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Aggression in the Sports WorldA social psychological perspective$

Gordon W. Russell

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189599

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189599.001.0001

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(p.vii) Preface

(p.vii) Preface

Aggression in the Sports World
Oxford University Press

Three decades ago I produced a bibliography of books on human aggression. At that time the total number was conservatively estimated to be well in excess of 350 volumes (Baron, 1977, p. vi). That number has likely tripled. Why would I think yet another book on human aggression is called for, especially a book focused on sports? There are several reasons for this.

With the exception of Michael Smith's (1983) book Violence and Sport, and John Kerr's (2005) theoretical treatment of the topic in Rethinking Aggression and Violence in Sport, sports aggression has not received comprehensive coverage by an academic writer. Of course, aspects of sports aggression have received coverage as chapters in edited works or multitopic, sport psychology textbooks. Among edited books, Goldstein's (1983) Sports Violence stands alone in being totally dedicated to the topic. Considering the rapidly expanding literature on aggression in sports since the early eighties, I am hopeful that its incorporation in the present volume will largely fill that void.

Our behavior in other applied settings, that is, the classroom or the work-place, has been intensively investigated, the results of which produced a rich tradition of research and theory extending back well over 100 years. Educational psychology and industrial/organizational psychology represent major areas of academic inquiry. Seemingly, investigators gave priority to the “serious” topics of our performance in the classroom and on the assembly line long before interest was shown in the more “frivolous” questions associated with our leisure-time pursuits. However, how people choose to spend their time when they are not in the classroom or at work is equally important in shaping the overall development and mental/physical well-being of the individual and, ultimately, society. The options open to us are endless. One of our after-work choices is sports broadly defined. My second reason then for writing this book is to further the topic of aggression as a major investigative area of inquiry within sports.

(p.viii) The body of scientific writings on human aggression is vast with contributions from academics representing nearly every department listed in a typical university calendar. My aim was to develop a strong interdisciplinary theme centered on social psychology and to blend in the best in scholarly research from a variety of disciplines. To adequately address the wide-ranging questions that arise in sports aggression requires crossing the boundaries of numerous disciplines, that is, pharmacology, economics, physical education, and animal studies, among others. I trust I have incorporated sufficient studies from other academic areas to provide a fair and balanced picture of their contributions to our understanding of the processes underlying sports aggression.

A significant portion of the book has relevance for questions related to aggression on the field of play, among those watching from the stands and in the media. To date these areas appear to have attracted the lion's share of interest from sport researchers, while other aggression topics have received only spotty coverage. For example, relatively fewer studies in the areas of cognition, environmental factors, or social Influence have tested hypotheses specifically in sports settings. Consequently, at times I was required to generalize from nonsport studies in making a point or in explaining a particular relationship. However, my goal throughout was to provide my colleagues and their students with a current and informative description of the dynamics underlying aggressive behaviors occurring in the sports world.

Given my commitment to promoting an international perspective on sport research, I recognize that a number of terms used in different sports may baffle some of my readers. In addition, the language of fans in various cultures may be obscure to many. I will endeavor to slip in an explanation where these occur. For starters, when my discussion moves beyond the borders of the United States and involves people kicking a round ball up and down a field, I will generally refer to the sport as football. Within the United States, it is soccer. However, if the ball is pointy at both ends, the game will be called American football.

Finally, a word about the various terms used to describe those observing sports from the stands or in the media. Sport fans are those with an ongoing interest in following an athlete, team, or sport and those who derive pleasure from watching the contest. Sports spectators can also be called sports consumers witnessing events actively from the bleachers or indirectly through media channels (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). They do not necessarily follow a particular team nor have an abiding interest in the sport. For example, a couple and their children may be in attendance because they been given tickets by their boss. Others watching a game may be called supporters. Supporters are roughly equivalent to fans, although in the context of European football they may additionally hold formal membership in a team's supporters club. Hooligans represent a further element often found in attendance at football matches. Their role is generally one of fomenting disturbances before, during, or after a match. While they may align themselves with a particular team, it is merely a “flag of convenience” under which they can do battle with the police or supporters of rival teams (Kerr & de Kock, 2002). Their activities frequently have little to do with events on the pitch.

(p.ix) I should acknowledge at the outset that I have made no formal attempt to define “sports.” Extant definitions (e.g., Loy, McPherson, & Kenyon, 1978) are being stretched to the breaking point by various organizations, and their following, eager to gain formal recognition as a sport. As examples, cheerleading and ballroom dancing, the latter recently being marketed as sport dancing, appear to be looking for a place on the Olympic calendar. My choice in the midst of this confusion was to cast a wider-than-usual net in gathering studies to be featured on the pages ahead. Admittedly, I have strayed beyond the bounds of most definitions by including such dubious sports as professional wrestling, paintball, cheerleading, and video games. Obviously, a number of sports would be better called “activities,” “entertainment,” or “pastimes.”

I wish to thank those who have given me continuing encouragement throughout the writing of this book. I am grateful to Dr. Lori Handelman, senior editor at Oxford University Press, for her steadfast support and encouragement. I am also indebted to my friend and colleague, Dr. Hal Weaver, for his technical assistance, wise counsel, and ready wit. My special thanks to my wife Audrey and our children, Cameron and Shelley, for their unflagging support and understanding over the course of the past several years.

Prof. Gordon W. Russell (p.x)