Bad Sports: Explaining Sport Related Deviance



While sometimes dismissed as an unimportant subject for analysis, the study of sport has offered important insights into our social world. Yet the academic study of sport-related deviance has not kept pace with the explosion of popular media products regarding deviance in sport over the past four decades. This can be explained in part by the sheer diversity of sport related deviance which defies applying a singular theoretical explanation. A number of approaches from the sociology of sport and other social sciences offer useful ways of making sense of sport related rule-breaking while also providing valuable insights into larger questions regarding crime and deviance. This paper reviews three contemporary perspectives used in the study of sport deviance: deviant overconformity, moral panics and consumptive deviance. Drawing from exemplary studies of performance-enhancing drug use, hooligan violence, and sport celebrity scandals, I highlight the ways in which these perspectives offer a “sociological corrective” to media misrepresentations as well as insights that extend beyond sport and into contemporary social issues including race and gender relations, economic inequalities, crime, youth violence, and celebrity culture. I conclude by addressing new developments and avenues for future research.