With football season nearing end, emotionally charged teen boys, who are taught how to use aggression on the field, will no longer be able to use that physical outlet for their youthful frustrations. Because of the high level of violence in the sport, experts have wondered if these teens, who are encouraged to use coercion, intimidation, and other aggressive tactics during play, are more likely to engage in bullying behaviors off the field than their nonathlete peers. Nearly half of teens today report that they have been either the victim or perpetrator of bullying. And although football does not endorse bullying, players are encouraged to aspire to masculine norms and conformity. Therefore, researchers have asked, do these factors make the players more vulnerable to bullying behaviors?
To answer this question, Jesse A. Steinfeldt of the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Indiana University-Bloomington led a study involving 206 high school football players and looked at peer relationships, masculine conformity, bullying beliefs, and male role models. The results revealed that the football players would only accept or encourage bullying behavior if their peers did. Additionally, the players who conformed the most to masculine norms were among the most likely to bully, regardless of peer influence. Adhering and aspiring to masculine norms has been shown to negatively influence psychological well-being and can increase one’s risk for depression, sexual aggression, substance abuse, and low self-worth.
However, Steinfeldt discovered the highest risk factor for accepting bullying behaviors was having a male role model who also endorsed bullying. Specifically, the most influential male in the boys’ lives, whether it was a coach, uncle, father, or big brother, was the strongest indicator of bullying behavior. This discovery has significant implications for interventions and youth programs that target bullying. Steinfeldt said, “Thus, psychologists working with adolescent football players may want to consider bullying within the broader context, particularly the ways that traditional masculine norms are conveyed by peers and inﬂuential males within the unique context of football.” Steinfeldt also suggested that psychologists who work with teen football players might consider asking coaches and fathers to participate in the design and delivery of interventions in order to more powerfully influence the teens.
Steinfeldt, J. A., Vaughan, E. L., LaFollette, J. R., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2012, January 23). Bullying Among Adolescent Football Players: Role of Masculinity and Moral Atmosphere. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026645
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