2. Sport Criminology: Nic Groombridge - Sports sociology literature
- Last Updated on Monday, 09 July 2012 17:04
- Nic Groombridge
Sports sociology literature
To generalise sweepingly, this literature tends to universalise about sport - but closer attention shows this often to be about US sport and gender and race/ethnicity issues - or focus on a particular sport (and therefore sometimes tends towards one country or continent). As a sociology it contains more critical commentary, particularly about structural issues such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality and ability, but often of a campaigning equal opportunities nature. Empirical research is deployed to promote inclusion and diversity within sport. That is, it is critical of sport’s failings in the modern world which sport has only slowly, and unevenly, responded to without troubling its roots; deeply entwined with power and culture. Whilst many sociological disciplines have ‘beaten themselves up’ about a failure to engage with the public Jarvie (2009) is particularly scathing of his discipline of sociology of sport.
Coakley and Pike (2009) update Coakley’s multiple US-based texts for theUKand make extensive engagements with the many issues and controversies raised by sports that might be ignored by sports science students who are very active, and often over-conforming, sports people. Amongst those issues are deviance and violence (accorded a chapter each) . Each is examined below with contributions from some of the other texts in the area.
Deviance is seen to occur on and off field and also amongst spectators, managers, coaches and media and might extend to consideration of whether ‘field’ sports were deviant. But the majority of the chapter is taken up with is the problem of over conformity which is often boiled down to performance enhancing substances. The various issues raised include the legality of some substances when not taken by elite athletes under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) surveillance.
Interestingly they raise the issue ‘is sports participation a cure for deviant behaviour’ (ibid: 204) and summarise Nichols (2003) (discussed later) but also Trulson (1986). Trulson found that training in tae-kwon-do allied to associated philosopho-ethical ideals could lower delinquency rates whereas less traditional sports-orientated tae-kwon-do could not. Interestingly they make no specific connection to the violent deviant potential of such martial arts with their own discussion in the next chapter on violence.
Violence is also seen to be a form of over conforming deviance which can be on field, off field between athletes or spectators. Here sports law, sports sociology and criminology have all contributed to issues of stadium safety and hooliganism (see Scraton, 1999, particularly for a critical ‘organic’ intellectual take on this). The nearest to a recognition of the full criminality of some sports deviance/violence comes in a discussion of Smith’s (1983) typology of sports violence: brutal body contact; borderline violence; quasi-criminal violence and criminal violence.
It is telling that such books, and the courses they support or derive from, typically discuss deviance or violence in terms that derive clearly from ‘the sociology of deviance’ with such interactionism posited as a radical move on from its previous functionalism with Marxist, Feminist and minority perspectives name checked along the way. There is a time warp feel about this which may reflect not only sportspeople’s over conformity, or conservatism, but also that of those who teach them. That is much of the last forty years of conflict, consensus and paradigm shifts within and between the sociology of deviance and criminology goes missing, though, as we shall see Blackshaw and Crabbe are honourable exceptions. Other developments in sociology have also been ignored; for instance, Bourdieu has specifically addressed himself to sport on several occasions yet merits only two glancing mentions (ibid: 359, 476). Journals offer a richer intellectual diet but often bemoan the marginality of sports sociology and its lack of influence on sport (see for instance, Bairner, 2009 and Jarvie, 2009).
Atkinson and Young (2008) specifically address deviance, cite authors familiar to criminology and offer specific chapters on Criminal Violence in Sport and Terrorism and Sport. Helpfully they offer sections on Theoretical Intersections in which some criminological theories are applied. The reasons for this are set out early on with four largely recognisable as criminological: violence and aggression; sub-cultural; Victimology and identity politics (which intriguingly name checks New-Left Realism without explication). This leads all the Theoretical Intersections to be organised in the following eight ‘houses’ of: functionalism and strain; conflict; interactionism; social control; classicism; critical; gender and integrated theories (ibid 47).
For violence they take the example of ice hockey. They give a litany of ultra-violence which fails to end in court, or, if taken to court, fail to end in prison and none of this or various crackdowns reduce violence on the rink. The NHL, the fans and media discursively circle the wagons and talk away the problem. They cite the work of others or suggest ways to understand the violence as potentially functional; profitable for the owners; a form of tertiary (self-chosen) deviance; a sport specific failure to inculcate social control; a failure of the authorities to be rational and proportionate; race, ethnicity and gender are often issues as are combinations of all these.
For terrorism they rightly look at the Olympic Games given its pre-eminence and prior history, for instanceMunich1972, but other sports mega events like the World Cup might be seen in the same light. Historically they point out battles and guerrilla actions betweenTurkeyandGreecein the 1896 Games and the spectre of Irish Nationalism hovered overLondonin 1908. Thus terrorism can be: investigated as a neo-Parsonian homeostasis; deployed by the State to promote appropriate ideas of good and evil; political and media labelling; the ‘opportunity’ for organisers to provide guardianship; potentially deterred by talking up the security; seen as part of a rhizomic surveillance or used as an excuse to ‘protect’ women and bar countries with unacceptable policies towards women.
Interestingly Coakley and Pike make only one mention of Blackshaw and Crabbe, and then only to observe that, ‘off-the-field deviance among athletes attracts widespread media attention’ (2009: 200). This rather underplays, indeed undervalues, their work. Blackshaw and Crabbe are specifically mentioned by Atkinson and Young (2008) as notable exceptions in taking criminology/deviance seriously. Where Atkinson and Young explore the possibilities of established and traditional deviance/criminology theories Blackshaw and Crabbe engage with Sumner (1994) and cultural criminology.
Building on Downes and Rock (1998) they note the lurking, and sometimes unacknowledged, functionalism in sociology and sport sociology’s adherence to the abnormal and pathological; and suggest the over conformist ‘positive deviance’ as an example of Mertonian innovation and ‘negative deviance’ as retreatism. They also point out the Weberian interpretivism of work like Snyder’s (1994) work on a group of college athletes who practised burglary together (so much for the sports builds character functionalism). They swiftly move onto Lyng’s ‘edgework’ and Rojek’s ‘wild leisure’ and drag in Sutherland, Box, Croall and Ruggiero to discuss white collar and respectable crime before lighting on Brohm’s (1971) Althusserian account of sport as part of an ideological state apparatus. On-field deviance is obvious whereas off-field fraud is as invisible as all other corporate crime. Quickly left realist and feminist critiques are added and finally the actions taken against paedophilia in sport seen to be akin to the risk management approach identified by Feeley and Simon as ‘new penology’.
Intriguingly, they claim ‘had he cared to discuss it, Foucault would without doubt have recognised the disciplinary techniques of the emerging institutional regime of sport as a crucial part of the ‘carceral archipelago’ (2004: 44). They persuasively go on to cite studies in this vein which indicate the disciplinary nature of sport. As a former marathoner and current gym goer I don’t deny those aspects but as a former rugby player and viewer of the sport would also note the indiscipline on the pitch and in matters of training and alcohol intake. Examples from the hooligan literature again emphasises social control but ignores mayhem on the pitch.
Their case studies look at the soap opera that is the Premiership (then Eric Cantona, Lee Bowyer and the Beckhams): the sports car ownership scene on one hand and community sports as social control on the other, before returning to the alleged sexual offences and offensiveness of footballers. These sorts of issues are reconsidered when the possibilities of “Sport Criminology” are examined; but some of the issues seem to arise from the elision of crime and deviance, on and off-field and participant and spectator violence. More polemical accounts of sport, law, crime and deviance are available that draw on a variety of discourses, these include blogs and internet fan forums.
As might be expected some of the most cutting critiques of violence in sport - and sometimes of sport tout court - is feminism but, in the sports literature, it’s often men deploying a feminist perspective (see for instance, Messner, 1990). For some, sport itself is deviant and for some too many of its male participants are criminal and hubristically see themselves above the law (Jamieson and Orr, 2009).
New media offers many interactions and passing e-fevers which are not easily fixed in academic discourse but the work of radical sports journalists Andrew Jennings (transparency in sport) and Dave Zirin (Edge of Sports) offers plenty of investigative and muck-raking potential with which critical criminologists could find common cause (see also King, 2008) which brings us to some possibilities.