug testing has become a strict policy in all sports and why most leagues’ punishments are not handed out on an individual basis to athletes. Fans are controlled on a general level by limiting alcohol consumption and strategically placing security guards but these preventative measures are taken in the aims of weeding out individual deviants. Where it takes a group effort for steroids to become an acceptably used drug in the subculture of professional baseball players, it only takes one individual acting riotously for the crowd to follow.
Moreover, professional athletes are public figures where fans are anonymous. The sanctity of sport is not compromised if one fan throws a beer on a player; it happened in a Cleveland Indians game in 1974 on 10 cent beer night and the opposing team passive-aggressively took action be forfeiting. This makes fans look bad and sports look bad to the extent that it may attract a few disorderly people but there is a general understanding in society that people act out of line and are disciplined for it. However, values in sport are viewed as deteriorating when the athlete reacts to the beer shower in an aggressive way; for example, Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers charged the stands after a Detroit fan poured beer on them. Nevertheless, large groups of fans can have the same affect on the perception of sports values in society when large mobs depict anarchy because of a sporting event. Scott Tinley unites these positions on the recent riots in Vancouver (due to another Canuck’s Stanley Cup loss) by notifying, “deviance in crowd behavior is often associated with perceived anonymity.” (Tinley, 2011, pg 3). The deviance amongst fans during riots begins on an individual level but once it is realized that the actions taken can be justified by their smaller group of peers they take action. This anonymity is strangely similar to steroids in baseball and how a smaller group of peers with the “hubris” and power of athletes found this practice acceptable as long as society didn’t know who they were. Fans operate the same way when they realize they have power anonymously in a crowd of chaotic people. Fans and athletes alike seem to become most deviant when the values of sport are compromised for personal glorification based on an anonymous setting in a small group where they cannot be judged for their actions.
In conclusion, deviance in sports has existed since sports were competitive, athletes exhibit deviance because of their desire to win and lessons learned in small groups that accept deviant practices, and fans are deviant because of anonymity and a distorted meaning of the game. The values of sport are compromised when personal objectives interfere with the reason that the game is played in the first place. In order for sports to continue as a feel-good aspect of culture, these values must balance with the innate competitive nature that originally incites sport.
Tinley, Scott. “Vancouver, We Hardly Knew You.” CBS News Sports. CBS, 16 June 2011. Web.
11 July 2011.
Vermillion, Mark, G. Clayton Stoldt, and Jordan Bass. “Social Problems in Major League
Baseball: Revisiting and Expanding Talamini’s Analysis Twenty Years Later.” Journal of Sport Administration & Supervision April 1.1 (2009): 23-38. SPORTDiscus. Web. 11 July 2011.
- Deviance Is Alive and Well (psychologytoday.com)
- Sociological (socyberty.com)
- Motivation from Socialization (exactsports.com)