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Understanding Sociology of Sports with Theoretical Perspectives

The three theoretical approaches provide different insights into sports and none is more correct than the others.

A structural-functional approach explains the ways in which sports help society operates. The manifest functions of sports include providing recreation as well as offering a means of getting in physical shape. Sports have important latent functions as well, including building social relationships and also creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country. Participating in sports encourages competition and the pursuit of success that are central to our society's way of life.

Sports also have dysfunctional consequences. For example, colleges and universities try to field winning teams to build a school's reputation and also to raise money from alumni and corporate sponsors. In the process, however, these schools sometimes recruit students for their athletic skill rather than their academic ability. This practice not only lowers the academic standards of the college or university but also shortchanges athletes, who spend little time doing the academic work that will prepare them for later careers.

A social-conflict analysis of sports points out that the games people play reflects their social standing. Some sports including tennis, swimming, golf, sailing, and skiing are expensive, so taking part is largely limited to the rich sections of the society. Football, baseball, and basketball, however, are accessible to people at almost all income levels. Thus the games people play are not simply a matter of individual choice but also a reflection of their social standing.

Throughout history, men have dominated the world of sports. For example, the first modern Olympic games, held in 1896, barred women from competition. Throughout most of the twentieth century, League teams barred girls based on the traditional ideas that girls and women lack the strength to play sports and risk losing their femininity if they do. Both the Olympics and the League are now open to females as well as males, but even today our society still encourages men to become athletes while expecting women to be attentive observers and cheerleaders.

At the micro-level, a sporting event is a complex, face-to-face inter- action. In part, play is guided by the players' assigned positions and the rules of the game. But players are also spontaneous and unpredictable. Following the symbolic-interaction approach, we see sports less as a system than as an ongoing process. In addition, the behavior of any single player may change over time. A rookie in professional baseball, for example, may feel self- conscious during the first few games in the big leagues but go on to develop a comfortable sense of fitting in with the team.

Reference: John J. Macionis, Sociology, Pearson, 14th Edition