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Sports Sociology Chapter 18. Kristin Gulliford Allison Whalen. Sports Sociology. Although sports sociology is a sub-discipline 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.

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Sports Sociology Chapter 18

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sports sociology chapter 18

Sports SociologyChapter 18

Kristin Gulliford

Allison Whalen

sports sociology
Sports Sociology

Although sports sociology is a sub-discipline 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.

Examines sports as a part of cultural and social life.

Examines relationship between sports and society and tries to answer issues and questions regarding sports and culture.


Pervasive part of culture

Considered to be social constructions within society created by groups of individuals and based on values, interests, needs, and resources.

Cultures create and use sports for their own purposes causing sports to take different forms from culture to culture.


It is only since 1970 that sports sociology has gained significant attention as a serious area of study due to the increasing major role sports play in our lives and the intelluctual 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.


Scholars like 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.


Sociology of sports poses critical and controversial issues.

Sports are considered a microcosm of society, the same social issues that exist in larger society also exist in sports.

Sociology forces us to explore alternative ways to view the place and organization of sports in our society as well as how issues and problems presented in sports affect individuals because it uses critical and conflicting approaches.

controversial issues
Controversial Issues
  • Issues and controversies in sports sociology are the same ones reflected in our society.
      • Concepts of:
        • Values
        • Race
        • Gender
        • Ethnicity
        • Class
        • Sexuality
        • Age
        • Ability
        • Politics
        • Religion
        • Economics
studying exercise and sports from a sociologic perspective
Studying Exercise and Sports from a Sociologic Perspective

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

  • To further clarify the scope and definition 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 import 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
  • Culture is an important concept to be considered within the sub discipline of sports sociology.
  • Culture includes the established parts of life that are created by individuals in a specific society and is the means by which society defines and perpetuates itself
  • Although cultures are different, they have common elements
      • Example: music, law, art, customs, and play forms seem to be shared within different cultures. They may be different and expressed in different ways, but they are still there from culture to culture

As with culture, there is also a need to explore subcultures.

Subcultures: subunits of culture that have a cluster of values that are different from the larger culture.

Example of subcultures: gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, politics, physical ability, age, and sexual orientation

Can belong to more than one subculture

cultural values and sports
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 originate from religion, race, ethnicity, and geographic location.

Foundation of our values are the ideas and concepts about what is good, bad, right, wrong, and what is desired.

cultural values and sports cont
Cultural Values and Sports Cont.
  • Values extend to sports and exercise 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
social institutions and sports
Social Institutions and Sports
  • Social Institutions of our society to which sports are closely linked:
      • Family
      • Education
      • Media
      • Politics
      • Religion
      • Economy

Daily routine and/or weekend schedules of many families are planned around the children’s involvement in sports

Youth sports play as a unifying agent, bringing the family closer together

The social institution of a family, depending on the degree of support and encouragement offered, has the potential to be a socializing agent for children’s participation.


Sports have developed a solid foundation within educational systems

Become so important that a schools worth is judged based on the success or failure of its athletic teams

Sports show many positive values and opportunities for students, but we must examine the extent to which the value of sports is placed above the value of education.


Future direction and success of college, professional, and Olympic sports have been paved by the media.

Defines 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.

Sports have become a form of entertainment for some rather than being an activity characterized by enjoyment, fun, and challenge.

Sports are the product and the athlete is the entertainer

  • Sports and politics use each other
    • countries use sports to enhance their image and power or that of their leaders but sports have also been used as peacemakers
      • For example: the Goodwill games 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
      • Also, think about how the national anthem and the display of flags plays a role in sports and politics

Religion and sport have a strong relationship

Churches sponsor leagues but athletes themselves profess and promote religious beliefs

Organizations for Christian athletes have been established

College and professional athletes often engage in religious practices or rituals before, during, or after games

  • Economy and sports cannot be overlooked
    • Money spent on tickets, concessions, club fees, membership dues, sports equipment, and clothing
    • Amount of money spent in any particular city on the weekend of a college or professional game can range from millions to billions of dollars
    • Budgets for advertising and sponsorship- may spend millions of dollars
social theories and sports
Social Theories and Sports
  • Theories give us a grounding, or a foundation, on which to build our positions and arguments
  • Most common theories:
    • Structural Functionalism- maintains that sports are an inspiration in our society and that a systems approach is the best way to study society
    • 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 like structural functionalism, rather society is a changing set of relationships based on economics.
conflict theory cont
Conflict Theory Cont.
  • Some individuals have resources or access to resources and therefore have a higher economic status causing social inequality
  • Categories of concern for conflict theorists:
    • Alienation
    • Coercion and Social control
    • Commercialism
    • Nationalism and militarism
    • Racism and sexism
critical theories
Critical Theories

Help us understand the realities of sports and how they affect different groups and individuals in society.

Critical Theorists examine the sources from which power originates and how power changes and affects individuals when seeking answers to issues in society.

Do not believe that there is one broad explanation for the problems in society

combination of history, social, and material conditions make up social life

Try to explain sports within contexts

Socially constructed vs. reflection on society*

What activities are regarded as sports?

symbolic interactionism
Symbolic Interactionism

Interactionalist Theories

Explains that we as athletes behave according to the manner in which we envision the effect of our behavior on ourselves and others and thus develop a sense of who we are.

Create identity from our sport

Assumes that our behavior involves choices that are based on the way we define our interactions in certain situations, allowing us to explore our identity.

issues and controversies
Issues and Controversies


The media is a profit making industry, therefore it uses the commodity of sport and exercise for economic reasons

1 Ton Man, etc.

Also plays an interesting role in reflecting cultural conditions back to society

Men’s games get major air time vs. women sport

issues and controversies1
Issues and Controversies


It is becoming more and more competitive as we progress into the future

Went from playing in casual settings and loosely based teams to being on travel and adult controlled teams

There is a big emphasis on being skilled at a younger age and being competetive

How far is too far?

Children should play as children, not at an adult level

Is there too much pressure being put on children to play competitively?


issues and controversies2
Issues and Controversies


The relationship between sports and education creates many conflicts.

Athletic programs in American society are generally linked to educational institutions and are thought to offer valuable positive learning experiences and opportunities for students

Reality: neglect towards education

Place sport as number one priority

Why individuals go to school is questioned, learning vs. scholarship

NCAA Div. 1A level causes problems, issues of recruitment, the awarding of scholarships

Need to obtain the best players

issues and controversies3
Issues and Controversies


She’s the Man

Women are neglected to secondary status due to men having political and social dominance

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.

Sexist team names

Pink panthers

Advances by women have been significant

Many more women have been able to participate in sports and physical activity than ever before

Title IX

No discrimination based on sex by any institution receiving federal funds

The number of women and who hold college coaching or athletic administrator positions has been decreasing.

issues and controversies4
Issues and Controversies
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Sport
    • 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
    • Biases regarding the physical and mental capabilities of different cultures and races creates tension
  • Stacking
    • The overrepresentation or under representation of racial or ethnic groups in certain positions
    • The under representation is generally 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
      • For instance, a coach may say that he wants to recruit blacks for positions that require quick reactions, sprinting, and intricate movements, and recruit whites for positions that require thinking.
issues and controversies5
Issues and Controversies
  • Politics and Sport
    • Sports, though not directly related to politics, are influenced by many different societal and cultural forces, politics being one of them.
    • Deals with power; how it is obtained and used.
    • Local level, decisions regarding facility use by organizations and city ordinances must be considered.
    • International level, governments choose the coaches who in turn select the athletes who will compete in the Olympics
    • Governments use sports as political tools, propaganda showcase, and as an economic and national showcase of a host nation
      • Olympic boycotts by the US in 1980
    • Sports serve as a sociopolitical mirror reflecting the state of a nation, its political ideology, and power
      • Title IX
issues and controversies6
Issues and Controversies
  • Religion and Sports
    • Sports and religion are both cultural practices in our society
    • Combining sports and religion, such as Athletes in Action or Jocks for Jesus, can create problems
      • Professional Athletes have admitted to using such organizations to promote themselves and do not really adhere to the tenets of the organization or religion.
    • Separation of Church Vs. State
      • Playing games on the college or public school campus’s raise controversies
advances in sport sociology
Advances in Sport Sociology
  • Globalization or broader realization and outreach of the applications and implications of the effect sports are making on the world