Sports sociology is an important sub field of sociology that examines the relationships between sporting or games and the society as a whole as well as sport, itself as an observable social phenomenon. In sports sociology, the sporting world is seen as a microcosm of society with recursive relationships going on.
Games are both influenced by the larger society and culture and and are influences that affect the larger society and culture. Women, previously banned from serious sport, have always participated in organized exercise, but had to make great strides to be taken seriously as professionals or to compete in serious ways.
The earliest examinations of sport began in the late 19th century either as psychologists sought to examine the dynamic of organized competition and the upper classes sporting behavior, and as anthropologists studied games as a part of human culture.
There have always been issues of race, power, economics, social status, celebrity, role modeling and national symbolism in relation to sport. Jessie Owens overwhelming performance at the 1936 Summer Olympics during the Nazi era remains a powerful symbol for many. Not only were the proponents of an undesirable regime defeated, but oppressed people throughout the world were given the idea that they could achieve greatness as individuals.
Another major areas of sports and society, women and girl’s basketball, went from a high school and grade school physical education course to a national college and professional sports franchise. In Sacramento, California, the nationally recognized mens basketball team failed to win the national prize while the women’s team succeeded! Yet the women’s franchise continue to struggle financially and for audience. The struggle for women’s sports scholarships was a lengthy and contentious one. Now, women as serious forces in group athletics, as well as in scholarship that is financed by athletics are a regular and accepted part of the overall society.
Current issues in role modeling are of great concern. The current debate involves the imposed role of societal model versus the practicality of being a professional who is doing a job with no burden of serving as a societal model for all that is excellent in life.
The social and emotional development of athletes who begin practicing their sports at very early ages is an area that calls for much more study by sociologists.
The class, gender, racism, and ethnic issues involved with restricted golf clubs is of major concern, since much business opportunity and transaction goes on through golfing. The marital and personal strife of a single historical golfer has economic and social ripples that travel through all segments of society and the businesses that are related to golf, use his image for advertising, and use his image for attracting audience to golfing events. The imposition of morals clauses in sports contracts, alone, is worthy of study.
The economics of sports rivals the entire economies of some countries. The socioeconomic factors extend to globalization of opportunity and of sports franchising, with expansion of basketball and baseball into China and Europe and the acceptance of soccer as a major American pastime for examples.
The issue of violence in major sports and in group sports has always been examined in terms of violence or the pulse of the society as a whole. Whether the issue is hooliganism in European soccer venues or fistfights that break out at American basketball games; a brawl at a Little League tournament or controversy over an ethnic mascot, violence, nationalism, cultural issues and social values will always be reflected in events that unfold during sports events. Sociologists are primed for examining these issues with a trained and objective mind.
Sociologists offer excellent skills and observations of the many societal factors that relate to group and organized sports. One aspect that is discussed by Dave Zirin is the ability of the sports sociologist to provide challenges to the corporations that generate public information that is repeated in the media, but that is not objective or even always truthful. He quotes Ben Carrington, a sports sociologist: ”The job of the sports sociologist is to be a professional debunker of accepted truths.”
Are there any sports sociologists? There have been sports sociologists and sociology of sport programs for decades. Dr Harry Edwards is a sports sociologist and psychologist who is a professor of sociology at University Of California at Berkeley. The author of this article attended a few of his classes. Ben Carrington is another prominent sports sociologist and author in residence at The University of Texas at Austin.