Fame, Fortune, and Anomie: Social Psychological/Deviance in the NFL

Fame, Fortune, and Anomie: Social Psychological/Deviance in the NFL

Fame, Fortune, and Anomie: A Social Psychological Analysis of Deviance in the NFL

Eric M. Carter
Michael V. Carter


This study describes and analyzes rapid life change and deviance among 102 current and former National Football League players.  It examines the factors associated with deviance and the influence of socialization agents such as early childhood family life, religious experience or participation, marital status, and education.  The core theoretical framework of this study is Emile Durkheim’s (1897/1951) conception of anomie.  The research design involves in-depth interviews and personal conversations along with quantitative analysis of 102 current and former NFL players.  A social psychological scale developed by Leo Srole (1956) is used to measure levels of anomia (a state of normlessness/the outcome of sudden life change) in players’ lives.  The results of this exploratory research find that rapid change occurring in the lives of NFL players potentially causes anomic characteristics that can lead to deviant/unnormative behavior.

Introduction and Background

This study analyzes 102 current and former National Football League players regarding the effects of sudden change on their personal and professional lives.  Most professional football players go from being a non-working college student to what many would consider to be an overnight success with wealth and star-power from their first professional contract.  By many standards this is a dream come true, which should bring prosperity, wealth, security, and ability to see one’s family taken care of for life.  Yet, almost daily, the sports headlines contain stories of some unfortunate situation or illegal act transpiring in many professional football players’ lives.  These situations defy common logic.  If one can secure a better life through the success of one’s profession, then why do we see a highly visible segment of professional sports players in various forms of turmoil and trouble?  What factors influence both the ability to adjust and the level of satisfaction with this new found lifestyle?  Is there a similarity to other social groups when rapid personal and professional change takes place?  These are but a few of the obvious questions that arise when considering the adjustment factors present when individuals make the move from collegiate to professional play.

            Emile Durkheim (1893/1933, 1897/1951, 1925/1961) first introduced the theoretical and analytical term anomie into sociology.  Anomie represents a real social phenomenon documented by Durkheim and many others (Parsons, 1937; Merton, 1938; Srole, 1956; Orru, 1987) since his early research.  In essence, it is the impact of rapid change on human beings.  In Durkheim’s pioneering work he analyzed forms of deviant behavior brought about by social change.  This research will rely on a Durkheimian framework to assess the change occurring in the lives of professional football players.

            The research design is exploratory in nature.  The methods used incorporate several techniques including a detailed instrument and the use of Leo Srole’s (1956) anomia scale.  The statistics and analyses are supplemented by a series of in-depth interviews with current and former NFL players.  This research has implications for assessing ways to promote positive change in NFL players’ lives and the larger entertainment/sports industry.  While this is an exploratory analysis, this study can help frame additional questions that have implications for the broader society and other key social institutions.  According to Tim Delaney (2003),

The sports domain is filled with the same social constructions that are found in the greater society, and sociologists and philosophers can study them in connection with the greater social institutions, political and economic.  The study of sports helps us to understand sports as social phenomena but, beyond that, it often leads to the discovery of problems based in the structure and organization of the greater society. (p. 2)

 The Problem

“Let me tell you about life in the NFL.  N stands for ‘not.’  F stands for ‘for.’  And L stands for ‘long’. . . Lifestyle in the NFL, if you’re not careful, if you’re not rooted and grounded and you know who you are, it can consume you,” one NFL player told us.  He went on to say that many NFL players get wild and crazy, act with abandon, and are ultimately unhappy.  Another NFL player revealed, “I carry five or six thousand dollars in my pocket at all times.  I’ve blown ten thousand dollars in one night at a strip club because I couldn’t think of anything better to do…and, boy, let me tell you about the sex…but let me also tell you about how miserable I was at that time of my life.”  So, why would professional athletes, who have wealth, power, and women, rape, murder, steal, and abuse alcohol and drugs?  One out of five NFL players has been charged with serious crimes (Benedict & Yaeger, 1998).  What explains their wild, deviant behavior?  What are the significant changes that are taking place in the NFL?  Why are professional athletes paid millions of dollars?  Why this sudden wealth and fame?  Put simply, American society has made football larger than life. NFL players are participants in the original, ongoing reality show.

Football and the Culture of Sport in America

American football has in recent history replaced the role that baseball once held as the beloved national past time (Mihoces, 2002).  A Harris poll in 2003 showed that, for the first time ever, Americans named football as their favorite sport by an overwhelming two-to-one margin.  In 2004 this poll showed that over forty percent of the population “across all age, gender, race, and region groups profess to ‘follow the game’” (The Harris Poll, 2004).  According to former tight end Jamie Williams in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, “Baseball is what America aspires to be, football is what this country is” (MacCambridge, 2004, p. 454).  Even Pierre Bourdieu (1978) suggests that “American football in the USA has become, through television, a mass spectacle, transmitted far beyond the circle of present or past ‘practioners’” (p. 829).  Gary Mihoces (2002) maintains, “If TV didn’t have football, it would’ve invented it” (p. 01a).  In essence, it is now extremely hard to decipher this phenomenon adequately (Bourdieu, 1978).

            “By every indication, America has sufficient appetite for ingesting its favorite sport in ever-larger quantities.  This is the land of conspicuous consumption, and that extends to football” (Forde, 2004).  Annually the most watched television event in the U.S. is the Super Bowl, a virtual national holiday (Coakley, 2001; Eitzen, 1999; MacCambridge, 2004).  Even more astounding is the fact that the ten most watched programs of all time are Super Bowls (Mihoces, 2002).  “Monday Night Football” has become a cultural institution.  Even in Nevada (a state without a pro football franchise), football tops the charts.  Over forty percent of the sports wagering per year in Nevada is on football, which is far more than is gambled on any other sport (Isidore, 2002).

            Thinking of American culture without football almost seems unnatural to many people, and a Sunday afternoon without football is like a Sunday morning without church.  We want to see, taste, feel, touch, and hear the experience of it.  Football has become “truly integrated into the fabric of the nation” (The Harris Poll, 2004).  We want football, we want it in large quantities, and we want it now.  Today football is “our” sport and “our teams are our warriors” (Nack, 2005).

            Football has become so important that many Philadelphians borrowed against their own homes to attend Super Bowl XXXIX (Huber, 2005).  There is not another institution in American society, except perhaps religion, that “commands the same mystique, nostalgia, romantic idealism, and cultural attachment as sport” (Delaney, 2003, p. 2).  According to MacCambridge (2004), professional football is now our mass entertainment.

[Pro football] will reign across the gleaming, twenty-first-century landscape, as modern as the digital age, as timeless as the most primal urge for tribal identification, the quintessential pastime of modern America.  Pro football has become the perfect symbol for the country’s bustling, modernistic urgency, a splendid entertainment, a taxing and transforming profession, and a meaningful metaphor for the most American pursuit of all, those seemingly mismatched but inextricably bound ideas of competition and community. (p. 458)

            Sport, especially football, has aroused increasing interest as a social phenomenon and there is something essentially untranslatable about America’s obsession with it (Eitzen, 2005; MacCambridge, 2004).  According to George Will (2004), sport is “a cultural artifact that causes thinkers to commit sociology” (p. 64).  Sport sociologist George Sage (1998) notes that “sport is one of the most popular cultural practices in American society . . .and . . . is woven into the patterns of all the major social institutions—politics, economics, education, mass media” (p. xi).  Sport is the original and ultimate reality show and its participants are the “gladiators of modern culture…and with that come the pluses and minuses associated with players who are larger than life” (Lowry, 2003, p. 87).

Theoretical Overview

In most of American life, one might believe that wealth and power would bring happiness, satisfaction with life, and greater financial and even emotional stability.  However, when many NFL players sign their first contract, their bank accounts become large, their egos become inflated, and their lives are turned upside down.  Do levels of anomie exist among professional football players who have experienced sudden wealth?  And if so, what are possible indicators of anomie?

            A plausible perspective is that socialization can play a large role in one’s susceptibility to anomic conditions.  According to McClosky and Schaar (1965), “Indirect support is furnished for the view that anomy—defined as a sense of normlessness—results from . . . impaired socialization” (p. 14).  Along with McClosky and Schaar’s argument, there have been numerous other studies linking socialization factors to anomia (Wirth, 1938; Killian & Grigg, 1962; Powell, 1970; Fischer, 1973; Lee, 1974; Simon & Gagnon, 1976; Abrahamson, 1980; Lovell-Troy, 1983; Mestrovic, 1985; Kanagy & Willits, 1990; Bernburg, 2002).  Thus, how one is raised and where, along with religious experience/participation, marital status, and education are thought to influence the likelihood of the presence of anomie in one’s life.  These agents of socialization provide community ties and traditional structures thus creating boundaries and limits for behavior.  On the other hand, the lack of adequate support that enhances socialization provides weakened structures and few boundaries and limits.

            Emile Durkheim’s (1897/1951) conception of anomie, along with Leo Srole’s (1956) social psychological measure, are used to explore possible levels of anomia in NFL players’ lives when rapid change occurs.  What does this sudden life change have to do with professional athletes’ propensity for deviance? One NFL player states,

The biggest change I see is that guys are making more and more money and what is required of them is so much less. They think they are bigger than life and the athletes today think they are above the law…and when all the cars and women lose their flavor, misery sets in and the bigger the money gets the more miserable a lot of these guys are.

Durkheim’s Conception of Anomie

We relate this change (the sudden alteration in status and increase in power and wealth), this unlimited desire experienced by NFL players to what Durkheim (1897/1951) called anomie.  Anomie is an absence, breakdown, confusion, or conflict in the norms of these athletes’ lives—a state of normlessness and lawlessness.  For Durkheim, anomie is conceived as a “disease of the infinite,” (Besnard, 1988, p. 93) a “sickness” (Cohen, 1972, p. 329).  He pointed out the implications of abrupt changes and accentuated how anomie could result from improvements in economic and material conditions.  He cautioned, for example, “of the moral danger involved in every growth of prosperity” (Durkheim, 1897/1951, p. 254).  And, “if change is sudden or dramatic, it tends to sever both the ties and the commitments which bind people to the social order” (Abrahamson, 1980, p. 49).

            Additionally, rapid life disruptions or abrupt change such as a sudden increase in wealth and power can tend to reduce the individual’s sense of belonging.  “Wealth…suggests the possibility of unlimited success” (Durkheim, 1897/1951, p. 254).  According to Harry Cohen (1972):

In the anomic drive for power, prestige, money and the materialistic things that these can buy…there is no end, no ultimate satisfaction…There is never enough because the accumulation of wealth is external, and the rewards are not internal in terms of deeper personal and personality gratification and such. In addition, wealth is always relative; there is always more to be had…he sees only more ahead, and keeps running, never reaching his goal. Anomic people do not know why they strive so, why they still miss something when they are richer and richer, their houses bigger and their earnings better…life remains truly meaningless. (pp. 330-331)

            The “boundary-less subculture” of the NFL fosters a breeding ground for anomic conditions.  For Durkheim (1897/1951, 1925/1961), the anomie of affluence is a result of rapid and extreme changes in wealth.  This type of anomie is what Durkheim (1897/1951) termed acute anomie.  He argued that acute anomie was especially likely if there was a radical and sudden improvement in material conditions.  “In the case of . . . an abrupt growth of . . . wealth . . . the scale is upset; but a new scale cannot be immediately improvised” (Durkheim, 1897/1951, p. 253).  He explains affluence as giving rise to an “insufficient discipline of passions” that eventually leaves individuals empty and with little (Abrahamson, 1980; Clinard, 1964).  Thus, anomie could be considered a “loss in the infinity of desires” (Besnard, 1988, p. 93).  Additionally, he perceives affluence as over-stimulating desires by giving individuals “a sense of power and supremacy that deceives them into believing that they are answerable only to themselves” (Abrahamson, 1980, p. 50).

            In what seems a prescient description that tends to fit the discussion of the boundary-less subculture of the NFL and the lifestyle many professional football players lead, Durkheim (1897/1951) states:

From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find an ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain. Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned, but so too is possibility abandoned when it in turn becomes reality. A thirst arises for novelties: Unfamiliar pleasures, nameless sensations, all of which lose their savor once known. Henceforth, one has no strength to endure the least reverse. The whole fever subsides and the sterility of all the tumult is apparent, and it is seen that all these new sensations in their infinite quantity cannot form a solid foundation of happiness to support one during days of trial. (p. 255)

Durkheim to Srole: The Social Psychological Level of Anomie

            Durkheim (1897/1951) discussed anomie as a macro-sociological problem.  As he used the concept, it referred to the traits of a social institution/group or the social structure, and not necessarily to the traits of individuals (Clinard, 1964).  Nikos Passas (2000) maintains that “the object of analysis may be a given society . . . as it may be a particular section of society . . . or [a] social institution” (p. 106).  With the need to look at the social psychological aspects of anomie, the concept of anomia was developed (MacIver, 1950; Riesman, Glazor, & Denney, 1956; Srole, 1956).  Robert MacIver (1950) conceptualized anomia as “a state of mind in which the individual’s sense of social cohesion—the mainspring of his morale—is broken or fatally weakened” (p. 85), while David Riesman (1956) conceptualized the anomic individual as “maladjusted.”  Thus, as individuals feel more and more detached, “they lose their motivation to behave morally in the context of that [social] system” (Cohen, 2000, p. 189).

            Leo Srole (1956) developed a social psychological measure of anomia which “refers to the degree of felt social connectedness of actors” (Lovell-Troy, 1983, p. 303).  From this individual level position, disruptions such as sudden wealth and power can lessen the sense of belongingness leading to the “insatiable appetites” and “fevered imaginations” of many of the players embedded in the sub-culture of the NFL.  This, in turn, produces anomia at the individual or social psychological level (Durkheim, 1897/1951; Srole, 1956).  Anomia, in this respect, occurs because of “structural deficiencies at the level of specific groups” (Marks, 1974, p. 334).  For this study, these deficiencies occur at the individual and sub-cultural level of the NFL.  In other words, regardless of the level of measurement and the different causes of anomie/anomia, “the concept itself refers to the same idea/phenomenon: a weakening of the guiding power of social norms, a loosened social control” (Passas, 2000, pp. 106-107).


This study was conceptualized and designed after numerous conversations with two former NFL players who are now retired from the league.  It is our hypothesis that rapid change in players’ lives and the sudden acquisition of wealth and power leads a number of them to seek coping strategies outside of normative behavior.  Many players seek alternative life choices which include forms of deviance and in many cases unlawful behavior.  These acts, or behaviors, appear to have a relationship to the sudden increase in wealth, social status, fame, power, and newfound influence as a result of becoming a professional football player.  The norms of law-abiding people appear to have a lesser impact as a result of this rapid change in personal status.  In such cases, a state of anomie/anomia appears to be present.

            Anomic behavior is more or less affected by a series of other influences on a player’s life. Early socialization experiences, degree of norm building influences such as religious teaching, levels of personal adjustment and happiness, use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs, prior encounters with law enforcement, level of education, and available income all appear to have some level of association to degree of anomia.  Hence, we hypothesize that when anomic behavior is present in professional football players’ lives, a series of indicators play a key role in determining the degree of anomia, and then, deviant behavior in such athletes lives.

Research Methodology

Data were collected via a series of in-depth interviews with consenting players, both former and current. Interviews were guided through the use of a survey instrument composed of 60 total variables.  Types of variables range from socio-demographic to Likert-type attitudinal concerning a range of topics generally thought to be important in assessing normlessness and, in turn, deviant behavior.

            The sample is a non-probability sample of convenience or a judgmental sample (Babbie, 1986).  Random or other probability formats were not available due to the difficult nature of entrance into this subculture.  Contacts were made through an intricate network of friendships from the two initial contacts (former players in the league).  Data were collected from 2001 to 2005 via 71 personal interviews that took place in Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida, as well as during 31 phone interviews.  To date, 102 former and current players have participated in the study.

        Our sample is composed of 43 (42%) current NFL players and 59 (58%) former or retired players.  The mean age of the respondents is 30.85 and ranges from 24-39.  There were 39 (38.2%) Caucasian respondents and 63 (61.8%) African American respondents.  The range for years played in the NFL is one to eleven, with 4.48 being the average number of years played for players in this sample.  See Tables 1 and 3 for other descriptive statistics.

Table 1:  Summary Descriptive Statistics for Socio-Demographic Variables (N=102)

Characteristic                                           Sample Data                             Frequency

Age                          Mean                            30.85
                                Standard Deviation       3.542
Race                         %White                         38.2                                          39
% Black                        61.8                                          63
Player Status            %Current                      42                                             43
                                %Former/Retired           58                                             59
Years Played
in NFL                     Mean                            4.48
                                Standard Deviation       1.984
                                Range                            1 to 11

            Limitations to the sample need to be considered since only those who knew our initial contacts and agreed to the interviews are contained in our analysis.  This limitation must be considered in reviewing the analysis and findings.  This is an exploratory analysis.  It must be noted that we are not making generalizations about the entire population of the NFL fraternity.  Our findings only represent this non-random convenience sample.

The Operationalization and Measurement of Anomia

The dependent variable is anomia. Anomia is measured through the development of a scale comprised of six indicators of normlessness/powerlessness.  The five-item Srole (1956) scale and one item from the Neal and Seeman (1964) powerlessness scale were combined to measure and assess anomia.  In essence, the Srole scale (see Table 2) is an indicator of normlessness and “the individual’s integration into society or some segment thereof” (Lee, 1974, p. 524).  Without social integration or a normative structure, a condition of anomia or normlessness is possible when rapid life change occurs (Durkheim, 1897/1951; Srole, 1956).

Table 2:  Means and Standard Deviation for Responses to the Anomia Scale (N=102)

Item                                                                                         Mean             SD

1.  In spite of what people say, the situation of the 
     average person is getting worse, not better.                           1.58            .849
2.  It is hardly fair to bring a child into the world
     with the way things look for the future.                                 1.53            .741
3.  Nowadays, a person has to live pretty much 
     for today and let tomorrow take care of itself                        1.83            .857
4.  These days people don’t really know who 
     they can count on.                                                                  1.82            .801
5.  Most public officials are not really interested
     in the problems of the average person.                                  1.74            .579
6.  More and more I feel helpless in the face of 
     what is happening in the world today.                                   1.39            .733


a.  All questions are scored 0 for “strongly disagree,” 1 for “disagree,” 2 for “agree,” 
     and 3 for “strongly agree.”
b.  Reliability Coefficient (alpha) =  .8873

            The reliability of the anomia scale was tested through correlational analysis and the computation of Chronbach’s alpha.  The scale was found to have an acceptable degree of reliability.  The reliability coefficient of the scale for this sample is 0.8873.

            This scale was constructed by assigning scores of 0, 1, 2, and 3 to the answers “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “agree,” and “strongly agree,” respectively, to each question.  The scores of the six items were then summed and divided by six to create a scale ranging from a low of 0, meaning low anomia, to a high of 3, meaning high anomia.

             Anomia scores are interpreted as follows: (a) scores of 0–1.59 represent a low level of anomia, (b) scores of 1.6–1.99 represent a moderate level of anomia, and (c) scores of 2.00–3.00 represent a high level of anomia.

The Operationalization and Measurement of Independent Variables

            In addition to anomia, other factors that were likely to have an influence on normlessness were examined.  Measures of the following variables were incorporated into the analysis.  Indicators of socialization that were utilized include measures of education, types of early socialization location, marital status, family life, and religiosity.

            Additionally, indicators of deviance were used.  These include measures of drug use, criminal activity, and rehabilitation.  Also, indicators of well-being that were employed include measures of level of happiness and income.  Moreover, age, race, and years played in the NFL were examined.

            These single items were incorporated in the questionnaire to measure: (a) if the respondent had graduated from college; (b) where the respondent lived for the first ten years of life; (c) whether the respondent is married; (d) who the respondent was raised by; (e) whether the respondent attends church/worship services of some kind; (f) whether the respondent believes there is nothing wrong with marijuana use; (g) whether the respondent has been arrested; (h) whether the respondent has ever received counseling or inpatient rehabilitation; (i) how the respondent feels about life; and (j) what the respondent’s yearly income was after entering the NFL.  These single item measures were chosen for purposes of conceptualizing constructs that may help prevent or reduce anomia (agents of socialization) and constructs that may be influenced by anomia (deviant and unlawful behavior).

Table 3:  Summary Statistics for Independent Variables (N=102)

 Characteristic                                                                           Sample       Frequency
Education:               Graduate                  % graduated             35.3%         36        
from college.                                           % not graduated       64.7%         66

Location:                 How would you
describe where you  % rural                     38.2%         39  
lived for the first 10 % urban                   61.8%         63
years of your life?

Marital Status:          I am married.           % married               48.0%         49
                                                                % not married         52.0%         53

Family Life:             Who were you         2 parent/guardian     38.2%         39
raised by?                1 parent/guardian     52.0%         53
                                 Other                                                        9.8%           10

Religion:                  I attend church/        1/week                     13.7%         14
worship service       Occasionally            48.0%         49
of some kind.          Never                       38.2%         39

Drug Use:                 I believe there is
nothing wrong with % disagree              73.5%         75
using marijuana.      % agree                   26.5%         27

Criminal Activity:    I have been arrested.% arrested                47.1%        48
                                                                % not arrested           52.9%        54

Rehabilitation:          Have you ever
received counseling % received               25.5%        26
or in-patient             % not received         74.5%        76

Level of Happiness: Which statement
best describes the    % happy                    54.9%       56
way you feel about  % unhappy                45.1%       46
your life?

Income:                     My approximate      $0-$500,000              41.2%       42
yearly salary after    $500,001-$1 mil.      23.5%        24
entering the NFL.    $1,000,001-$5 mil.   30.4%        31
                                Above $ 5mil.           4.9%            5


            Correlation and step-wise regression analyses were used in order to determine which variables are predictive of anomia.  Correlation analyses were used to test significance and to determine the direction of the relationships between independent variables and the dependent variable.  Multiple regression analysis was performed to determine the explanatory power of the independent variables when all variables were considered at the same time.  In order to use parametric analyses, the assumption was made that Likert-type scale scores met the requirements of ordered metric measures (Labovitz, 1967, 1970; Abelson & Tukey, 1970).  According to Labovitz (1970), “Empirical evidence supports the treatment of ordinal variables as if they conform to interval scales.  Although some small error may accompany the treatment of ordinal variables as interval, this is offset by the use of more powerful, more sensitive, better developed, and more clearly interpretable statistics with known sampling error” (p. 515).  In essence, it has been demonstrated that ordered metric scales can be meaningfully analyzed by the use of parametric statistics (ibid).

             Correlation and regression statistics were chosen to examine the relationships among the variables of anomia, education, location, marital status, family life, religiosity, drug use, criminal activity, rehabilitation, level of happiness, income, age, race, and years played in the NFL.


The total sample mean of the dependent variable, anomia, for the 102 NFL players is 1.6486, with a standard deviation of 0.6126.  This sample mean of 1.6486 represents a moderate level of anomia among the sample of NFL players.  There were 46 players who fell in the low anomia category, nine who are located in the moderate anomia category, and an astounding 47 NFL players are interpreted to have high levels of anomia.

            Looking at the independent variables (see Table 3), an interesting theme appears to be present.  Nearly half of the study group reported being unhappy with life.  Theory and qualitative data would lead us to believe that those unhappy with life may be likely to experience anomic states. It is evident from many of these responses that money did not bring happiness and stability.  One may be materially successful; however, there is usually never enough.  Many of these athletes can become “disillusioned, weary for the search for real happiness and fulfillment which [they may never find] despite the riches and other success-symbols accumulated.  Hence [they are] prone to manifestations of anomia” (Cohen, 1972, p. 331).

Bivariate Correlation Analysis

            Pearson product moment correlations (see Table 4 & 4a) were calculated for all combinations of variables included in the study.  The level of significance chosen for hypothesis testing was the 0.05 alpha level.  The results of the correlation analysis demonstrate that 11 of the 13 independent variables were significantly correlated with anomia at the 0.05 level.  Each of the variables shown to be significantly correlated with anomia were correlated in the hypothesized direction, while only two variables, age and years played in the NFL, were found to have very low correlations with anomia.

 Table 4:  Correlation Matrix for Anomia (N=102)

                 Anomia    Edu.         Loca.       Mari.        Fam.        Relig.       Drug
                                                                   Status       Life                          Use


Amomia   1.00         -.691**    .667**     -.557**    .500**     .394**     -.493**

*Significant at the .05 level
**Significant at the .01 level

Table 4a:  Correlation Matrix for Anomia (N=102)

                 Crim.       Rehab.     Lev.         Income    Age          Race         Yrs.
                 Act.                          Happ.                                                         NFL

 Anomia    .522**     .386**     -.679**    .589**     -.026        .390**     .019

*Significant at the .05 level
**Significant at the .01 level

             The results of the correlation findings for anomia reveal: (a) those NFL players that have not graduated from college; (b) who were raised in an urban location; (c) who are not married; (d) who were raised in a single parent/guardian household; (e) who do not attend church or worship services of some kind; (f) who do not feel there is anything wrong with illegal drug use; (g) who have been arrested; (e) who have received some sort of counseling or rehabilitation; (f) who report being unhappy with life; and (g) who earn a higher salary, tend to display anomic characteristics.

Regression Analysis

            Step-wise multiple regression analyses (see Table 5) were conducted on the data in order to determine the explanatory power of the independent variables when all were considered at the same time.  The variance in the anomia scale scores was regressed against the 13 independent variables chosen from theory for the purpose of building the best explanatory model.  Ultimately, the goal is to maximize the explained variance.

            Six variables were shown to be significant in reducing the unexplained variance in the dependent variable.  The six-variable model explained 69.7 percent of the variance in the anomia scale variable.  The six variables included in the model are as follows: (a) education; (b) level of happiness; (c) location; (d) marital status; (e) drug use; and (f) income.

Table 5:  Step-Wise Regression Analysis for Anomia (N=102)

 Step         Edu.       Lev.       Loc.     Mari.       Drug     Income    Adjusted                F-Ratio of
Number                 Happ.              Status      Use                          Coefficient of         Entering                                                                                                           of 
Determination       Variable            

Step 1      -.691**                                                                            .472                         91.325**
Step 2      -.467**   -.433**                                                            .616                          82.026**
Step 3      -.378**   -.336**  .257**                                               .650                          63.546**
Step 4      -.311**   -.314**  .236**  -.172**                                 .668                          51.771**
Step 5      -.220**   -.312**  .234**  -.175**   -.171**                  .686                          45.187**
Step 6      -.207**   -.233**  .205**  -.182**   -.171**.155**        .697                         39.707**

*Significant at the .05 level
**Significant at the .01 level

Overview of Findings

            The responses to the dependent variable, anomia, indicate that an alarming 55 percent of the respondents can be considered to exhibit anomic characteristics.  The descriptive statistics appear to indicate that agents of socialization play an important role in being able to combat anomia.  It also appears that anomia tends to have an influence on deviance behavior/acting out of the norm.  Overall, the descriptive findings indicate that deviance produced by anomia appears to be a real issue for NFL players in our sample.

             The bivariate statistics indicate that the socio-demographic variables of age and number of years played in the NFL were, for the most part, poor predictors of anomia.  The other 11 variables appear to be important predicting variables of anomia.  Overall, there appears to be a relationship between socialization and anomia and deviance and anomia.

             The multivariate statistics indicate that the independent variables of family life, religiosity, criminal activity, rehabilitation, and race were generally poor predictors of anomia.  The most important variables associated with anomia for this study were education (graduated college), location (raised in urban or rural locality), marital status, drug use, level of happiness, and income.  Overall, it appears that socialization plays a major role in predicting athlete’s chances of becoming anomic.  Also, whether or not a player is happy with life, a player’s attitude toward drug use, and a player’s earnings appear to be good predictors of anomia, as well.

Summary and Conclusions

Understanding the phenomenon of rapid lifestyle change in professional football players is important to the understanding of professional athletes and their ability to cope with this change.  The role that leisure and sport such as football, along with its heroes and villains, plays in nearly every aspect of American culture and our chief social institutions is really quite phenomenal.  The influence of professional football has a major impact on our economy, polity, mass media, religion, education, and many other important social institutions (Sage, 1998).  The impact is so large that the NFL was able to persuade New York City to shut down Times Square during rush hour on a workday for a kickoff concert featuring the popular band Bon Jovi, and over half a million people turned out (Lowry, 2003).  Taking all that into account, we would argue that is why we need to form a better sociological understanding of the NFL, its players, and their actions.  This study can be one step in that direction.

            The results of this study find that rapid change occurring in the lives of NFL players potentially causes anomic characteristics that can lead to deviant/unnormative behavior.  The aforementioned can ultimately occur when agents of socialization are inadequate or perceived as inadequate.  The concept of anomie is useful in explaining the sudden life change and deviance in the NFL (Clinard, 1964).  Using a quantitative approach along with excerpts of in-depth interviews, this study links anomie/anomia with players in the NFL.  The 102 NFL players that responded to or completed questionnaires, as well as other players whom we have talked to of this type, are real-life examples of what happens when rapid life change occurs.

            This change causes a disruption that can lead to “insatiable appetites” and “fevered imaginations” in those players who are embedded in the sub-culture of the NFL.  These characteristics of normlessness point to a breakdown of the social control and traditional structures (if there had been any already in place) that have been familiar to most NFL players since early socialization and childhood.  Anomia can result in few perceived rules and regulations.  There tends to be no limits to behavior, no boundaries.  The economic change is so rapid that there is little time to learn how to deal with this newly acquired lifestyle.  From the results of this study, it appears that early socialization with traditional structure is one of the possible factors that may be able to combat it.  With no boundaries and an enormous amount of sudden wealth, fame, and power, deviant or unnormative behavior will likely occur.  It is hypothesized that several indicators play a key role in determining the degree of anomia present in these players’ lives.  In other words, higher levels of anomia should mean: (a) less constructive/productive agents of socialization in the lives of these athletes; (b) an extremely high income; and (c) the presence of deviant behavior.

            This study warrants further investigation due to the fact that key variables show significant strong relationships to anomia among NFL players.  From the data analyses, it can be concluded that anomia plays a major role in whether NFL players fall victim to anomic circumstances and, ultimately, deviant behavior.  Of course, the anomia scale (Srole, 1956) cannot explain anomie and deviance by itself; however, we would argue, from the results of this study, that its indicators are significant components of the social phenomenon that Durkheim (1897/1951) conceptualized as anomie.

            Also, additional study of other possible indicators of anomia, sudden life change, and deviance in the NFL should be undertaken.  As one player stated, “We need to combat this change. The League or somebody’s got to do something.  In order to combat this change, we need to give these guys something positive that’s bigger than themselves to be a part of because things are just getting worse in the League.”  Another former player added, “We need to get these young men to realize that they don’t need five Hummers and all that ‘bling’ ‘bling’ cause that ain’t life.  That ain’t reality forever.  We have to get them to realize this before it’s too late—before they get consumed, because their careers and that lifestyle won’t last forever.”  Just as Durkheim (1897/1951) stated so vividly, there is no true happiness in material things.  All the pleasures and sensations (e.g., fancy cars, drugs, multiple women, sex) lose their savor once they have been had.  We believe one player sums it up when he said, “If you’re not rooted and grounded and let change take a hold of you and you buy into the myth, the big lie, and let the NFL lifestyle consume you, eventually, great will be your fall.”

        While this study focuses on NFL players, there is a larger phenomenon here that Durkheim (1897/1951) pointed out to us over 100 years ago.  When the rules of life change rapidly, people have difficulty adjusting.  If people do not have structure and become confused about what the rules are, normlessness and deviance can result.  This normative breakdown can be present in much more than professional football.  There is something much deeper, something of high significance, within the larger phenomenon of anomie and deviant behavior that is not just about pro football.  There should be a fresh discovery of Durkheim’s (1897/1951) insight on sudden economic change.  We argue that anomie should be viewed as a very important perspective to explore and apply in new and emerging instances in the 21st century.  It is our hope that this study can help reignite the inquiry of rapid life change, anomie/anomia, and deviance.


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