Sport, Violence And Society

Sport, Violence And Society

Author: Kevin Young
Publisher: New York: Routledge, 2012. 220p.
Reviewer: Sam Bieler | May 2013

Moving beyond high-sticking and charging the mound, Kevin Young’s Sport, Violence and Society challenges the existing theoretical framework of violence in sports, arguing for an interpretation of violence in sport that includes not only violent acts committed on the field, but acts of violence that are intimately tied to sport, such as damage to the environment resulting from sporting activities. With a vast selection of sources and a bold thesis on expanding the study of sports related violence into new areas, Young’s book is an important reframing of the study of violence that would have been improved only by more analytical depth.

The greatest strength of this book is its broad scope. Young draws the thread of sports related violence through an extensive selection of categories and cases. Fan and athlete violence are presented alongside criminal conduct off the field as well as terror attacks on sports-related targets, all of which are contextualized within an excellent framework of the position of sports in both global culture and scholarly literature to date. The former point demonstrates clear innovative scholarly thinking as Young traces the thread of sports related violence through issues of gender identity and societal privilege, pushing the study of violence in sport into new areas. The latter point is another clear strength of the book, which maintains an active dialogue with a vast selection of scholarly literature, as well as an extensive selection of primary sources documenting the trends described.

While Young’s coverage of the different dimensions of sports related violence is broad, however, it lacks a critical focus that ultimately robs his work of some clarity. In many cases, evidence for the author’s point comes in brief, bullet-pointed vignettes that offer little detail about the issue they are intended to address.  Because of this, the evidence presented falls in the gap between quantitative and qualitative: it is not sufficiently empirical to be considered a meta-analysis, but not detailed enough to be considered a case study. This is true of the literature cited as well: often a topic is supported by drowning the reader in a list of studies that offer the same point, giving the book the air of a massive literature review, despite the fact that the author has loftier ambitions for the piece. Additionally, this focus on providing large amounts of literature across multiple fields makes the book’s transitions a little disjointed- as if the narrative is rushing from topic to topic in an effort to cover every aspect before running out of time and being cut off mid-sentence.

While these are notable issues, they are problems that perhaps are to be expected, given that the author is attempting to dramatically expand the scope of the field of sports related violence. The sheer number of questions and topics raised in the course of this reimagining of the field as well as the plethora of sources used will make Sports, Violence and Society an important source for scholars of violence interested in broadening the horizons of the study of violence.  

Sam Bieler is a research associate at the Urban Institute

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