Monday, June 23, 2008

Sport as Socializing Agent

I would like to begin a conversation on sports acting as socializing activities. Scott and I have talked around this issue some in other posts and comments. The general theory is that sports serve the interests of society by teaching practitioners and spectators behaviors needed or prized in a given time and place. This means that the same sport may socialize practitioners and spectators differently when the historical and social contexts change.

Speaking generally, Victorian era British sports, for example, emphasize social etiquette and restraint. American sports, on the other hand, tend to blatantly defy British decorum and, in the case of baseball, attempt to erase European genealogy. Instead, craftiness (cheating?) and a dogged determination to win are prized. "Stealing," is even permissible.

I attended a "Philosphy of Sport" conference in England in 2004. Most of the attendees were European and I surprised some when I mentioned that in America, soccer is largely a sport for the upper middle class, played in wealthy suburbs. In Europe, it is a decidedly working class sport, and the matches often attract many disenfranchised, unemployed young men looking to take their anger out on the opposing team or its fans.

I offer these two general examples merely as primers. Over the next few weeks, I invite you to join me in analyzing the socializing effects of a number of sports and games: golf (yes, there is more to be said), tennis, soccer, baseball, fencing, trictrac, football, basketball, and maybe racquetball, rodeo, hockey, and others you might suggest.

6 comments:

Colin said...

It appears that soccer and beer have more in common that I would have supposed before reading this post. I read a case study in business school about InBev, the company that recently made and unsolicited offer to acquire Anheuser-Busch (ticker: BUD) for $46 billion. InBev produces Stella Artois beer, which is considered a working man's brew in Belgium (and the rest of Europe if I remember correctly). A la soccer, Stella Artois is marketed as a high end brand here in North America. Interestingly enough, Budweiser is marketed in the opposite manner -- a middle-income beer in the U.S. and a high-end import in Europe.

scott said...

Seems like you need to make a clearer distinction about whether you're considering the social class of the players or that of the viewers. In Europe, football (soccer) cuts across ALL social classes. It seems to be a universally watched sport from the top to the bottom. As for players, sure: they come from lower classes. If it's middle to upper class kids who play in the US, it's because it's an "import". Imports always appeal to a certain snob factor. The same holds true for American football in Europe.

Corry Cropper said...

No question, there are fans from all levels of society, especially for international matches. But if you go to a stadium in France, particularly for a regular club match, you'll not see a lot of Lacoste... in fact, the name of the national team, "les bleus," is, beyond just the color of the jersey, a tribute to the French working class (blue is the color worn by French manual laborers). Look, too, at the origins of the sport: Rugby was played on elite British campuses, the embodiment of muscled Christianity; Soccer was played by the dock workers and in industrial towns. So I am speaking largely historically, here, but I think to a large extent the class distinction (in soccer) still generally holds true, even in France.

Dana said...

Corry,

Here's a post that had me thinking of your blog:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=weinreb/080625&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab6pos1

In this case, the public shaping the behavior of the athlete.

Cheers,
Dana

Derek said...

Cricket is another good example where classes clash on the field. In the British Empire it was historically a nobleman's game, even as the empire spread to India, Australia, South Africa, and the Indies. The National teams of today's industrialized nations are still mostly composed of the upper crust. The more impoverished nations - Pakistan, India, the West Indies are teams of men off of the street. This has even spread to the U.S. where most of the U.S. National team is taken from immigrants from these other countries. In England they play soccer on the streets and in the islands of the Caribbean it's cricket.

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