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Domestic Violence and Sports: Is It Possible to Turn Aggression On and Off?

Boys should never hit girls. Girls should never push guys' buttons. That is the underlying message that society sends to children as they mature. In the world of sports, aggression is rewarded with accolades, recognition, and labels of "having heart" and "passion for the game". Most recently in the news is the Baltimore Ravens' player Ray Rice, who has received punishment for assaulting his then-fiance' in a hotel elevator which resulted in her becoming unconscious and pulled from the elevator by her lover. Although criminal charges were never developed, the NFL commissioner saw fit to implement a two-game suspension for off-the-field conduct. Since that time, Mr. Rice and his fiance' have wed and published videos capturing their ceremonial occasion.

Football is an aggressive contact sport that requires players to willingly and purposefully play with intensity for an entire four quarters. Running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers have to demonstrate a mindset that portrays the ability to aggressively pursue the football in the midst of impending danger: the defensive players coming at full force. If the mentality necessary for successful play is to breed and brew aggression, how does one purposefully turn it off when he is in a non-football environment? Arousal levels run high when a person perceives a threat. Physiologically, the body goes into "defense-mode" to protect and pursue survival. During a heated argument, the body does not decipher between the type of aggression triggers taking place. As such, all the body knows to do is to get ready to fight at all costs in the name of surviving.

Knowing this small bit of information concerning high-arousal and its relation to aggression, how does a player learn to turn the aggression on and off based on the environment? It sounds cliche', but anger management could be a start. But not just any run-of-the mill anger management course; one that is geared toward working with individuals who have bred aggressive tactics since their pee wee sport days, throughout adolescent sport participation, and on to the professional level. Years have been invested into developing aggressive tactics. It is necessary to teach and train players to develop coping strategies necessary for filtering between triggers that are truly life threatening and call for aggression and those that require better, thoughtful decision-making strategies to do no harm to others.

While domestic violence is wrong and inhumane, it is not enough to just wag our fingers at the perpetrator, shake our heads at the victim for remaining with him. It is better to collaborate efforts and seek to develop solutions to a problem that is bigger than one publicized incident. Many spectators wonder what would have happened if the incident had not been captured on film. There are many domestic violence incidents that take place every minute that go unadressed and not caught on film. So what will society do about the Ray Rice effect now that it is out in the open?

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