Understand the social significance of sport

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Sport Management by Paul M. PedersenL & ucie Thibault.

Social Significance of Sport

Did you ever wonder why local television newscasts describe their content as news, weather, and sports? Why not news, weather, and technology? Why do they not highlight education? Or literature? Have you ever wondered why so many families spend discretionary resources and time at youth sport events? Or why advertising rates during the NFL Super Bowl are so astronomical? The entry cost for some 30-second ads for the 2013 Super Bowl ranged from US$3.8 million to US$4 million, or roughly US$130,000 per second (Stone, 2013)! Perhaps it is because sport influences almost every aspect of our lives. Undeniably, billions of corporate and personal dollars are spent annually on sport-related products and services. In fact, in 2011, US$77.3 billion was spent on sporting goods, apparel, footwear, fitness equipment, and licensed sport merchandise (Brettman, 2012), which demonstrates that the sport industry has an enormous economic impact on U.S. society.

 

Another way the significance of sport is highlighted is to see how individual acts and governance often come to symbolize broader social concerns. Some examples of this include racism (e.g., in 2008, the NCAA prohibited member use of Native American mascots), sexism (e.g., the public debate on whether women should be allowed membership at Augusta National Golf Club), criminal behavior (e.g., NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fighting), and drug use and abuse (e.g., the use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclist Lance Armstrong). These examples clearly indicate that sport holds a prominent place in our society and that the consumption, valuation, and participation of sports have potential for both positive and negative outcomes and consequences. Sport can be a place where sexism, racism, homophobia, and violence occur and are perpetuated. Keep in mind, however, that sport also has incredible potential to serve as a vehicle for positive youth development and social change.

 

Benefits of Sport

Clearly, sport shapes and maintains many social values that are held in high regard, such as hard work and fair play, self-discipline, sacrifice, and commitment to oneself and others. Research documents that sport participation can lead to greater health and well-being, as well as social, emotional, moral, physical, and psychological development (LaVoi & Wiese-Bjornstal, 2007). In short, sport has the potential to contribute to the positive development and stability of both individuals and society as a whole (Coakley, 2009).

 

Sport as a Socializing Agent

The socialization process refers to the various ways in which a society’s dominant values, attitudes, and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation. Socialization also pertains to the process of starting, continuing, changing, and discontinuing sports, as well as the effect of sport participation on the individual player (Coakley, 2009). Children learn from coaches, parents, teachers, peers, and siblings about what is normative, important, valued, and expected in a sport context - which helps them construct meaning of their experiences. In addition, what and who are portrayed in the sport media communicate values and attitudes to consumers and spectators about what is important.

 

Sport as a Unifier

Sport can bring people together by giving them a sense of personal identity, as well as feelings of group membership and social identification (Eitzen & Sage, 2009). For example, many U.S. citizens must have felt unified around the 2014 NFL Super Bowl, which was the most-viewed U.S. television program of all time, with 111.5 million viewers (Hibberd, 2014). Sport accomplishes feelings of unity in a number of additional ways, from the individual level (e.g., an athlete who feels that she is part of something bigger than herself because she is a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher), to the regional level (e.g., when citizens and professional sport teams like the Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox banded together to raise money to help victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing), to the national and international levels (e.g., the entire nation rooting for athletes in the Olympic Games). Few, if any, institutions can unite people the way that sport does, largely because the popularity of sport cuts across social categories like race and class.

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