Angelo State: Violence: Better on our televisions, not in our lives

Posted: May 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Very few people would voluntarily take a punch to the face, get stabbed in the neck or let a car run over them. So, why would watching violence happen to others be a completely different story? Whether we’re talking about television, books, movies, video games, advertising or internet content, violence is deeply embedded and accepted in our popular culture. Crime investigation shows routinely top the weekly television ratings, murder mystery books are top sellers and video games depicting a wide array of violent acts are played in large numbers by adults and teenagers. Stadiums full of sports fans stand and cheer when a football player takes a big hit on the field and sports bars can become frantic when a fight develops in a game being shown on a screen. The newspaper adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” is religiously followed by editors throughout the country because stories of murder, assault and robbery have a tradition of grabbing reader attention and boosting single-day copy sells.

Luckily, most of us will never experience being shot by a gun or be beaten by someone with a baseball bat. But the question abounds whether members of society are influenced or are made less sensitive by the violence they see everyday in different forms of media and if it effects their actions. Many people have developed a deep seeded belief that criminal acts can be influenced and encouraged by music, movies and game play. Others see fights in the National Hockey League and fear it will give youth hockey players the same mentality. It is a longstanding tradition for Major League Baseball pitchers to hit batters with a pitch in certain circumstances to stick up for teammates. “The official rules of Major League Baseball (MLB) specifically prohibit the act of throwing a beanball and provide penalties for possible ejection for players who violate this rule. Nevertheless, courts have held that the beanball is a “part of the game” of baseball.” (Staten, 2009, pg. 641). When a “beanball” (a pitch intentionally thrown at a hitter) is thrown, there are often bench-clearing brawls. If high school baseball players watch MLB players charge the mound after getting hit, does that create an impression and make it more likely they’ll act in a similar way? Are retribution pitches part of the game only at the professional level or should they also be part of the high school game? This research proposes media does play a role in violence acceptance in the high school baseball culture based in part by the cultivation theory.

The Cultivation Theory, which was developed by George Gerbner, can be used in this study because of the awareness and potential impact television viewing transfers into our lives. “Because heavy viewers are recently and frequently exposed to certain common images and themes on TV, those themes become more accessible in memory and thus more influential in making judgments, like violence prevalence estimates” (Nabi, Riddle 2008, pg. 328). This research paper will look at the issue of media’s effect on violence and public acceptance from both sides of the argument, but beyond just television. High school students in today’s media world get their information from television and the Internet. Television remains a dominant figure in the media, but people are diversified by using the internet, books, music, video games and newspapers in print and online for entertainment and information. Our question becomes whether witnessing aggressive actions in sports in the media plays a role in how someone accepts or acts in their own lives. “Recent literature has documented that viewing violent media may be a contributing factor to the development of aggression” (RichmondandWilson, 2008 pg. 350). Others believe that media doesn’t directly influence behavior and that there are many other causes for violent behavior which can be blamed instead or along side of media. As long as real life violence is occurring and fictional violence is being depicted, the debate and need for understanding of possible connections between the two will be studied by law enforcement, sociologist and scholarly researchers. “From a sociological perspective, everyone is affected by the media because we are all part of a culture” (Rockler, 2006).

We could accept media violence simply as entertainment if not for research showing us that it is a contributing factor which can create an atmosphere of acceptance. “Using the mechanisms of moral justification and advantageous comparison, people may justify acts of aggression and violence, because they may see themselves trying to combat ruthless others, as seen in films and in computer games” (RichmondandWilson, 2008, pg. 351). This thought is further advanced if you accept that media projects a sense of necessary and rational use of violence. For even the most nonviolent person amongst us, portrayals of murderers, gangsters and psychopaths in certain roles can provide conflicting opinions and emotions. When a youth baseball player witnesses a fight on television from a professional baseball game and hears justifications from announcers, does that give them the thought that when they are playing the game they have the right to fight as well? We know we shouldn’t be sympathetic to someone who is taking or endangering another’s life, but a good storyline can alter our normal rules for society. This impact, put in the thoughts of an already imbalanced mind, can obviously be dangerous. It can also give a non-aggressive person a push or justification when facing unfortunate situations.  

The reality of the question of media violence and its influence on culture could be one where we never have a definitive answer to. Eminem has been used as an example of a musician glorifying domestic violence for his lyrics and he has been applauded and awarded for his artistic ability. No Country for Old Men could give a person the idea to go on a killing rampage and it can win an Oscar for its cinematic achievements. Grand Theft Auto can be celebrated as an industry-changing video game or it could be blamed for glorifying stealing vehicles and other criminal acts. If media is “just entertainment” then why bother rating movies, putting restrictions on television programs or censoring radio personalities from swearing on the radio? The proposed reason in this paper is because what is said in media can have an affect on the audience. Having an understanding of media’s influence on real life violence is important in a socially conscious world. Though many can label movies and music as art, there is some responsibility needed from the producer of the work. If moral disengagement is an effect caused by violent media, all parties involved in the production of any form of media to the audience should be aware of the risk. This research project will not, and realistically can not, crack the illusive code of what causes violence. But it can provide background knowledge from both sides of the argument and will utilize survey responses to show the opinions of participant’s perceptions of media’s portrayal and real life violent acts.

Literature Review

While media is often edited, rated and restricted, images of sex and violence are not hard to find. The question of the influence of this consumption becomes the primary issue for many researchers. Can watching a violent movie give someone the idea to commit murder? Can song lyrics inspire a school shooting and can watching sports trigger aggression? Some studies show a direct effect of media violence in reality, while the results are mixed in others.

While there may never be a definitive answer based on the complexity of violence there remains an opportunity in research to shed a light on possible correlations.RichmondandWilson(2008) delved into cognitive studies and how being exposed to violence changed levels of aggression. With media portraying characters as heroic based on violence and overthrowing evil, the study pointed out there is the possibility for desensitization based on moral acceptance. In basketball, there can be a fine line between a player being rewarded free throws for a hard foul and a fight breaking out. “Participants in an athletic contest are deemed to have consented to assaults and batteries when both the injury and the conduct that caused it are “reasonably foreseeable hazards of joint participation in an athletic contest.” Staden, 2009, Pg. 630). Sports viewers know that players do not always control their tempers. But the question is if this behavior is learned or a basic human lack of discipline when faced with adversity. Butterworth (2006) quotes former President Ronald Reagan saying, “Sport is the human activity closest to war that isn’t lethal.”

The study also intended to determine if people would progressively increase their consumption of violent media as a result of becoming less aware of the harshness of the content. Basically, if they saw a fight from a baseball game on television and were shocked by the image one day would they not be shocked by it the next. This disengagement could be an explanation and defense for those who believe violent media leads to aggressive or criminal actions. Staden (2009) found no differences in male-female results and also that through media violence aggression can become more socially acceptable. Staden (2009) also found that the more violence someone watches the more they want to see. They state that their findings are in line with previous research showing exposure to violent media adds to aggression and could be a contributing factor to someone’s personality.  

Rockler (2006) explains her experience with students who vary on thought of media translating into real life actions. She lists out the lack of sociological imagination we have as not understanding the political implications, seeing the issue too simplistically and not being aware of active traits we take on from media intake. Rockler (2006) defines sociological imagination as “the ability to understand social problems as historically situated and intricately related to power structures (pg. 40). Rockler says Americans tend to understand social issues as individuals and not as a whole. Rockler (2006) questioned 127 undergraduate students anonymously about the impact of media violence on individuals and society. “I argue that this lack of sociological imagination rhetorically constrains students from understanding the issue of violence in the media systematically” (Rockler, 2006. Pg. 41). With this limitation, our society can be seen as worrying about our personal problems and not how that ties into structural dynamics or how media affects us. The findings of the survey showed that there is a lack of social imagination. Rockler (2006) found that students were concerned with how individuals are impacted by violence in media but that a concern for the society was neglected.

If we see clear evidence that a crime was committed and impacted by media, many members of our society can mark it down as an individual and isolated event. We can lack the ability to believe that there is a wide problem that needs to be addressed. The lack of sociological imagination could be one of the main reasons why the study of media violence goes around in circles. “Although students disagreed on whether the government should restrict violence in the media, virtually all of them agreed that the responsibility for dealing with the “problem” of media violence rested on the shoulders of parents” (Rockler, 2006, pg. 56). This shows the prevailing thought that media is thought of as an individual issue, not one that affects everyone equally.

Another issue we’re faced with is the question of why is violence in the media accepted and sought after. If the product was not being consumed by the audience, violence would not be a part of the media. The term media is an encompassing term, but when it is broken down it is still a business. Without a consumer buying product, media would go out of business. Raney and Kinnally (2009) researched violence in sports and found that like movies depicting violence and music with explicit lyrics, the rougher sports were the more the audience enjoyed them. “A consistent pattern emerged: Enjoyment increased with the degree of violence” (Raney and Kinnally, 2009, pg. 313). Their research showed that men valued violence in sports more than women, but that women favored aggressive play more than sport of non or limited action. The study showed enjoyment of games depended on which team won and who the spectator was rooting for, but that violence in sport remains approved and desired regardless of outcomes. This finding supports the theory of physiological arousal that violence in the media creates. Seeing someone get tackled on a football field or a catcher being run over at home plate is exciting to many people just as watching a high-speed car chase that ends in a wreck on television. Bryant, Comisky and Zillmann (1989) found similar results in their research. They write that violence enhanced the enjoyment of the spectators and that they felt their money spent on sport was worth it with more aggressive play. Their research also points out the difference of sports violence and dramatic violence in other forms of media. When watching sports violence it is noted there is a set of rules and acceptance from both sides, while dramatic violence is perpetrated on an unwilling party. This difference is important to note, but does not affect the bottom line of understanding how violence in the media translate into day-to-day activities. It does however create another line when studying media’s role and definition in society.

Many see media as an escape from their normal lives where nothing truly exciting ever happens. This can be an explanation for why our society watches violent movies, reads graphic comic books, plays video games where they take on the roles of robbers and murderers and why we stand up and cheer when a football player takes a huge hit from an opponent. Media is most of the time a voyeuristic outlet where we don’t know the people who are being violent or are the victims of violence. They are simply characters and we can displace ourselves from believing it is reality. An awareness that not everyone has that ability to strike a divide between real and portrayed is the reason why research on this topic is popular and needed.    

RQ: How does media portrayal of aggression and violence in professional sports affect the acceptance and actions in athletics?


      Using cultivation theory as a foundation to examine how media portrays and influences real-life violence, the current study looks at high school athletes and their ability to separate game-aggression and violence. The research will make use of two experimental groups and one control group in a post-test only format. The first experimental group will watch a video sampling of violent hits on the football field, hard fouls in basketball and collisions at home plate in baseball. The study participants will then take a brief survey detailing their feelings and perceptions of aggression in sports. The second experimental group will watch a separate video sampling violence in sports including fights from hockey, baseball and basketball games that go beyond in-game aggression with punches being thrown. Group 2 will then take the same survey as Group 1. The control group will receive no intervention (no video clip) and also take the same survey.

The research question asks how media affects youth in sports, therefore the study will be administered to high school athletes. The reason for doing this is because they are the ones who are still active in sports and are also consumers of sports in the media. “U.S. Americans tend to understand social issues exclusively in terms of how they affect individuals” (Rockler, 2006, pg. 40). While sports spectatorship does not stop after high school, participation in organized athletics is ended for the majority of the population. By administering the study to this demographic which is active in sports, information can be gathered on professional and collegiate sports and how aggressiveness and violence is perceived by them.  Modeled after Rockler’s study (2006) of sociological imagination, the current study will be qualitative and ask four questions after basic demographic information. The demographic information will include; gender, race, media consumption and the sports the respondent competes in. In Q1, the student-athletes will be asked if there is a place for violence in sports. This question seeks to determine if the respondents reaction to the words “violence” and “sports” being correlated. We have seen in literature that “beanballs” are a part of the game. What else will be considered “part of the game” will give us answers to add to the discussion. Q2 will then ask how the media portrays aggression in sports. This question is open to personal interpretation and will give answers to the way our respondents think they are being spoken to by the media. Q3 will ask respondents if they are influenced by professional sports they watch on television. This question goes at the heart of our research question and gives the respondents an opportunity explain their thoughts on media influence. Q4 will ask if respondents have ever acted overly aggressive in athletics and, if so, why they behaved that way. This question will give us responses of how and why the athletes believe they act while playing games. Q5 will ask what the difference is between game-aggression and violence. With this we will be able to gather interpretations the two terms and what defines them in sports.


Go to any city park on a Saturday and you will see the influence of professional sports on the youth of American. Youth baseball players, who are barely taller than the bats they swing at balls positioned on a tee, are wearing the uniforms of the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and every other Major League Baseball team. People playing pick-up basketball games are wearingJordanshoes, headbands like LeBron James and they are trying to emulate dunks they’ve seen Blake Griffin make during slam dunk contest. The impact professional and collegiate athletes have on society has a long history of being significant. From simply watching games to the marketing of the sports, cultural shifts occur all the time because of sports. In the mid-1990s five freshmen at theUniversityofMichiganstarted wearing baggy shorts during games. Before this, shorts in collegiate athletics were more uniformed and were typically worn a couple of inches above the knee. The “Fab 5” as they were dubbed, changed that by wearing their shorts below their knees and even added more flare by wearing black socks. It seems small, but their fashion which was a part of the inner city for year, caught on in the mainstream levels of high school and youth sports. This is an example of how sports can influence the culture. If athletes are seen fighting on the court or being overly aggressive, it leads to the assumption that an acceptance and mirroring can become reality.

Athletic portrayals through the media reaches the masses to create heroes and villains. It creates ideals of how people can work hard to achieve goals and shows the positive possibilities we have as humans. Unfortunately, sports and the media also have the ability to be negative influencers. If an announcer broadcasting a game gives credence to a player committing a hard foul, it is possible that a young person watching the game will believe they have should play the same way. If ESPN shows a bench-clearing brawl from a baseball game after someone sticks up for a teammate, younger viewers may take it as the way you’re supposed to respond. Are bench-clearing brawls a learned behavior or are they natural? It’s not a satisfying answer to many, but a mixture of learned and naturally is probably the correct answer.

The trouble with assigning blame for violence is the complexity and individuality of the issue. Human nature is to protect ourselves, our family and our friends. For athletes, teammates are a mixture of all three. There is the mentality by some athletes that if you’re picking on a teammate then you’re picking on them. They see teammates as family members and their friends. While someone may not be violent under normal circumstances, a hard-foul on a teammate may illicit intense emotions. Professional athletes are fined thousands of dollars for getting in fights in games, yet almost every week an example can be found of aggressiveness turning into a violent act. This goes to show the emotional power of sports and the willpower needed to remain calm in situations.

Going into the study, it is my hypothesis that the high school athlete’s responses will indicate influences by professional sports and the media. The demographic is one that consumes large doses of media and is impressionable. 


Putting a clear explanation on human behavior is never simplistic. There are multiple reasons why people act the way they do and react in certain ways. Previous studies on media’s effect on violence has proven this with a wide array of mixed results. Some studies have shown that prolonged exposure to violent video games, music and movies has created a relaxed acceptance of certain acts. Seeing a movie where gangsters deal drugs and pull guns out at the sight of conflict can give a person the thought that the behavior is correct and accomplishes set out goals. Other studies have shown the correlation is so small that it is a stretch to make the argument that media exposure creates violence. One person watches a movie and has no reaction to it and another watches the same movie and acts out the criminal behavior. Did the movie cause this or was the person who committed the crime bound to have that reaction because of their nature, nurture or could it have been a bad impromptu decision. We can blame media or we can excuse it. We can restrict certain images and lyrics from the world, or we can explain that the images and words are not meant to release anyone from consequences that could come from taking media portrayals into the real world.


Butterworth, M.L. (2007). The politics of the pitch: Claiming and contesting democracy through the Iraqi national soccer team. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. 4(2), 184-203.

Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., Signorielli, N., & Shanahan, J. (2002). Growing up with

television: Cultivation processes. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances

in theory and research (pp. 43–67).

Nabi, R.L., Riddle, K. (2008). Personality trait, television viewing, and the cultivation effect. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. 9, 327-348.

Raney, A.A., Kinnally, K. (2009). Examining perceived violence in and enjoyment of televised rivalry sports contests. Mass Communication & Society. 12(3). 311-331.

Richmond, J.,Wilson, C. 2008. Are graphic media violence, aggression and moral disengagement related? Psychiatry, Psychology and Law. 15(2), 350-357.

Rockler, N. (2006). Just change the channel: Media violence and the lack of sociological imagination. Popular Communication. 4(1), 39-62.

Staden, J. (2009). The manly sports: The problematic use of criminal law to regulate sports violence. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. 99(3), 619-642.


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