'It's Just Part of the Game': Toward a Typology of Sports Crime

Ryan K. Williams, Pennsylvania State University
Michael Atkinson, The University of Calgary

Following Smith's (1983) groundbreaking typology of sports violence, few sociologists have critically examined the ways in which crime occurs in and through the sports process (cf. Dunning 1999; Young 2001). While criminological research continues to attend to a wide range of formal rule-breaking behaviours, and subsequently classify such behaviours into conceptual categories like 'white collar crimes,' 'hate crimes,' sex crimes,' and 'race crimes,' an empirical analyses of 'sports crimes' has yet to be pursued. Even though athletes' criminal activities off the playing field i.e., sexual assault, violence, murder) have been well documented and meticulously analysed (cf. Coakley 2001), academics have been curiously reluctant to interrogate rule-breaking behaviours on the field as 'crime.' In this paper, we undertake an analysis of criminal behaviour on the field, and develop a working classification system of 'sports crime.' By citing several well-known cross-national case examples of 'criminal behaviour' in professional sport (e.g. ice hockey, baseball, American football, rugby, and soccer) an explanation of dominant discourses and policies relating to the control of criminal behaviour in sports is offered. Dominant arguments for and against increased criminal prosecution in sports are offered, alongside mainstay theoretical interpretations of sports violence.

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Updated 05/20/2006