GUEST POST: Aggressive Sports and Domestic Violence

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When the body is trained to compete aggressively, should we expect a higher legal penalty?

Domestic violence has recently made national headlines again because of a slew of NFL players who have been accused of abusing loved ones and partners. Domestic violence is still a very prevalent social problem where the victims are disproportionately female.  

To be sure, all aggressors in domestic violence situations should be held legally accountable and also provided with psychological/medical assistance to reduce violent outbursts. But there is something about trained athletes (who have conditioned their bodies and trained their minds to be competitively aggressive) that raises questions about the association between athletic aggression and socially unacceptable aggression. 

While I think it would be foolish to suggest that there is some kind of causal connection between aggressive sports and domestic abuse, I am of the opinion that fighters and martial artists should be held to a higher standard in these cases – they should know better. 

During training, any athlete will be paying attention to their progression and the development of their skills. Boxers, fighters, and football players will notice that they can hit harder, and are acutely aware of their skill level that is used to beat their opponents.  Boxers can even have the force of their punches measured, and so have direct access to a qualitative understanding of their power.  

What should be included during these training exercises is an increased self-awareness of just how deadly their body has become as a weapon. There have been instances where judges have ruled that the hands and feet of martial artists should be counted as ‘deadly weapons’, and this should perhaps be true of all fighters, male and female alike, and football players who have trained their bodies to smash through lines of heavy and strong opponents.

As boxing, MMA, and football remain ever popular, we need more studies on the relationship between competitive aggression and domestic abuse. Actual studies on domestic violence committed by athletes are surprisingly scarce, but here are some good research questions we need to address:

Are physically violent people naturally drawn into professional fighting and aggressive sports?

While it is a stretch to connect learning to fight with becoming violent, there is a chance that people who like to engage in violence become fighters to enable and promote their violent desires. If this is the case, can a gym really discipline these individuals to keep them out of trouble? A number of boxing gyms have been opened to specifically discipline young people and keep them out of trouble with law enforcement and to prevent them from joining gangs.

Does fame lead to leniency and an increase in the likelihood for domestic abuse?
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (left) had his prison sentence postponed so that he could fight in Vegas, and he only served two months of a three month sentence. The maximum penalty in Nevada for a first offense of domestic violence is 6 months in prison. To some, it might seem that Mayweather got off lightly. It is certainly questionable that an amateur boxer, who committed the crime, would be treated as leniently. 

Only a handful of boxers make it to the professional ranks and even fewer start to get notoriety and world title shots, but once a boxer does achieve this they start to have fame on their side and become considerable cash cows. I fear that these aspects start to shield these boxers from holding them accountable for their indiscretions. The legal immunity of celebrities, however, is not limited to boxers.

What role does stress play in turning a fighter or competitive athlete violent?
  • Football and fighting are very athletic and physically demanding sports. The sports also calls for a strong mindset, which inevitably leads to a certain degree of “smack talk” even if it is just to promote a fight, in the case of boxing or MMA. In these sports the need to train hard and prepare for sustained periods of intense physical and mental endurance are very stressful for a athletes, meaning that stress-related disorders, some of which are intimately connected with violence, could creep in.
Would a change in boxing and MMA promotional strategies deter acts of aggression?
Anger management: Dereck Chisora and David Haye square up

David Haye and Dereck Chisora (right) got into an infamous scrap at a post-fight press conference in Munich. Both fighters lost their British licenses for this, but ended up getting sanctioned through the Luxembourg Board of Boxing so they could have a ‘grudge’ match in the ring. In other words, they were rewarded for assaulting each other in public, and the fight had a remarkable effect of convincing everyone that because they’d just fought each other in a ring (with rules), we could all now forget about it. The accountability of each fighter during the incident in Munich is still very disputable and should have been determined in a courtroom.

Many boxers and MMA fighters are not guilty of domestic violence, in fact some, such as Sergio Martinez, actively campaign against it.

Due to the popularity of aggressive sports, as well as the destructive potential of those involved, it is crucial that we shed more light on this important issue.

~ Jack Pemment, 2014
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Jack Pemment, M.A.

Jack Pemment graduated with a M.A. in Political Science from the University of Southern Mississippi, and an M.S. in Biology (Neuroscience) from the University of Mississippi. His main research interests are the neurobiology of psychopathy, aggression, and pedophilia, and the philosophical implications regarding free will and accountability. Jack currently blogs forPsychology Today and keeps a personal blog, ​Blame the Amygdala.


  1. My great-(great?) uncle was killed by a prizefighter after an altercation somewhere in New Mexico in the 50s, I think. Apparently, it was over a woman. That is all I have to add on the matter. But there's a novel in that too.

    1. Sorry to hear that. What happened to the fighter?



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