Nisbet on how violent, contact sports like football redirect people’s energies away from war (1988)

Robert A. Nisbet

The American sociologist Robert Nisbet (1913-1996) laments the direction sports has evolved since the Second World War but sees one positive result, at least for contact sports like football (but not track and field), in that they reduce the pressure to go to war:

It is good that sports are so important. They—and especially the contact or “violent” ones like football, hockey, and boxing—play a role of reliving pressures in human beings which once had no other outlets but wars, Bedlams, and public hangings. If by some major accident we ever lose the mayhem of the hockey rink, gridiron, and prize ring, if we are limited, say, to track and field, heaven help the ordinary American who wants only law and order and peace.

We continue our exploration of what some of the authors in the OLL collection have to say about the relationship between sport and liberty. We have seen how much Herbert Spencer despises all violent sports because they discourage individuals from respecting other people’s right to liberty and property; we have seen how the English jurist Sir Frederick Pollock regards violent games as somewhat distasteful but nevertheless are an example of a voluntarily agreed to association of individuals. In this quote we look at how the American sociologist Robert Nisbet sees a certain merit in games like football and boxing because they channel the violent impulses of individuals away from war and towards a relatively “harmless” form of entertainment. A rather back-handed compliment.