Do Football and Violence go Hand in Hand?

In the past decade, sports media outlets have been covering more than just NFL game highlights and fantasy football predictions. It seems as if players are not being talked about for their great plays or passes, but instead for their involvement in criminal activities. From Michael Vick’s conviction for running a dog-fighting operation in 2007, to the more recent incidents of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy being charged with domestic violence, there is a reoccurring theme between NFL players and violence. Is this just a coincidence? Or is the violent sport of American football influencing player’s behaviour both on and off the field. The consequences associated with playing in the NFL should make sports fans around the world second-guess supporting the league.

The National Football league has a massive following of an estimated 400 million fans. The Super Bowl itself has a 49.7 rating in the nation’s largest media markets, making it one of the most watched television broadcasts in the world. Because it reaches such a large audience, companies spend billions of dollars advertising during the commercials every year. Sports fans across the continent idolize their favourite teams and players and it is not unusual that men dedicate their Sunday to watching football. Consequently, when players in the NFL are charged with a criminal offence there is media frenzy. The negative publicity that follows these scandals does not just affect the player, but the team they play for and the entire NFL organization.

The question at hand is whether or not watching football is ethically permissible. It is proven that playing in the NFL is connected to an increased chance at developing dementia, Alzheimer’s or other memory related diseases. Dr. Lee Nadler, dean for clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School, concludes that the life expectancy for players is around 55. The danger in football does not stop there. The PS Mag claims that football makes players violent off the field as well. There have been 700 arrests made against players since 2000. Mariah Burton, author of ‘The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports’ argues that football in particular sets a stage of violence against women. This coincides with the recent scandals of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy who assaulted their girlfriends. The violence from football trails into the stands as well. New research from the National Bureau of Economic Research has proved that just watching football can be harmful to spectators and their families. Statistics have shown an increase in domestic violence in the home state of the losing team when an NFL game ends in an upset. Of course the fact that sporting events usually involve alcohol consumption definitely sway the results. Also, these conclusions can be true for other sports around the world. Violence is seen in soccer stadiums too.

Should football fans be content with just being bystanders? How can fans make a difference in these alarming statistics?

Ultimately, there are two different types of sports fans, the partisan fans and the purist fans. Partisan fans are those who are loyal to teams and players who they have some sort of connection to. They stick by their team regardless of how they play. In the situation at hand, partisan fans would still support Ray Rice regardless of his assault charges. Partisan fans believe that their love of the game overrules the violent consequences associated with the sport. It can be said that partisan fans are ‘blind supporters’ as they turn a blind eye to the unsporting behaviour. They stand for the analogy “for better of for worse”. On the other hand, purist fans are motivated to support a team based on their admiration for the team’s skills and fair style of play. Purist fans stand on high moral ground and their loyalty is based on sports excellence. Their support for a team is conditional. In terms of violence in the NFL, purist fans would stop supporting teams who signed players with a criminal background.

The ideal attitude for sports fans is that of the moderate partisan. Supporters of the NFL need to stop supporting teams who sign players who have a criminal record. Athletes are supposed to be role models. They are supposed to be advocates for promoting good sportsmanship and representing the traditions of the sport.

It seems to me that when a news story breaks that involves an athlete it is all over broadcasting stations for a couple days. However, it always seems to suddenly disappear and next thing you know the player is back on the field. What kind of precedent is that setting to the youth of sports? It is no secret that these issues always are swept under the rug with minor repercussions.

With these reasons, I believe that sports fans should not support the NFL, or at least until there is progressive action is made to address and solve the violence issues. More and more athlete scandals are surfacing every day in the media that support evidence of a strong connection between violence and American football. Health problems such as early onset dementia, concussions and lower life span are just the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with football. The violence linked to football follows players off the field and is reflected in their behaviours. By continuously undermining the seriousness of the issues and allowing players to continue their career after being convicted, the NFL organization is saying that these behaviours are acceptable. There is no doubt in my mind that second time offenders should indefinitely be suspended from the league. Some NFL players have already committed to removing the stereotype of domestic violence being associated to football players. Below is video of the “No More” campaign. I hope that eventually these incidents are an eye opener to convenors, coaches and general managers and they too demand higher ethical standards collectively as an organization.

For further reading on the issue of violence and its predominant presence in American football:

  4. Mediaite: WATCH LIVE: Senate holds hearing on NFL domestic violence. 2014. Newstex Trade & Industry Blogs (Dec 02), (accessed November 23, 2015).
  5. The politics of outrage; the NFL and violence. 2014. The Economist. Sep 20, (accessed November 23, 2015).
  6. Jurich, Haley. 2015. Explanations of violence in the national football league: Apologia by the NFL and NFL athletes charged with violence. Ph.D. diss., Northern Arizona University, (accessed November 23, 2015).


Click to access PS_Dixon_SupportingTeams_4up.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s