Sports stars are no role models, say scientists

April 21, 2010

The loutish and drunken behaviour of some of our sporting heroes - routinely reported in the media - has little or no effect on the drinking habits of young people, new research has found.

Researchers at the Universities of Manchester, UK, and Western Sydney, Australia, say their findings - published in Drug and Alcohol Review - rubbish the idea that sports stars act as role models for those who follow sport.

"The perceived drinking habits of sports stars and its relationship to the drinking levels of young people has never been examined empirically, despite these sporting heroes often being touted as influential role models for young people," said lead researcher Dr Kerry O'Brien, a lecturer in Manchester's School of .

"Our research shows that young people, both sporting participants and non-sporting participants, don't appear to be influenced by the drinking habits of high-profile sportspeople as depicted in the ."

Dr O'Brien and his colleagues, pointing to previous research, suggest that sport and sports stars are much more likely to influence the drinking behaviour of fans when used as marketing tools by the alcohol industry, such as through sponsorship deals.

The research team asked more than 1,000 young sportspeople at elite and amateur level and non-sportspeople to report the perceived drinking behaviour of high-profile sport stars compared with their friends, and then report their own drinking behaviour using the World Health Organisations Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test.

The researchers found that both sporting and non-sporting study participants believed that sports stars actually drank significantly less than themselves but that their own friends drank considerably more.

After accounting for other potential factors, sports stars' drinking was not predictive of young sportspeople's own drinking, and was actually predictive of lower levels of drinking in non-sportspeople - the more alcohol non-sportspeople perceived sports stars to drink, the less they actually drank themselves.

Young people's own drinking was instead strongly related to the overestimation of their friends' drinking and, in sportspeople only, to sport-specific cultural habits, such as the drinking with competitors after games.

Dr O'Brien added: "Sport administrators, like the Football Association, are very quick to condemn and punish individual sport stars for acting as poor role models when they are caught displaying drunken and loutish behaviour.

But there is much stronger evidence for a relationship between alcohol-industry sponsorship, advertising and marketing within sport and hazardous drinking among young people than there is for the influence of sports stars drinking.

"We are not suggesting that sports stars should not be encouraged to drink responsibly but it's disingenuous to place the blame on them for setting the bad example.

"It is time that sport administrators consider their own social responsibilities when weighing up the costs and benefits of using their sports and sport stars to market alcohol on behalf of the ."

More information: O'Brien, K.S., Kolt, G., Webber, A., Hunter, J.A. Alcohol consumption in sport: The influence of sporting idols, friends and normative drinking practices. Drug and Alcohol Review (advanced online access) 2010.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

croghan27
1 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
"But there is much stronger evidence for a relationship between alcohol-industry sponsorship, advertising and marketing within sport and hazardous drinking among young people than there is for the influence of sports stars drinking."

I would maintain that once you reach a certain professional level the competition is so intense that drinking is really not a factor. The days of some 'good ol boy' quaffing a bottle of whisky then playing a game of football are long gone.
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Apr 22, 2010
Looking at the typical chubby couch potato and the slim, trim, muscle toned athlete, it is clear that the slovenly fan is not taking any leads from the agile sports hero.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.