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SPORTS IN SOCIETY Issues and Controversies


Jay Coakley, Ph.D. University of Colorado

Colorado Springs

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Published by McGraw-Hill Education, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Copyright © 2017 by McGraw-Hill Education. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Previous editions © 2015, 2009, and 2007. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written consent of McGraw-Hill Education, including, but not limited to, in any network or other electronic storage or transmission, or broadcast for distance learning.

Some ancillaries, including electronic and print components, may not be available to customers outside the United States.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 DOW 21 20 19 18 17 16

ISBN 978-0-07-352354-5 MHID 0-07-352354-2

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All credits appearing on page or at the end of the book are considered to be an extension of the copyright page.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Coakley, Jay J. author. Title: Sports in society : issues and controversies / Jay Coakley, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Description: Tweleth edition. | New York, NY : McGraw-Hill Education, [2017] Identifiers: LCCN 2016017236 | ISBN 9780073523545 (acid-free paper) Subjects: LCSH: Sports—Social aspects. | Sports—Psychological aspects. Classification: LCC GV706.5 .C63 2017 | DDC 306.4/83—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/ 2016017236

The Internet addresses listed in the text were accurate at the time of publication. The inclusion of a website does not indicate an endorsement by the authors or McGraw-Hill Education, and McGraw-Hill Education does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented at these sites. mheducation.com/highered

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To the memory of Ernie Barnes—a uniquely perceptive artist whose drawings

and paintings capture the movement and spirit of athletic bodies in ways that

inspire people worldwide.

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Jay Coakley is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He received a Ph.D. in sociol- ogy at the University of Notre Dame and has since taught and done research on play, games, and sports, among other topics in sociology. Dr. Coakley has received many teaching, service, and professional awards, and is an internationally respected scholar, author, and journal editor. In 2007 the Institute for International Sport selected him as one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Edu- cators, and the University of Chichester in West Sussex, England awarded him an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his out- standing leadership in the sociology of sport; in 2009, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education inducted Coakley into its Hall of Fame; and in 2015 he was named an Honorary Member of the International Sociology of Sport Association.

A former intercollegiate athlete, Coakley continues to use con- cepts, research, and theories in sociology to critically examine social phenomena and promote changes that make social worlds more democratic and humane. He currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife, Nancy.


Jay Coakley and granddaughter, Ally, are running buddies in local Colorado races. (Source: © Jay Coakley)

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The cover image, His Effort, is a painting by the late Ernie Barnes (1938–2009), an internationally known artist, a former professional football player, and an unforgettable friend.

Barnes was born during Jim Crow in Durham, North Carolina. As a child, he was shy, introverted and bullied. In junior high school, he learned about weightlifting and training. By his senior year of high school, he was captain of the football team and state shot put champion. On an athletic scholarship, he majored in art at North Carolina College at Durham (now NCCU).

In 1959 he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts and later played offensive guard for the San Diego Chargers (1960–62) and Denver Broncos (1963–64). In his final season, a football team owner paid him “to just paint.” A year later,

Barnes had his first solo exhibition and retired from football at age 28 to devote himself to art. His autobiog- raphy, From Pads to Palette, chronicles this transition.

Barnes’ ability to uniquely capture the athlete’s experience earned him “America’s Best Painter of Sports” by the American Sports Museum. In 1984 he was appointed the Sports Artist of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Recently his beloved football painting The Bench was presented to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their permanent collection.

His artwork first became known in pop culture when it was used during the 1970s television show Good Times. The iconic dance scene, The Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes, on a Marvin Gaye album is one of the most recognizable works of art.

A remarkable feature of Barnes’ work is his use of elongation and distortion to represent energy, power, grace, intensity, and fluidity in his art. His sports background provided a distinct vantage point for observing bodies in movement, and he used his unique understanding of the human anatomy to portray not only ath- letes but everyday mannerisms in delayed motion. As a result, his images communicate an intimate sense of human physicality.

For many people, Ernie Barnes captures the spirit and determination of athletes as they express them- selves through movement. His images present to us the kinesthetic soul of sports.

This is the seventh consecutive cover of Sports in Society that presents the art of Ernie Barnes. He spoke to students regularly, bringing his work to show that art, sport, and academic learning could come together in their lives. This particular cover image was chosen to represent Barnes’s legacy based on his effort to repre- sent the wonder and endurance of the human spirit.

For more information, please visit his official website: www.ErnieBarnes.com. My thanks go to Ernie’s longtime friend and assistant, Luz Rodriguez and his family for sharing His Effort for the eleventh and twelfth editions of Sports in Society.


© Peter Read Miller

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Preface xi

1 The Sociology of Sport: What Is It and Why Study It? 2 About This Book 4 About This Chapter 4 Using Sociology to Study Sports 4 Defining Sports 6 What Is the Sociology of Sport? 9 Why Study Sports in Society? 13 Summary: Why Study the Sociology of Sport? 18

2 Producing Knowledge About Sports in Society: How Is Knowledge Produced In the Sociology of Sport? 24

Producing Knowledge in the Sociology of Sport 26 Doing Research and Using Theory in the Sociology

of Sport: A Case Study 28 The Impact of Sociology of Sport Knowledge 42 Using a Critical Approach to Produce Knowledge 44 Summary: How Is Knowledge Produced in the

Sociology of Sport? 45

3 Sports and Socialization: Who Plays and What Happens to Them? 50 What Is Socialization? 52 Becoming and Staying Involved in Sports 53

Changing or Ending Sport Participation 58 Being Involved in Sports: What Happens? 61 How Do Sports Affect Our Lives? 67 Summary: Who Plays and What Happens? 76

4 Sports for Children: Are Organized Programs Worth the Effort? 78

Origin and Development of Organized Youth Sports 80

Major Trends in Youth Sports Today 83 Informal, Player-Controlled Sports: A Case of the

Generation Gap 90 Youth Sports Today: Assessing Our Efforts 93 The Challenge of Improving Youth Sports 95 Recommendations for Improving Youth Sports 97 Summary: Are Organized Programs Worth the

Effort? 100

5 Deviance in Sports: Is It Out of Control? 102 Defining and Studying Deviance in Sports 104 Challenges Faced When Studying Deviance in

Sports 104 Research on Deviance in Sports 114 Performance-Enhancing Substances: A Case Study

of Deviant Overconformity 123 Summary: Is Deviance in Sports Out of Control? 135

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Contents ix

6 Violence in Sports: Does It Affect Our Lives? 138 What Is Violence? 140 Violence in Sports Throughout History 141 Violence on the Field 142 Violence off the Field 153 Violence Among Spectators 155 Terrorism: Planned Political Violence at Sport

Events 163 Summary: Does Violence in Sports Affect Our

Lives? 165

7 Gender and Sports: Is Equity Possible? 168 Cultural Origins of Gender Inequities 170 Orthodox Gender Ideology and Sports 174 Mainstream Sports Reaffirm Orthodox Gender

Ideology 178 Progress Toward Gender Equity 184 Gender Inequities Remain 188 Barriers to Equity 198 Gender Equity and Sexuality 201 Strategies to Achieve Equity 206 Summary: Is Equity Possible? 211

8 Race and Ethnicity: Are They Important in Sports? 214 Defining Race and Ethnicity 216 Creating Race and Racial Ideologies 217 Sport Participation Among Ethnic Minorities in the

United States 230 Race, Ethnicity, and Sport in a Global Perspective 243 The Dynamics of Racial and Ethnic Relations

in Sports 246 Summary: Are Race and Ethnicity Important in

Sports? 250

9 Social Class: Do Money and Power Matter in Sports? 254 Social Class and Class Relations 256 Sports and Economic Inequality 257 Social Class and Sport Participation Patterns 262 Global Inequalities and Sports 273 Economic and Career Opportunities in Sports 275 Sport Participation and Occupational Careers Among

Former Athletes 282 Summary: Do Money and Power Matter in Sports? 286

10 Age and Ability: Barriers to Participation and Inclusion? 290

What Counts as Ability? 292 Constructing the Meaning of Age 295 Constructing the Meaning of Ability 303 Sport and Ability 313 Disability Sports 318 Technology and Ability 326 To “Dis” or Not to “Dis” 331 Summary: Are Age and Ability Barriers to

Participation? 332

11 Sports and the Economy: What Are the Characteristics of Commercial Sports? 336

Emergence and Growth of Commercial Sports 338 Commercialization and Changes in Sports 347 The Organization of Professional Sports in North

America 352 The Organization of Amateur Sports in North

America 359 Legal Status and Incomes of Athletes in Commercial

Sports 360 Summary: What Are the Characteristics of Commercial

Sports? 368

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x SPORTS IN SOCIETY: Issues and Controversies

Intercollegiate Sports and the Experiences of College Students 447

Do Schools Benefit From Varsity Sports? 456 High School and College Sports Face Uncertainty 462 Summary: Do Competitive Sports Contribute to

Education? 476

15 Sports and Religions: Is It a Promising Combination? 480 How Do Sociologists Define and Study Religion? 482 Similarities and Differences Between Sports and

Religions 484 Modern Sports and Religious Beliefs

and Organizations 487 The Challenges of Combining Sports and Religious

Beliefs 504 Summary: Is it a Promising Combination? 508

16 Sports in the Future: What Do We Want Them to Be? 512 Envisioning Possibilities for the Future 514 Current Trends Related to Sports in Society 515 Factors Influencing Trends Today 519 Becoming Agents of Change 522 The Challenge of Transforming Sports 527 Summary: What Do We Want Sports to Be? 530 References 533 Name Index 614 Subject Index 626

12 Sports and the Media: Could They Survive Without Each Other? 372

Characteristics of the Media 374 Sports and Media: A Two-Way Relationship 383 Images and Narratives in Media Sports 391 Experiences and Consequences of Consuming Media

Sports 398 Sport Journalism 401 Summary: Could Sports and the Media Survive Without

Each Other? 403

13 Sports and Politics: How Do Governments and Global Political Processes Influence Sports? 406

The Sports–Government Connection 409 Sports and Global Political Processes 419 Politics in Sports 433 Summary: How Do Governments and Global Political

Processes Influence Sports? 435

14 Sports in High School and College: Do Competitive Sports Contribute to Education? 438

Arguments for and Against Interscholastic Sports 440 Interscholastic Sports and the Experiences of High

School Students 440

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The twelfth edition of Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies provides a detailed introduction to the sociology of sport. It uses sociological concepts, theories, and research to raise critical questions about sports and explore the dynamic relationship between sports, culture, and society. The chapters are organized around controversial and curiosity- arousing issues that have been systematically stud- ied in sociology and related fields. Research on these issues is summarized so that readers can crit- ically examine them.

Chapter content is guided by sociological research and theory and based on the assumption that a full understanding of sports must take into account the social and cultural contexts in which sports are created, played, given meaning, and integrated into people’s lives. At a time when we too often think that a “website search” provides everything we need to know, I intend this text as a thoughtful scholarly work that integrates research on sports as social phenomena, makes sense of the expanding body of work in the sociology of sport, and inspires critical thinking.


Sports in Society is written for everyone taking a first critical look at the relationships between sports, culture, and society. Readers don’t need a background in sociology to understand and benefit from discussions in each chapter; nor do they need detailed knowledge of sport jargon and statistics. My goal is to help readers identify and explore issues related to sports in their personal experiences, families, schools, communities, and societies.

The emphasis on issues and controversies makes each chapter useful for people concerned with sport-related policies and programs. I’ve always tried to use knowledge to make sports more democratic, accessible, inclusive, and humane, and I hope to provide readers with the information and desire to do the same.


As soon as the extensively revised eleventh edition of Sports in Society went to press I began research for this edition. This involves reading six newspa- pers each day, including USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times. I also read two sports magazines—Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine—and other magazines that often publish articles about the social dimensions of sports. But most of my research involves reading abstracts for articles pub- lished in the major journals dealing with sports as social phenomena. I regularly survey the tables of contents of a few dozen journals in sociology and related fields to find articles on sport- related topics. Although I do not read every article or every book in the field, I read many and take notes as I do.

Finally, I track photos that I might buy for the edition, and I take thousands of photos myself, always hoping to have ten to twenty new ones for each new edition. I regularly ask friends to take photos if they are in unique sport settings. In the final photo selection I usually review 250 photos for every one I choose to include in the book.

In all, this amounts to thousands of hours of research, writing, and discussing issues with peo- ple from many walks of life in the United States


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xii SPORTS IN SOCIETY: Issues and Controversies

and other parts of the world I’ve had opportunities to visit.


This edition builds on and updates the fully revised eleventh edition. New chapter-opening quotes, pho- tos, and examples maintain the timeliness of content.

New research and theoretical developments are integrated into each chapter. There are over 2000 references to assist those writing papers and doing research. Most new references identify materials published after 2009.

The sociology of sport has expanded so much in recent years that Sports in Society is now an intro- duction to the field more than a comprehensive overview.

Revision Themes and New Materials

This edition updates all time sensitive materials and continues to provide readers with a brief Chapter Outline, and Learning Objectives. At the end of each chapter are lists of Supplemental Readings that are accessible through the Instructor Resources section in Connect, along with selected sport management discussion issues related to the chapter content.

Chapter 1 introduces “the great sport myth”— the widespread belief that all sports are essentially pure and good, and that their purity and goodness are transferred to those who participate in or watch sports. This concept helps readers understand how and why sports are perceived in such positive terms worldwide and why it is difficult to promote criti- cal thinking about sports in society. References to the great sport myth appear in most of the chapters. Chapter 1 also has a new explanation of ideology to give readers a clearer idea of how sports are cul- tural practices linked with the perspectives we use to make sense of our everyday lives.

Chapter 2 contains information and diagrams that explain the knowledge production process and the primary data collection methods used in sociol- ogy of sport research. There is an explanation of gender as meaning, performance, and organization in social worlds, and discussion of the differences between quantitative and qualitative research.

Chapter 3 focuses on socialization. It contains a section on “Family Culture and the Sport Par- ticipation of Children,” which examines families as the immediate contexts in which socialization into sports is initiated and nurtured. There are discussions of sports participation and socializa- tion experiences, the transition out of competitive sports careers, and current approaches to sports and socialization as a community process.

Chapter 4, on youth sports, presents a discussion of how the culture of childhood play has nearly disappeared in most segments of post-industrial society. There’s also an expanded discussion of the possibility that in the United States some upper- middle-class parents use youth sports as a way to create mobility opportunities and reproduce privi- lege for their children. Finally, there is a discussion of how and why youth sport programs in the United States are fragmented and exist independently of any theory-based approach to teaching age- appropriate physical skills and promoting lifelong involvement in sports and physical activities.

Chapter 5, on deviance, contains a discussion of the relationship between deviant overconfor- mity and injuries, concussions, and repetitive head trauma in sports. There’s also an explanation of how widespread acceptance of the great sports myth leads people to deny or ignore certain forms of deviance in sports and use punitive social con- trol methods that focus on individuals rather than the systemic problems that exist in various forms of sport. This is followed by a discussion of new surveillance technologies being used to police and control athletes, especially in connection with the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Chapter 6, on violence in sports, discusses why violent sports have become commercially success- ful in certain cultures. The issue of concussions and repetitive head trauma is also discussed in con- nection with the culture of violence that is widely accepted in heavy- contact sports. Finally, there is an expanded discussion of how the threat of terrorism is perceived and how it influences the dynamics of social control at sport events.

Chapter 7, on gender and sports, introduces the concept of orthodox gender ideology to help readers

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Preface xiii

Chapter 10, written with Elizabeth Pike, my colleague from the University of Chichester in England, focuses on issues and controversies related to age and ability in sports. The frame- work of this chapter is built on research showing how social definitions of age and ability impact the provision of sport participation opportunities and the decisions made by people to become and stay involved in sports. The sections on masters events, the Paralympics, the Special Olympics, and related forms of sport provision illustrate the com- plexity of sports when they are viewed in a general social and cultural context in which age and ability influence how people are perceived and how they include physical activities in their lives.

Chapter 11 deals with the commercialization of sports. It explains how the great sport myth is used to appropriate public money to build sport venues and subsidize sport teams. Labor relations in sports are discussed in more depth, with explanations of collective bargaining agreements, lockouts, and the role of players’ associations.

Chapter 12, on sports and the media, now contains much material on the changing media landscape and how it is related to sports. There is a discussion of fantasy sports as an arena in which participation is influenced by gender and the quest to sustain white male privilege. There’s material on how social media are used by estab- lished sport organizations and by athletes practic- ing emerging sport activities around the world. Changes in media coverage are discussed, with attention given to how masculinity and sexuality are presented in sports media. Finally, there is a new discussion of how entertainment journalism has replaced investigative journalism in sports media.

Chapter 13, on politics, government, and global processes, is updated in its coverage of sport and national identity in global relations, and how the Olympics and men’s World Cup have become tools for generating profits for the International Olympic Committee and FIFA at the same time that the countries hosting these games incur increasing debt for debatable returns. Research on recent sport mega-events is used to discuss the

understand the cultural origins of gender inequality and why sports are one of the last spheres of social life in which the two-sex approach is accepted in a way that normalizes gender segregation. This chap- ter also contains a section on “Progress Toward Gender Equity,” which identifies girls’ and wom- en’s increased participation as the single most dra- matic change in sports over the past two generations. There is an updated Reflect on Sports box that exam- ines Title IX compliance and “what counts as equity in sports.” A new table presents data on female and male athletes at recent Paralympic Games, and a section, “The Global Women’s Rights Move- ment,” discusses the belief that girls and women are enhanced as human beings when they develop their intellectual and physical abilities. Discussions of the media coverage of women in sports and the impact of budget cuts and the privatization of sports are pre- sented to show that programs for women and girls remain vulnerable to cuts because they lack a strong market presence and have not been profit producing.

Chapter 8, on race and ethnicity, presents a revised discussion of how racial ideology influ- ences sports participation. A Reflect on Sports box deals with “Vénus Noire: A legacy of Racism After 200 years,” and a discussion of the isolation often experienced by women of color participating in or coaching college sports. Research is presented to show the ways that some Japanese parents use youth sports leagues to establish relationships with other Japanese families and connect their children with Asian American peers. Finally, there is a sec- tion on race, ethnicity, and sports in a global per- spective in which efforts to control the expression of racism at sport events is discussed.

Chapter 9, on social class, has expanded discus- sions of whether building a new stadium triggers new jobs for the surrounding community and how the economic downturn has impacted sports partic- ipation in the United States. There is a discussion of research on whether local boxing gyms help participants bond with one another and acquire forms of social capital that alter their structural position in society, as well as a discussion of data on the impact of income and wealth on sport par- ticipation patterns.

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xiv SPORTS IN SOCIETY: Issues and Controversies

Supplemental Readings and New Website Resources

Each chapter is followed by a list of Supplemen- tal Readings that provide useful information about topics in the chapters. The Supplemental Read- ings for each chapter can be accessed through the Instructor Resources within Connect.

New Visual Materials

There are 118 photos, 20 figures, and 30 cartoons in this edition. These images are combined with updated tables to illustrate important substantive points, visually enhance the text, and make reading more interesting.

The twelfth edition of Sports in Society, is now available online with Connect, McGraw-Hill Edu- cation’s integrated assignment and assessment platform. Connect also offers SmartBook for the new edition, which is the first adaptive reading experience proven to improve grades and help stu- dents study more effectively. All of the title’s web- site and ancillary content is also available through Connect, including:

∙ A full Test Bank of multiple choice questions that test students on central concepts and ideas in each chapter

∙ An Instructor’s Manual for each chapter with full chapter outlines, sample test questions, and discussion topics

∙ Supplemental Readings that add depth and background to current chapter topics

∙ Group projects ∙ Previous chapters on coaches, competition,

history (from the tenth edition), and social theories (from the ninth edition)

∙ True/false self-tests for each chapter ∙ A cumulative 275-page bibliography that lists

all references from this and the last six editions of Sports in Society

∙ A complete glossary of key terms integrated into the index

challenges and the pros and cons of hosting such events. There is an updated discussion of the new political realities of sports—where team owner- ship and event sponsorship have become global in scope, where athletes seek opportunities world- wide, where global media make it easy to follow the sporting events of teams from all over the world, and where fans’ loyalties are no longer lim- ited to teams from their own regions or countries. Research is presented to show that these realities are linked with corporate expansion, the global flow of capital, the business strategy of global media companies, and processes of glocalization through which global sports are integrated into people’s everyday lives on a local level.

Chapter 14, on high school and college sports, includes new research findings related to issues such as the rising costs of sport programs, who benefits from the revenues generated by certain sports, the dramatic increase of inequality among programs at both the high school and college lev- els, and young people’s perceptions of athletic and academic achievement in schools with high- profile sport programs. There are updated sections on budget issues, the uncertainty that faces school sports today, and the issues currently faced by the NCAA as it tries to control a college sport system that is increasingly unmanageable and inconsistent with the goals of higher education.

Chapter 15, on religion and sports, presents information on world religions and how they influ- ence conceptions of the body, evaluations of phys- ical movement, and sport participation. There also is updated information about the ways in which individuals and organizations combine sport with religious beliefs, and how this has spread beyond the United States in recent years.

Chapter 16 has been shortened and now focuses primarily on the process of making change in sports rather than describing what the future of sports might be. This is because there is a need for us to acknowledge the power of corporations in shaping sports to fit their interests and to develop strategies for creating sport forms that directly serve the needs of individuals and communities.

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Preface xv

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xvi SPORTS IN SOCIETY: Issues and Controversies

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Preface xvii

Finally, thanks go to Nancy Coakley, who has lived through twelve editions of Sports in Society and assisted with each one in more ways than I can list here. She keeps me in touch with popular cul- ture sources related to sports, and tells me when my ideas should be revised or kept to myself—a fre- quent occurrence.

My appreciation also goes to the following reviewers, whose suggestions were crucial in plan- ning and writing this edition:

Amanda K. Curtis, Lake Erie College Susan Dargan, Framingham State College Bruce Haller, Dowling College Ken Muir, Appalachian State University Tracy W. Olrich, Central Michigan University Gary Sailes, Indiana University Stephen Shapiro, Old Dominion University Angela Smith-Nix, University of

Arkansas–Fayetteville Jessica Sparks Howell, Mississippi State

University Ashley VandeVeen, Mayville State University

Finally, thanks to the many students and colleagues who have e-mailed comments about previous edi- tions and ideas for future editions. I take them seri- ously and appreciate their thoughtfulness—keep the responses coming.

Jay Coakley Fort Collins, CO


This book draws on ideas from many sources. Thanks go to students, colleagues, and friends who have provided constructive criticisms over the years. Students regularly open my eyes to new ways of viewing and analyzing sports as social phenomena.

Special thanks go to friends and colleagues who influence my thinking, provide valuable source materials, and willingly discuss ideas and informa- tion with me. Elizabeth Pike, Chris Hallinan, and Cora Burnett influenced my thinking as I worked with them on versions of Sports in Society for the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand, and Southern Africa, respectively. Peter Donnelly, co-au- thor of past Canadian versions, has provided special support for this edition and influenced my thinking about many important issues. Laurel Davis-Delano deserves special thanks for her constructive critiques of recent past editions. Thanks also go to photogra- phers and colleagues, Lara Killick, Barbara Schaus- teck de Almeida, Elizabeth Pike, Bobek Ha’Eri, Becky Beal, Kevin Young, Jay Johnson Michael Boyd, Tim Russo, Basia Borzecka and my daugh- ter, Danielle Hicks, for permission to use their pho- tos. Rachel Spielberg, a recent Smith College grad, coach, and artist contributed cartoons to this edition; thanks to her for working with me. Thanks also to artist Fred Eyer, whose cartoons have been used in this and previous editions.

Thanks also to my Development Editors, Ashwin Amalraj and Erin Guendelsberger, and the entire McGraw-Hill team for their help during the course of this revision.

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THE SOCIOLOGY OF SPORT What Is It and Why Study It?


(Source: © Jay Coakley)

Our sports belong to us. They came up from the people. They were invented for reasons having nothing to do with money or ego. Our sports weren’t created by wealthy sports and entertainment barons like the ones running sports today.

—Ken Reed, Sport Policy Director, League of Fans (2011).

Why should we play sport? Why not just have everyone exercise? [ . . . Because sport] takes you to the edge of a cliff, and it’s at that edge of the cliff where you understand your creative soul.

—Brian Hainline, chief medical officer, NCAA (in Wolverton, 2014)

New York joins 34 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing competitive cheerleading as a sport. Section VI and the state will make a distinction between traditional, sideline cheerleading and competitive cheerleading, he said. Schools will decide for themselves which type of team they want.

—Barbara O’Brien, staff reporter, Buffalo News (2014).

Sports is real. . . . Sports is Oprah for guys. . . . Sports is woven deeper into American life than you know. You may change religion or politics, but not sport teams.

—Rick Reilly (2009)

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About This Book

About This Chapter

Using Sociology to Study Sports

Defining Sports

What Is the Sociology of Sport?

Why Study Sports in Society?

Summary: Why Study the Sociology of Sport?

Chapter Outline

• Explain what sociologists study about sports and why sociology of sport knowledge is different from information in sports media and everyday conversations.

• Understand issues related to defining sports and why a sociological definition differs from official definitions used by high schools, universities, and other organizations.

• Explain what it means to say that sports are social constructions and contested activities.

• Explain why sociology of sport knowledge may be controversial among people associated with sports.

• Understand the meaning of “ideology” and how ideologies related to gender, race, social class, and ability are connected with sports.

Learning Objectives

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4 SPORTS IN SOCIETY: Issues and Controversies

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If you’re reading this book, you have an interest in sports or know people who play or watch them. Unlike most books about sports, this one is writ- ten to take you beyond scores, statistics, and sports personalities. The goal is to focus on the “deeper game” associated with sports, the game through which sports become part of the social and cultural worlds in which we live.

Fortunately, we can draw on our experiences as we consider this deeper game. Take high school sports in the United States as an example. When students play on a high school basketball team, we know that it can affect their status in the school and the treatment they receive from teachers and peers. We know it has potential implications for their prestige in the community, self-images and self-esteem, future relationships, opportunities in education and the job market, and their overall enjoyment of life.

Building on this knowledge enables us to move further into the deeper game associated with high school sports. For example, why do so many Americans place such importance on sports and accord such high status to elite athletes? Are there connections between high school sports and wide- spread beliefs about masculinity and femininity, achievement and competition, pleasure and pain, winning and fair play, and other important aspects of U.S. culture?

Underlying these questions is the assump- tion that sports are more than games, meets, and matches. They’re important aspects of social life that have meanings going far beyond scores and performance statistics. Sports are integral parts of the social and cultural contexts in which we live, and they provide stories and images that many of us use to evaluate our experiences and the world around us.

Those of us who study sports in society are concerned with these deeper meanings and stories associated with sports. We do research to increase our understanding of (1) the cultures and societies

in which sports exist; (2) the social worlds created around sports; and (3) the experiences of individu- als and groups associated with sports.


This chapter is organized to answer four questions:

1. What is sociology, and how is it used to study sports in society?

2. What are sports, and how can we identify them in ways that increase our understanding of their place and value in society?

3. What is the sociology of sport? 4. Who studies sports in society, and for what


The answers to these questions will be our guides for understanding the material in the rest of the book.


Sociology provides useful tools for investigat- ing sports as social phenomena. This is because sociology is the study of the social worlds that people create, maintain, and change through their relationships with each other.1 The concept of social world refers to an identifiable sphere of everyday actions and relationships (Unruh, 1980). Social worlds are created by people, but they involve much more than individuals doing their own things for their own reasons. Our actions, rela- tionships, and collective activities form patterns that could not be predicted only with information about each of us as individuals. These patterns constitute identifiable ways of life and social

1Important concepts used in each chapter are identified in boldface. Unless they are accompanied by a footnote that con- tains a definition, the definition will be given in the text itself. This puts the definition in context rather than separating it in a glossary. Definitions are also provided in the Subject Glindex.

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CHAPTER 1: The Sociology of Sport 5

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arrangements that are maintained or changed over time as people interact with one other.

Social worlds can be as large and impersonal as an entire nation, such as the United States or Brazil, or as personal and intimate as your own family. But regardless of size, they encompass all aspects of social life: (a) the values and beliefs that we use to make sense of our lives; (b) our every- day actions and relationships; and (c) the groups, organizations, communities, and societies that we form as we make choices, develop relationships, and participate in social life.

Sociologists often refer to society, which is a relatively self-sufficient collection of people who maintain a way of life in a particular ter- ritory. In most cases, a society and a nation are one and the same, such as Brazil and Brazilian society. But there are cases where a society is not a nation, such as Amish Mennonite society as it exists in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the United States.

The goal of sociology is to describe and explain social worlds, including societies—how they are created, re-created, and changed; how they are organized; and how they influence our lives and our relationships with each other. In the process of doing sociology we learn to see our lives and the lives of others “in context”—that is, in the social worlds in which we live. This enables us to iden- tify the social conditions that set limits or create possibilities in people’s lives. On a personal level, knowing about these influential conditions also helps us anticipate and sometimes work around the constraints we face at the same time that we look for and take advantage of the possibilities. Ideally, it helps us gain more control over our lives as well as an understanding of other people and the condi- tions that influence their lives.

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