Sports cause crime; porn and violent movies don’t

From the Freakonomics blog:

That is the argument of Sebastien Roche, a French political scientist. In writing about the French riots last year, Roche has challenged the conventional wisdom that sports provide a good outlet for young men and perhaps keeps them out of trouble. To the contrary, Roche contends, “the practice of sport never reduces the number of crimes” and, furthermore, sports can even “give the opportunity to develop physical abilities useful for street crime: running, how to use impulsive behaviour, how to master the use of force.”

This strikes me as a fascinating subject, and an interesting argument, although the proof offered by Roche and his like-minded colleagues seems very thin. Their research is based on interviews with young men and shows that the more time a young man spends playing sports, the more likely he is to have committed a serious crime. But does this mean that sports are the culprit? Couldn’t it just as easily mean that the kind of young man who’s criminally inclined a) doesn’t have a job; and b) therefore has a lot of free time; which c) he spends playing sports? The argument that sports and violence go hand and hand is a powerful one (though hardly new: Robert Lipsyte, for one, has written convincingly on the subject in the past); but I don’t find Roche’s arguments very persuasive.

(The full post contains the article with all the arguments and counterarguments)

And from Slate:

The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

If not Wikipedia, then what? Maybe rape is down because former rapists have found their true loves on Match.com. But professor Kendall points out that the effects are strongest among 15-year-old to 19-year-old perpetrators—the group least likely to use such dating services.

[…]

Next, violence. What happens when a particularly violent movie is released? Answer: Violent crime rates fall. Instantly. Here again, we have a lot of natural experiments: The number of violent movie releases changes a lot from week to week. One weekend, 12 million people watch Hannibal, and another weekend, 12 million watch Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

University of California professors Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna compared what happens on those weekends. The bottom line: More violence on the screen means less violence in the streets. Probably that’s because violent criminals prefer violent movies, and as long as they’re at the movies, they’re not out causing mischief. They’d rather see Hannibal than rob you, but they’d rather rob you than sit through Wallace & Gromit.

I’ve often wondered about the conventional wisdom in these areas, as it never made any sense to me. I’ve never ever understood (or gotten a good answer on) what it is exactly that we’re “protecting children” from when it comes to porn, nudity, and sex. As violence goes, the last two decades have seen pretty clear declines in crime across the board, despite the ever-increasing prevalence of violent video games, movies, and television. While I see more cause for concern when it comes to violent media, I don’t see anything to justify the kind of moral panic that arises from the likes of Doom, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, or the latest summer blockbuster.

Meanwhile, sports *are* unquestionably violent. They do cause injury. They lend themselves to a jock culture. They interfere with academics. They put undue pressure on participants. Millions of high school students bank their futures on getting into the NFL/NBA/MLB. They teach hypercompetitiveness. Etc. Etc. The list of negatives gets to be pretty long. Yet our culture views sports as “wholesome”, and reveres athletes as demi-Gods (or at least, reveres them enough to justify 7 and 8 digit paychecks)

The dissonance in our culture with regards to these topics is pretty astounding.

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