Sport Sociology

Readings from Brown, S.P. Introduction to ESS, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


Although sports sociology is a subdiscipline of exercise science, it is also a part of the parent discipline of sociology, which is the study of human behavior and social interactions within particular contexts. Sports sociology examines sports as a part of cultural and social life, and adds a different dimension and perspective to the study of sports and exercise.  More specifically, sports sociology examines the relationship between sports and society and seeks answers to many issues and questions regarding sports and culture.


Sports are a pervasive part of culture and are considered to be social constructions within society created by groups of individuals and based on values, interests, needs, and resources.  Sport forms are created by groups of individuals. Each culture creates and uses sports for its own purposes; therefore, sports take different forms from culture to culture.


This directly relates to the concept of physical activity and exercise for different cultures.

Because of various factors, such as religion, politics, and economics, certain groups of individuals may have limited access or be restricted or forbidden to take part in sports and/or exercise activities. Thus the value of sports takes on different meanings in different cultures. Other factors, such as which controls sports, what rewards (intrinsic or extrinsic) are received from sports participation and the status of the athlete/participant, have some effect on the value and place of sports in a particular society. The purpose of this chapter is to familiarize the student with the social issues that permeate society and thus permeate sports.




It is only since 1970 that sports sociology has gained significant attention as a serious area of study. This is in part owing to the increasing major role sports play in our lives and the intellectual traditions in both physical education and sociology. In 1978, the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport was organized as a professional association; and its scholarly outlet for research, the Sociology of Sport Journal, was established in 1984. The International Committee for Sociology of Sport is acknowledged within the International Sociological Association, and both groups co-sponsor the International Review for the Sociology of Sport. Another scholarly publication for sports sociology research is the Journal for Sport and Social Issues, thus confirming support for and the growth of this subdiscipline of exercise science.


Ways to study sociologic phenomena in sports rapidly became an issue with scholars as sports sociology was striving for legitimacy within the academic community. Kenyon and Loy defined sports sociology as the "study of social order"; and in later works, Kenyon set the tone for sociology of sports to take a positive perspective, noting that sports sociology is a "value-free social science" in which the researcher is to describe and explain values and attitudes not shape them. However, value-laden research is also undertaken when various perspectives and theories are used to study sports. For example,

The feminist perspective as a part of critical theory is obviously a value-laden approach, as is the conflict theorist's approach; but bias is recognized, acknowledged, and analyzed carefully within these approaches.


Sociology of sports poses critical and controversial issues. Because sports are considered a microcosm of society, the same social issues that exist in larger society also exist in sports.


Sociology uses critical and conflicting approaches that force us to explore alternative ways to view the place and organization of sports in bur society as well as how issues and problems presented by sports in society affect individuals.


Again, the issues and controversies that sports sociology uncovers are the same ones reflected in our society. Included in the numerous issues of sports are the concepts of values, race, gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, ability, politics, religion, and economics. If, in fact, sports are a microcosm of society and/or mirrors society, we see an important reflection and thus must deal with the issues that are revealed. This chapter presents sociologic theories, or different approaches to thinking about sports and the issues that influence sports in our society. By becoming aware of these critical areas of sports sociology, students will:


. Develop social awareness and social consciousness of factors and issues that affect sports.

. Be cognizant of the consequences of various forms of social organization.

. Be able to critically examine their own life experiences in relation to their own sports participation.

. Explore how sports, in whatever form, can be used to provide opportunities for those who lack access, power, and opportunity.

. Examine how social justice and social change can be achieved in sports settings.


As a result of gaining this knowledge and understanding, students will approach the scholarly study of exercise science via an inclusive perspective rather than a narrowly focused and exclusive one.


Studying Exercise and Sports from a Sociologic Perspective


The content of sports sociology comes directly from the parent discipline of sociology.

Sociology is concerned with the social and cultural context in which behavior occurs and the connection between that behavior and the setting, and sports sociology specifically focuses on the relationship between sports and society. It gives us a closer look at human social behavior within the sports context. It is within sports sociology that the issues surrounding the relationships between individuals, groups, and sports are considered, explored, analyzed, and explained.

From this view, a logical and scholarly critique of sports can be developed to set the stage for understanding potential social change.


To further clarify the definition and scope of sports sociology, specific factors must be considered:


. The relationship between sports and other areas of social life, such as family, education, politics, economy, the media, and religion.

. How sports and physical activity may impart knowledge regarding the body, gender, sexuality, social class, race and ethnicity, and disability.

. The social organization, group behavior, and social interactions that occur in the sports setting.

. The social processes that occur in sports, such as socialization, concepts regarding competition versus cooperation, social stratification, and the issue of social change.


Sports sociology is also defined as "the systematic study of human society and social behavior that interacts to produce social action" (6). Within the definitions offered thus far, the elements of social action and change appear, suggesting that, as a result of the careful study of sports sociology, individuals will have a strong foundation with which to effect change in society.


Culture is another important concept to be considered within the subdiscipline of sports sociology. Culture includes the established parts of life that are created by individuals -in a specific society. It is the means by which society defines and perpetuates itself. By establishing and passing on shared values, beliefs, artifacts, norms, traditions, and appropriate behaviors of the group that have significant meaning, a culture affirms itself and is adopted by the individual participants of that group. Culture is also considered a patterned form of expression that becomes a product of habit rather than a conscious thought within groups of people. Culture is a human phenomenon that is diverse and has unlimited potential because of the creativity of people.


Although cultures are different, they also have common elements. For example, music, law, art, customs, and play forms seem to be shared phenomena. They may be different and expressed in different ways, but the phenomena still exist from culture to culture. Specific forms of play, games, and sports have distinct roles and importance within different cultures. Although play may be culturally universal, it differs in manner, style, and form across cultures. Games of chance may not exist at all in certain societies, yet games of strategy and physical skill are prevalent in achievement-oriented societies


There is a need also to explore subcultures within society. Subcultures are subunits of culture that have a cluster of values that are different from the larger culture. Distinctions giving rise to subcultures can include gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, politics, physical ability, age, and sexual orientation. Each subcultural characteristic is important when applied to the study of sports, particularly when we realize that we each may belong to several subcultures. The diversity of groups of people is phenomenal; and this is important, particularly when exploring the purpose, value, and meaning of sports to individuals or groups representing each subculture.


It is difficult to study the issues associated with sports sociology without recognizing the historical context of sports.  For example, without knowledge of the racial oppression and struggle for civil rights in our country, there is no foundation for understanding the racial segregation and background of the Negro Baseball League or the predominance of certain races in particular sports. Without knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement or the


Women’s movement in our society there would. Be no context for understanding the fight for equal rights for African Americans and women; subsequently, we would be blind to the need for laws guaranteeing civil rights and Title IX. This type of information, combined with the data secured in the hard sciences of exercise science, provides greater depth of understanding and more accurate basis for the overall discipline of exercise science. A multidisciplinary approach to the study of exercise science, therefore, is the most effective way to gain a breadth and depth of understanding of this comprehensive field of study.


Cultural Values and Sports


To understand the importance of sports, values within American culture must be understood.

Values are based on a number of traditions that emanate from religion, race, ethnicity, and geographic location. The foundation of our values is the ideas and concepts about what is good, bad, right, and wrong and what is desired. Because our culture is diverse, incorporating numerous racial and ethnic groups, it is difficult to reach agreement on some factors. For example, in some cultures being thin is not valued, whereas in other cultures being thin is very important.

Some cultures emphasize sports to a greater degree than others. The concepts of beauty and excellence also differ from culture to culture; therefore, finding a consensus on the issue is difficult. Whereas some of the core values may be contrary to those identified by specific cultural groups in our society, they nonetheless should be noted. Core values include achievement and success, activity and work, moral orientation, humanitarianism, efficiency and practicality, progress, material comfort, equality, freedom, external conformity, science and rationality, nationalism and patriotism, democracy, individual personality, and, group superiority themes.

Values extend to sports and exercise as well and include


. Means to achievement: discipline, hard work, and striving to meet a goal are valued.

. Success: measured by monetary or material possessions, power, and status.

. Progress: considered to be a look to the future, improvement of technology, and a means to make things better.

. Individualism: ingrained into American culture; overcoming adversity to rise above oppression.

. External conformity: the controlling factor within society; maintaining stability and abiding by societal expectations and established rituals.


These same values are reinforced through sports and exercise programs, and are further defined by functional attitudes. They include concepts such as building character, being self-disciplined, engaging in competition to achieve excellence, developing a healthy mind and body, and promoting nationalistic pride.


Social Institutions and Sports


The social institutions of our society to which sports are closely linked are the family, education, the media, politics, religion, and the economy. Because sports are social phenomena, it is important to study them as they relate to other forms of social life.




Organized youth sports play an important role in the life of the family in North America. They serve as a unifying agent, because they may bring the family closer together; parents and siblings support the athlete, taking him or her to practices and attending games. The family may unite as spectators, watching televised or live events and discussing the processes and outcomes.


Today, the daily routine and/or weekend schedules of many families are geared around the children's involvement in sports. The social institution of the family, depending on the degree of support and encouragement offered, has the potential to be a socializing agent for children's participation in sports as athletes or spectators.




Sports are inextricably intertwined with the institution of education in our society. At all levels of education, but particularly high school and college, high-level sports or varsity sports competition are present. Although the beginnings of interscholastic or intercollegiate sports are traced to physical education programs and recreational activities in North America, sports have developed a solid foundation within educational systems. The value of sports within education raises numerous questions, because they have become so important that a school's worth is judged by the success or failure of its athletic teams. Students have even been known to choose a college or university based not on the academic program in which they will enroll but on the success of the athletic programs. There is no question that sports afford positive values and opportunities for all students; however, we must carefully examine the extent to which the value of sports is placed above the value of education. Educational institutions need to address why varsity sports has become a marketable product instead of an educational program.


The Media


There has been phenomenal growth in all forms of the media in its relationship to sports.

Television has virtually grown before our eyes as we have witnessed the addition of cable and satellite channels, sports programming, and the coverage of sports in general. Many millions of dollars have been paid for television rights for championship games, specific tournaments, special events, and especially the Olympic Games.

The future direction and success of college, professional, and Olympic sports have been paved by the broadcast media. However, the manner in which all forms of the media inform, interpret, create drama, and establish particular ideas about sports and society must be realized. For example, the media provide considerable knowledge about sports, and the ways in which the media choose to characterize or emphasize certain aspects of sports contribute to the mind-set of individuals in society. The media define the important sports as well as the importance of sports; interpret concepts such as the athletic body, femininity, and masculinity; and create sports heroes and antiheroes. For some, sports have become a form of entertainment and spectacle for the audience and for the purpose of extrinsic reward instead of being an activity characterized by intrinsic reward, enjoyment, fun, and challenge for the participant. The media have promoted sports as a product and the athlete as entertainer. There is no doubt that sports provide much enjoyment for the participants and spectators; however, the value of sports, how that value affects our culture and what role power plays in the representation of sports by the media cannot be overlooked.




Politics is another institution in our society that is linked to sports. Various theories (see below) propose how sports and politics use each other. Although countries use sports to enhance their image and power or that of their leaders, sports have also been used as peacemakers. The Goodwill Games, for example, served this purpose, and world leaders have used sports participants to engage in friendly challenges with athletes from other countries as a means of communication in the process of negotiation.

The display of flags and the playing of national anthems have raised controversy at Olympic and other international competitions, because of the interpretation that such displays promote political ideologies. Sports do offer a setting for national pride and unity in our society but at the same time raise questions regarding issues of power, particularly in regard to the selection of athletes for international competition and the control of sports events.




The institution of religion offers a strong setting for a relationship with sports in our society. Not only do churches sponsor leagues but athletes themselves publicly profess and promote religious beliefs. Organizations for Christian athletes in particular have been established for such purposes. Just as family schedules have been altered by sports participation, religious services have been changed to accommodate practitioners so that the start of a contest is not missed. College and professional athletes often openly engage in religious practices or rituals before, during, or after a contest. Such actions receive mixed reactions on the part of spectators. The sports sociologist raises numerous questions regarding the relationship between sports and religion and they use each other to promote their own purposes.


The Economy


The relationship between sports and the economy cannot be overlooked as we examine the other social institutions within society. The money spent by the consumers on tickets, concessions, club fees, membership dues, sports equipment and clothing, and gambling has a direct effect on the economy. The amount of money spent in any particular city on the weekend of a college or professional game ranges from millions to billions, because spectators spend money on hotel rooms, food, travel expenses, souvenirs, and other forms of entertainment over the span of 2 to 3 days. Corporations seem to have ever-increasing budgets for advertising and sponsorship of sporting events, particularly the Olympic Games; an advertiser may spend millions of dollars to have its name associated with such an event.


We have seen major corporations connected with college football bowl games and other contests. Even parts of a game have been sponsored by a particular company. The amount of money paid to some professional athletes and coaches is directly associated with the value and marketability of sports in our society. This issue raises numerous questions, particularly regarding the worth of entertainment and entertainers (sports and athletes) compared to other institutions within our society, such as education.

The political and economic ideologies of a country affect how its society regards the importance, value, and place of sports. We place much importance on the values of competition, hard work, and success. Sports, based on these concepts, have a critical and positive role in North American society.




This section focuses on the science of sports sociology, a field that is often viewed as an art. Coakley discusses the concepts of the art and science of sports sociology and indicates that not all who study this field see things similarly. Sports sociology is both an art and a science, and critical questions are asked by researchers from both perspectives. However, before posing questions regarding how sports can be made better, it is important to understand what currently exists. Both qualitative and quantitative research have a role in answering specific research questions posed within sports sociology (see Chapter 17), and it is important to have a clear understanding of their purposes and potential within the field.


Social Theories and Sports


The value of theories is that they give us grounding, or a foundation, on which to build our positions and arguments. Theories offer a starting point from which we can address a particular issue within sports sociology. Although there are a number of theories from which sports sociologists draw, the most common are structural functionalism, conflict theory, critical theory, and symbolic interactionism.


Structural Functionalism


Structural functionalism maintains that sports are an inspiration in our society and that a systems approach (studying individual parts of society) is the best way to study society. Those who use this approach assume that society is composed of interrelated parts that are bound together by individuals who have the same values and processes, which produce consensus. Social order is maintained (balanced and functional) by individuals with shared values who work together toward consensus. When the balance is upset, dysfunction within the society occurs.

The system needs of society included in this theory are pattern maintenance and tension management, integration, goal attainment, and adaptation. It is the functionalist's contention that sports contribute to maintaining balance in society, because it requires that individuals work together to set goals and attain them. The functionalist notes that, because values and rules are taught within society, tension can occur and it is important to have a way to release it. Sports provide this catharsis. This theory contends that sports serve as a mechanism to bring individuals from different backgrounds together to work toward a common goal. Box 18.2 lists research questions formulated within the structural functionalist theory.


One of the limitations raised regarding this viewpoint is that it overstates positive comments regarding sports. Remember, to the structural functionalist, only that which is functional for society or is seen to contribute to order and efficiency is good. Therefore, if sports were dysfunctional they would not have lasted this long. Another limitation is that functionalists see the needs of all groups in society as similar.


Conflict Theory


Conflict theory envisions sports as an opiate of society, meaning that it deadens our awareness to social issues. Within this theory, society is not viewed as a stable system held together by common beliefs and values. Rather, society is a constantly changing set of relationships based on economics. Because some groups of individuals have resources or access to resources-and thus have a high economic class or status-they can manipulate and coerce others to accept their viewpoint. Class relationships are centered on economic power, the individuals who have attained it, and the manner in which they use it. Therefore, the process of change is based on these premises, which produces social inequality.


Categories of concern for the conflict theorists include the following:


. Alienation: how the elite athlete in high-level sports becomes alienated from his or her body, as if the body became separate from the self; includes the use of performance enhancing methods to achieve better execution, higher profit, and heightened entertainment.


. Coercion and social control: those with resources and power focus the attention of society on the outcome of sports rather than on the important social, economic, and political issues of the society.


. Commercialism: promoting economic gain by encouraging individuals that consumption is a measure of self-worth and prestige; results in social injustice because those without means are excluded from high status.


. Nationalism and militarism: the extent to which sports promote a false sense of nationalistic pride and promote violence.

. Racism and sexism: reveals existing inequities; e.g., minorities do not have equal opportunity in sports administration (coaching and managing).


Conflict theory also has some limitations. The economic basis is the theory's strongest argument but is also its weakness. This theory assumes that social life is driven only by economic factors and that people with resources are the ones who own and drive the market; people who are on the low end of the economic scale are victims of injustice and exclusion.

Economic power certainly exists in society, but the conflict theory tends to focus on only individuals who lack or have such power. The theory does not address the fact that sports can be empowering for some individuals and groups. Economic forces are not the only relationships between groups of individuals, so to base arguments about sports solely on this premise is misleading.


Critical Theory


To understand the realities of sports and how they affect different groups and individuals in society, critical theories are employed. Not limited to one approach, but encompassing several, critical theories focus on the concepts of power, social action, and political involvement. It is important to understand that, when seeking answers to issues, critical theorists examine the sources from which power originates and how power changes and affects individuals. In an attempt to seek what is fair, equal, and inclusive, political action must be a part of this effort.


Critical theorists do not believe there is one broad explanation for the problems of society, but rather they believe a combination of history, social, and material conditions make up social life. As such, the issues and problems for which critical theorists are concerned involve "economic struggles over labor law, rights of workers, property ownership, and power structures in organizations. . . family violence, child and spousal abuse, and women's control over their own bodies". Other inquiries regarding sports are addressed: Are certain individuals or groups privileged because of their sports excellence? What activities are regarded as sports? Why violence in sports is supported and considered part of the game?


If it is important to explore sports within specific contexts, i.e., that sports is more than a reflection of society and that it is a socially constructed phenomenon, then critical theorists offer an excellent approach for such exploration. However, although the approaches to critical theory appear strong in their own right, one limit is that there are no clear guidelines for each approach. In addition, it is not certain at what point sports reproduce significant social relations and when they are or become a site for change.



Symbolic Interactionism


Interactionist theories offer another approach to the exploration of sports. These theories assume that our behavior involves choices that are based on the way we define our interactions in certain situations, allowing us to explore our identity. It is assumed that we behave according to the manner in which we envision the effect of our behavior on ourselves and others and thus develop a sense of which we are. Thus identity is paramount in the explanation of who we are in relation to sports or in a specific sports setting. Our identity is in a state of constant change, because each situation is different and the individual(s) with whom we interact can be different from setting to setting. Identity then influences how we behave or our choices of how to behave.

The interactionist studies actual occurrences or situations as they are created by individuals interacting with one another; An example of this type of study in sports is to examine how individuals develop meaning and identity associated with sports, such as what it is like for a child to participate on a Little League team. Other studies using interactionist theories have explored the meaning of pain in an athlete's life.

As with the other theories presented here, interactionist theory also has limitations. Personal definitions of the individual(s) and setting(s) are exclusive and do hot seem to be related to the social structure of society as a whole. Although this is a valid criticism, the strength of this theory lies in the fact that individual meaning, identity, and interaction can be discovered, thus allowing the researcher greater insight into individual revelations and learning.


Explanations of social life have been pursued by numerous sociologists. These social scientists have collected data, challenged theories, and revealed findings regarding the social world.


This pursuit to establish a general theory or foundation for the relationships and structures that enable individuals to live in cultures, subcultures, and societies has resulted in a number of truths rather than .one general truth or theory. It is necessary, therefore, to consider the many diverse and complex factors that affect social life and consider the issues within sports sociology from various perspectives or theories.

Although researchers may argue over which theory is best, it is important to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each, considering, of course, the research questions to be explored and the perspective to be used. Each theory offers a different dynamic and potential for discovery. Further and extensive reading and study are needed within each theoretical framework to pursue questions regarding sports.


Issues and Controversies in Sports Sociology


Issues and controversies in sports sociology were presented earlier. It is also important to acknowledge the controversies created by the sociology of sports itself. Such controversy is created by the research produced in this area.

Because structural functionalists appear to like sports in its present form, their only suggestion might be to strengthen the foundation of what currently exists. Sports sociologists have, however, revealed that what exists in sports is not always good or fair. Challenging the structure of sports and calling for changes in laws and/or the addition of new laws that may give others more power, access, and freedom can be threatening to those who already possess power, access, and freedom. To explore in-depth each issue and controversy emanating from sports sociology is beyond the scope of this chapter; however, what follows is a brief introduction and the presentation of vital questions that should be asked within the social science knowledge base.


The issues presented here in the sociologic study of sports are media and sports; youth sports; education; gender and sports; race, ethnicity, and sports; politics and sports; and religion and sports. Although other areas can be examined from a sociologic perspective, these receive much of the attention in the sports sociology literature and are extremely relevant in understanding the relationship between sociology and exercise science.


Media and Sports


The media and sports share an unusual symbiotic relationship.  Each needs the other to survive, and although they may be each other's nemesis, they are also each other's savior. The media has a dual purpose within society. On one hand, based on economics and capitalism, they are basically profit-making industries that use the commodity of sports and exercise for their own gain. On the other hand, media play an important cultural role by reflecting social conditions and reinforcing the attitudes of society regarding sports. Here are some issues and controversies within the topic of the media and sports:


. Why do the media represent only what they consider the major sports played by men in our society?

. How do the media reinforce gender and racial stereotypes in our society?

. In what ways do the media influence social change within society?

. Can the media and sports exist without each other?


Youth Sports


Youth sports used to mean children playing in the backyard, on the playground, or in loosely organized leagues. Now concepts such as privatization, skilled performance, and adult-controlled games characterize youth sports. Private and commercial organizations have been added to the list of sponsors of organized youth sports activities along with tax-supported groups. Learning skills is an important component of this form of competition, and the child must evaluate and improve personal techniques to be successful. In addition, young athletes should be viewed as having certain rights; for example, they have the right to


. Participate in sports (all children, regardless of age, gender, race, or skill level have the right to participate in physical activity and to choose the activity in which they wish to participate)

. Participate at a level commensurate with their maturity and ability.

. Have qualified adult leadership.

. Playas children, not as adults.

. Share in the leadership and decision making of their sports participation.

. Participate in a safe and healthy environment.

. Have proper preparation for participation in sports.

. Have an equal opportunity to strive toward success.

. Be treated with dignity.

. Have fun in sports.


Adult control and participation as coaches have affected these games, making them resemble professional play; winning can replace the original objective of having fun and violence is often an outcome. This situation creates numerous questions: Is there too much pressure on children to learn competitive sports at a young age? Do children drop out of sports because of the emphasis by parents and coaches on perfecting skill and winning? Should young children specialize in a single sport, so that they can develop one set of skills well, rather than participate in a variety of sports?




The relationship between sports and education creates many conflicts. Athletic programs in North American society are generally linked to educational institutions and are thought to offer valuable positive learning experiences and opportunities for students. The controversy in this area is the reality of this statement for all students, high school and college students alike. The opportunity for professional success in sports is a dream, and in some cases a reality, for boys and men in team sports. With this goal in mind, many pursue sports with a seriousness that causes neglect of other areas of education that may prepare them for security over a longer term.


Girls and women, on the other hand, have not had this opportunity until recently, and certainly not to the same extent. Historically, women have been forced to play team sports abroad to have access to the professional level. Only recently has this situation changed with formation of the women's professional basketball league.


It is the big time or National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division IA level of intercollegiate sports that raises many questions, because of the issues of recruitment, the awarding of scholarships, and the behaviors of donors to these programs. NCAA Division III athletics, although still very competitive, do not award scholarships and do not seem to have some of the major issues associated with their teams. This does not mean, however, that they are free from problems. Once again, the commercialization of Division IA programs and the need to obtain the best players have lead to competition both on and off the playing fields. They have paved the way for us to think about college sports as a major public relations tool.


Issues that are raised by conflict theorists also apply, e.g., does racism and sexism, coercion and social control, and alienation still occur in college sports? The answer to this question is contained in the mirror of society. Furthermore, if athletics are truly educational, are closely linked to the academic programs, and have a purpose within educational institutions, why aren't the profits gained by athletic departments shared more with academic units? Benefits in various forms should be realized by all involved in the educational institution, including all students, academic programs, and personnel.


Gender and Sport


The concept of gender and sports invokes many thoughts and feelings regarding the ideas of patriarchy, maintaining feminine and masculine images, and sexuality. The topic of gender includes much more than equity. It is about history, socialization, humanness, opportunity, roles, expectations, and the future definitions and intersections of sports and gender. Social constructions or definitions of gender have controlled our thinking about these constructs. Women's position in society at large has been and still is in a transformational stage. There are ideological struggles in efforts to improve the media coverage of women's sports and to change the cultural images regarding women and physical activity.


The advances made by women, however, have been significant. Many more girls and women have the opportunity and choose to participate in sports and physical activity than ever before, and certain positions are now open to women that were not previously available.  The top levels of sports are still not open to women and remain extremely difficult to access. Positions such as managers of exercise and fitness clubs, ownership of sports franchises, and political appointments within professional sports organizations are hard for women to attain.


Even with the influx of women in sports owing to the passage of Title IX, the number of women who hold college coaching or athletic administrator positions has been decreasing.  This situation is attributed to men's and women's athletic programs merging and retaining the male administrator.


Because women have less power, status, and resources in our society than men, and men possess political and social dominance, women are relegated to a secondary status. Patriarchy is a predominant controlling factor in society. As a result, patriarchal thinking labels specific sports and exercise activities as appropriate or inappropriate for males and females, thus restricting opportunity and a sense of freedom for participation in sports and physical activity.  In addition, the naming of girls and women's teams as "lady" or with sexist terms such as "Pink Panthers" and the practice of referring to women athletes by their first name only contribute to the perpetuation of gender bias and subordinate the status of girls and women to that of boys and men.


Here are some questions generated by gender issues and sports: In what ways has Title IX contributed to equality in sports participation? How have gender issues resolved the concept of gender-specific sports? In what ways are women in sports underrepresented or misrepresented in the media?


Race, Ethnicity, and Sports


The negative mind-set of individuals regarding race and ethnicity is unfortunately prominent.  Opinions and biases regarding individuals of color or individuals from different cultures have been learned from our backgrounds as well as from the current media. For some, separating myth from reality regarding differences is difficult. We live in a diverse society; and to learn about others, we must first learn about ourselves and explore our mind-sets about those who are different from us.

For example, the question of who we are in relation to race and ethnicity must be explored before any progress can be made in establishing cross-cultural understanding and relationships.


Biases regarding the physical and mental abilities or inabilities of whites and blacks have been at the center of debate for quite some time, thus creating even more tension between racial groups. Life decisions made solely on the basis of skin color rather than on the personal knowledge of and about those who are different from us are at the heart of discrimination.


Because of racial stereotypes and biases on the part of a large segment of our society, a discriminatory practice in sports known as stacking has occurred. Stacking in team sports is considered the overrepresentation or under representation of racial or ethnic groups in certain positions. Generally, the under representation is noted in what are considered central positions or leadership/strategic positions within team sports. Biologic, psychologic, and sociologic myths regarding differences between racial groups are noted for the practice of stacking, and such myths are perpetuated today.


Whereas questions associated with race and ethnicity are imbedded within the brief description of this issue, additional controversies to examine include how do the sports experiences of black men and women differ regarding stacking? What discriminatory practices exist in front office positions? Why should racial and ethnic differences be considered when discussing sports? A related research issue is the need to distinguish between biologic and cultural explanations for the dominance of black athletes in certain sports.


Politics and Sports


Because they do not exist in a cultural vacuum but rather are part of the social world, sports are influenced by many different societal and cultural forces. One important force is that of politics.


Politics deals with the concept of power, how it is obtained, and how it is used. Whether we examine settings such as the local high school football game, the women's Final Four Basketball, Tournament, Wimbledon, the Olympic Games, or the Paralympics Games, politics are involved.

At a local level, decisions regarding facility use by organizations and city sanctions and ordinances must be considered. At national collegiate competitions, the NCAA governs and controls events.


At the international level, governments choose the coaches who in turn select the athletes who will compete in the Olympic Games. Governments also use sport in these ways: as apolitical tool, e.g., Olympic boycotts by the United States (1980) and the former Soviet Union (1984); as propaganda showcase, e.g., the 1936 Olympic Games in which Hitler demonstrated his military power; and as an economic and national showcase of a host nation. Sports serve as a sociopolitical mirror reflecting the state of a nation, its political ideology, and power. Laws have been passed by our government to specify regulations regarding the Olympic ideal. The Amateur Sports Act and Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act specifically address laws regarding opportunity and the regulation of sports in the United States.


Some controversies involving politics and sport are in hat ways are sports effective or ineffective tools of political propaganda? How are the Olympic Games separated from concepts of politics? In what ways can sports be used as integrating and truly peaceful endeavors? How can international competitions be changed to be friendly rather than hostile encounters?


Religion and Sports


Religion and sports might be considered an unusual combination, but the concept offers some interesting comparisons. As individuals attempt to explain sports and religion as similar to or different from each other, the comparisons show that both institutions are cultural practices in our society; there may well exist the practice of religion in sports and/or the practice of sports within religion, but saying that they are the same sparks debate.


Similarities and differences between sports and religion need to be determined before any conclusion can be drawn. It is agreed that both sports and religion have places for communal gathering; drama is linked to both settings; there is a hierarchical structure in both sports and religion; they both have special celebratory days, heroes and saints, choirs, hymns, chants, sermons, joining of hands, and revered objects; and there are special ceremonies within both realms. Both of these institutions emphasize self-sacrifice.

Comparisons, however, need careful consideration.


Christian organizations such as Athletes in Action or Jocks for Jesus, for example, do attempt to combine sports and religion, but some professional athletes have admitted to using such organizations to promote themselves and do not really adhere to the tenets of the organization or the religion. Others are true believers in the Christian sport organizations and demonstrate their convictions by praying publicly before, during, and/or after contests. Because much of sports take place on the campuses of public schools and colleges, issues surrounding the separation of church and state are raised. If we have public prayer or team private prayer before sporting events in these settings, how is the separation of church and state reconciled? In this example, both political and religious issues are posed. Questions regarding religion and sport include the following: How are the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards evaluated within sports and religion? In what ways do individuals receive reconciliation through sports? What role does the congregation or fan play in sports and religion? Should team members be forced to take part in prayer before games? What are the consequences if an athlete refuses to pray at the coach's request? What religious beliefs are or should be promoted by a team?




Although sports sociology has always been inclusive in its population considerations (i.e., race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, ability, and class) and in the diverse issues it covers, there seems to be a globalization or broader realization and outreach of the applications and implications of the effect sports are making on the world.

With the increased interest, participation, and spectatorship of sports and physical activity by girls, boys, women, and men of all age levels, cultures, and abilities, the value and meaning of sports have assumed more significant places in our lives and society. Sports and physical activity are not just acceptable for a chosen few, but for all.


The effect of political, economic, and social theories and subsequent studies have defined additional ways to study sports sociology. Research has broadened considerably in sports sociology, and this area of study has taken on the characteristics of a cultural studies approach.


That is, sports sociology and its many issues can be explored from not only a cross-disciplinary perspective but from a multidisciplinary one. As a result of the multidisciplinary approach to sports sociology, the extent to which qualitative methodology is being used has increased, giving a broader perspective and data interpretation. Studying the athlete as a potential agent for societal change, exploring the concepts and meanings of power and oppression in sports, and examining the potential of the cyborg athlete are but a few examples of the ways in which broader cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives of sports may be gained.


Coakley discusses the potential of the college and/or professional athlete serving as agents of social change. The athlete should have the freedom (i.e., experience no coercion or social control imposed by organizations or coaches) to openly support political and social issues, such as affirmative action, equal rights, and other antidiscrimination movements. Tiger Woods is a prime example of the athlete as an agent of social change. In various television advertisements and broadcast interviews, he has supported the concept of multiracial identification by referring to himself not as only African-American but as Caublinasian (a combination of Caucasian, black, Indian, and Asian). He has also referred to the exclusion of blacks from playing at some private golf courses. By raising these issues via the media, he has created an opportunity to increase the awareness of the public regarding these forms of oppression and may affect social action.


The relationship between humans and technology (i.e., the cyborg athlete) is another intriguing area that is expanding the research in sports sociology. Although elite athletes already perform at high levels, the challenge exists for them to exceed their previous performance levels to the degree of extraordinary. The multitude of ways in which technology (e.g,. performance enhancing drugs, psychological interventions, enhanced equipment, and genetic alterations) can assist the athlete to perform at such levels and the meanings attached to this type of performance are raising many questions in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies of sports. This is a relatively new area of study, but it is one that will continue to challenge the scholarly study of sports from a sociologic perspective.


Other advances in sports sociology include the development of critical and interpretative theories. These theories offer the researcher a way to construct, deconstruct, and critique sport~ in ways that, it is hoped, will lead to social activism and potential change.