Lebron James and Deviant Behaviour in Sport


Sport is more than just a competition or physical activities, instead it can be regarded as a microcosm of society. Deviant behaviour has existed in both sport and society across time because people are members of these social system who create and attach label to different individuals. The word “deviance” may sound negative but it’s not necessarily a bad thing as it helps to shape social norms and guide people’s behaviour on what is right and wrong. In the same way, we can make use of sociology theories to examine how sport view athletes who commit deviant behaviour.

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Type of Deviance and Functionalist Perspective

From the article, Michael Matthews (one of five Orica-GreenEdge riders) was determined to persevere through stage 4 from Seraing to Cambrai despite suffering broken ribs from the crash on stage 3 of the Tour de France. His determination to play through injury is seen as a positive deviance because he choose to overconform to the sport ethics. The definition of deviance means to go away or against norm, but positive deviance means going above and beyond sport ethics. He could have chosen to withdraw himself from Tour de France to rest and recover from his injury, yet he chooses perseverance despite health risk.

From functionalist perspective on the macro-level of social structure, deviance is essential for a successful society as it promote social stability. Social norms are shaped through interaction by social institution to guide and learn acceptable behaviour to make sense of one another’s actions in the society. Every individual are socialized by social institutions such as family, friends, media, economy inevitably.

Social institutions can make athletes to over conform to the sport ethics. Tiger Woods an American professional golfer is a good example of positive deviance. He played through 91 holes of golf with broken leg and torn anterior cruciate ligament (acl), but he won the 2008 US Gold Open. His doctor advised him not to play as he could cause permanent damage, but he was determined to play through pain. I believe social institutions plays a big part on his decision-making process, he could have thought of economy factor such as sponsorship and prize money. If he becomes the winner for 2008 US Gold Open, he is guaranteed of sponsorship, fame and prize money which means the benefits outweigh the difficulty he is facing. Another aspect of social institution could be fans. Tiger Woods fans are probably excited to see his tournament as US Gold Open is an annual open national championship of golf in the United States. It is a tournament where he can show off his impressive golf skills to the public through national television. He choose to play through injury because he didn’t want to disappoint his excited fans who was looking forward to watch his tournament.

Functionalist perspective believe that socialization process compels members of society to accept values and norms. Athletes cannot avoid social institutions and social agents, so it creates an opportunity for positive deviance to take place. Some athletes put their self-worth on the sport they are playing because of the environment, that is why they choose to go above the sport ethics.

Functionalist sees sport positively as it socializes athletes and help them to develop strong character thus positive deviance would contribute to the growth and stability to society. LeBron James, a National Basketball Association (NBA player) is known as one of the world greatest leader because he believes that he has responsibility as an athlete. He uses his athlete statues to give back to the society such as through LeBron James Family foundation to help with underprivilege children to access to education and co-curricular education initiatives. His action brings positive impact to the lives of these underprivilege children and encourages others to do the same by giving back to the society in their own ways. He is someone with great character that is an inspiration to young athletes.

Negative Deviance and Conflict Perspective

From conflict perspective, deviance emphasize on social inequality and power. Athletes who over conform can become negative deviance where they under conform to the breaking of rules such as the usage of performance enhancing drugs or to change the law which is deemed discriminating.

Ben Johnson is one of the many athletes who got caught using performance enhancement drug. He competed and won gold medal for men’s 100m final at the Seoul Olympics. But he had his Olympic gold medal taken away after being found guilty of using stanozolol, a performance enhancing drug that increases muscle mass. He probably had low self-esteem and felt that he will lose to his greatest rival who is Carl Lewis during the competition. He carried a mindset that is “Winning is everything”, clouded by desire to win he forsake sportsmanship and turn to doping. Another aspect might be he felt pressured to win as he was representing Canada, his training wasn’t showing results thus he resorts to cheating.

I come across an article that 17 players from Kuala Lumpur FA, competing in the country’s third-tier FAM league has been fined 5,000 Malaysian ringgits for match-fixing. Match fixing is a negative deviance because it under conform to the violation of the game rule and law. The investigation found that 17 players committed match-fixing under duress as threats were made. Power struggle is prominent because bookies have the power to make the players obey what is being demanded. Bookies can harm them because they possess power and connection, while the players have nothing to get themselves out of the situation. The players are poorly paid players and don’t have connection which makes them vulnerable targets.

Negative deviance that under conform to the violation of game rule is an ongoing issue in sports today. Athletes choose to use performance enhancement drugs or match-fix are because of economy factor. Low payment of players and large amount of money contribute to athletes caving in.

From conflict perspective, it shows an unequal distribution of resources because the athletes seek to increase their resources through negative deviance while the one with power already have resources. Gender pay gap in sports is an ongoing issue, one example will be Cristiano Ronaldo highest paid male football player is $88 million while Alex Morgan highest paid female football player is $2.8 million. Both female and male are football players that represent their club and country, yet they are not getting the equal rewards such as gender pay gap. So, there is imbalance distribution of resources where female athletes are not rewarded equally.

Kathrine Switzer is the first woman to run for Boston marathon. In the past, marathon was strictly only for men but her participation paved ways for women to have opportunity to run for marathon. Her bravery to go against the system created a platform to voice out about gender discrimination in sports. Her action was negative deviance as it under conform to change the law which is deemed discriminating against gender. Women were banned from marathon because of a belief that state women would grow masculine, muscular body and that their uteri would fall out if they ran. The belief created discrimination against women which banned them to officially enter the marathon.

Back in the 1960s, social construction of gender was a real issue because women were expected to be feminine while men were expected to be masculine. The society influences the understanding between femininity and masculinity through social interaction which lead to gender discrimination in sport. The discrimination frustrated women because of unequal rights which resulted Kathrine Switzer to register with her initials called KV Switzer, and because of her women were officially allowed to compete in marathon. She successfully changed the law that discriminated against women. From conflict perspective, the dominant group of sport are men as they control and maintain power while women are subjected to disadvantage as they are the subordinate group of sport, thus negative deviance show that unequal distribution of resources exist.

Concept of Deviance on Competitive Sports

I believe the concept of deviance is necessary in competitive sports for athletes to excel after seeing from functionalist and conflict perspective.

LeBron James, NBA player is a living example of how deviance in sports motivate athletes to escape poverty and excel. He grew up in poverty with his mother where he moved from apartment to apartment in rough neighbourhoods. He was exposed to basketball when his mother allowed him to move in with a prep football coach at the age of nine, that’s when he was motivated to use basketball and escape poverty. I believe LeBron James has proved the world that poverty didn’t stop him from excelling to become a four-time NBA MVP and having an estimated net worth of $450 million. Using social mobility concept, he moved upward in society because of his successful career as NBA player.

Lebron James know that basketball is an escape from poverty which lead him to over conform such as taking perfect care of his body. He spends $1.5 million per year on his body and his house become a laboratory that consist a team of scientist to help him stay in shape. He treats fitness and health as an investment to extend his longevity in basketball because that’s how he continues to remain the best and relevant. He sees his achievement in basketball as the way to escape poverty and gain success. He wants the best for his family which is to live in comfort thus he over conforms to take care of his body to remain as the best NBA player so that he can continue to be part of the highest paid NBA players. Therefore, I feel that positive deviance is needed to succeed in life because it pushes athletes to train and perform at their best.

Athletes start competitive training at a young age could be families wanting their children to use sports as a platform to overcome poverty or excel to do it as a professional career, but it comes with consequences. Adults have high expectation which ultimately pressurize young athletes with potential because their biggest fear is disappointing the adults. Putting the young athletes under pressure can have detrimental effect on their mental health which leave them feeling distressed and deflated. It takes away their joy and fun for the sports they are playing, and it makes them want to stop what they are doing. Parents are too focused on their children winning that they forget to focus on the importance of process. Parents must learn to embrace their children mistake instead of scolding them, it teaches the children that failing to win is not failing.

Another consequence will be overuse injuries aspect, young athletes must be committed to hours of intensive training which can potentially lead to injuries. But it could cause them to experience overuse injuries because their bodies are still developing. Overuse injuries can have detrimental effect on their growth plate. It is essential to protect young athletes’ physical body because they are still undergoing puberty which means they are still growing.

Final consequence will be their self esteem being tied to their sports. They place their self-worth on the sports they play so they would have “win at all cost” mindset. Losing in sports equal to losing their self-confidence and self-worth which are unhealthy for young athletes.


In conclusion, deviance is essential in sports. Positive deviance or negative deviance plays an important role in athletes, but they can lead to different type of results such as playing through injuries or doping. Athletes choose to over conform or under conform according to their circumstances and the norms of social institutions.


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07 April 2022

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