Sports can be defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” The definition can also have a connotation of simply being a game or contest that has winners and losers. Poker, electronic gaming, and other activities are occasionally included in the sports classification. At its core it is a leisure activity. Today it has become a major big business and global entertainment phenomenon. Fans obsess over statistics, their favorite athletes, and game presentations. This rise in popularity can be attributed to the development of popular media such as radio, TV, film, and the internet. Throughout history various civilizations had some form of sporting activity. Modern professional sport was not always inclusive having issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism. These social ills were only challenged in the later half of the 20th century and still remain persistent problems. Even though these continue to be obstacles, athletes of various backgrounds compete in national and international competitions. There still remains a mystery between this cross section of sociology, entertainment, and biological sciences. What function does sport serve? It can be theorized by certain observations. Sports does on a personal level functions as a form of escapism. Most forms of entertainment serve that role for a public that sees the world as a dangerous and dismal place. Another purpose is that it has a political function. Sports as much as fans hate to admit serve a political agenda. It could be national unity, encouraging patriotism, or advancing a social justice cause . A more sinister purpose of sport is that it is an outlet for humanity’s aggressive tendencies. War is the highest form of violence conducted by people. Human beings are still animals, even though more intelligent and still are controlled by more primitive behaviors. Sports provide place to express violence without having severe consequences. It could be possible without it, society would become more violent. These observations of sport describe its multifaceted nature and characteristics.
Although it seems like simple entertainment sports do have a political dynamic. They encourage unity through a national pastime. Baseball for example represented America’s desire for unity after the Civil War. Culture can be a unifying force for a state and sports are an enormous part of culture. The Super Bowl is a major part of Americans TV viewing rituals. It provides a space in which people of various backgrounds can have common ground on. Naturally, there is divisiveness in society. Having a common activity cements a bond between citizens. This also can create the illusion of a harmonious and peaceful society. This myth was challenged when sports began to include more non-whites and women. Racism, sexism, and homophobia have been a part of professional sports since its birth. Sports when they became desegregated and former colonies became independent became a vehicle for social justice. Newly independent nations in Africa and Asia were sending athletes to the Olympics for the first time in the 1960s. African American athletes in the United Sates challenged segregation and white supremacy. Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, and Muhammad Ali were active in their communities for the cause of racial equality.
For new nations of Africa and Asia it instilled a sense of anti-colonial nationalism. It gave former colonized peoples a new sense of self and achievement. Currently, nations from all over the world send teams to compete in the Olympics. The most radical change besides the expanding ethnic diversity, was that women’s sports participation increased dramatically. This rise of women in sport has been ignored in academia until recently. Women’s inclusion into sport represented their growing power in society. Second wave feminism was largely responsible for breaking particular barriers. Yet, women faced other forms of discrimination like sex verification tests, unequal pay, and limited access to certain training facilities. Non-white athletes either got limited media exposure and still faced the same racist prejudice. However, it was impossible to completely ban non-whites and women from sport completely. Although sports was used as a vehicle for social justice it has been used for reactionary purposes. The 1936 Olympics was used as a presentation of of German racial superiority and the greatness of fascism. Nazi Germany used the games to spread its racist propaganda and to make Germany appear to be the best nation in the world. Jesse Owens through his athletic performance discredited Nazi propaganda. Owens’ success enraged Hitler hoping to capitalize on the victory of German athletes. There is no doubt that sports continue to play a role in politics. There is a reason that the national anthem of the US is played at football and baseball games. It is designed to encourage patriotism in a subtle manner. This could have negative or positive consequences. There is nothing wrong with loving your nation, but hate against others is unethical. Other problems emerge in this practice.
Recently there has been controversy over the practice of paid patriotism. The Pentagon has paid and established contracts to sports teams to have patriotic displays at sports events. The estimated 6.8 million dollars has been used to promote the US military and encourage enlistment at sporting events. Numerous sports organizations had contracts with the Pentagon including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer. Tax payers had to pay more for this and critics were concerned that it was promoting war. With military interventions increasing this is a major concern. The fear is that the public is being brain washed at sporting events to support aggressive wars that violate international law. These events are presented to “honor troops.” When this practice was investigated by congress it turns out tax dollars were being used to profit both the Department of Defense and popular sports franchises. Sports are more than just entertainment, they are platforms for political objectives.
The more recognizable purpose of sport is entertainment and escapism. These two things are essential for psychological well being. The world can be a cruel and unforgiving place. War, poverty, and a general state of hardship can be seen through out the world. Sometimes people just want to get way from constant bad news and sports provide almost a therapeutic comfort. Entertainment has the power to briefly have an individual free from life’s troubles. Watching sports also can be a bonding experience among friends and family. People gather together to either watch soccer, basketball, football, or other sporting events. This ritual among people can be traced back further. Before television, books, or other forms of media there was story telling. This tradition can be seen in multiple areas across the globe. It can be seen that people would gather to hear the story teller speak. Humanity’s need for entertainment goes before the rise of civilization and permanent settlement. The cave paintings done by cro-magnons not only tell stories, but could be considered an early form of entertainment. Sports is clearly an outgrowth of this long tradition.
Being amused is a way to fight ennui. Sports combine amazing athletic feats with interesting personalities. There is trash talking, show boating, and rivalry between competitors that keep viewers captivated. Sports that are not mainstream even have devoted cult followings. Bodybuilding has attempted to go mainstream, but will always be in a sense be a subculture. Still it has its devoted fans who come to competitions and know the specific stats of their favorite athletes. Occasionally some sports that are not mainstream are broadcast to a larger viewing audience. ESPN used to broadcast more strength sports, but it mostly focuses on football, baseball, tennis, and soccer.
Entertainment provides a psychological relief from the stresses of life. Human beings seek stimulation such as this because they are social animals. This ritual of entertainment has been present longer than some realize.
There is a more dark side of why sports are played. It may be an outlet for aggressive tendencies, that left unchecked could spiral out of control. The capacity for violence from human beings can be seen in war, crime, and murder. Sports do require a level of aggression to be played. Anyone watching a UFC fight or an American football game realizes this. Team sports do in a way function like simulated war. Strategies are made and executed in an organized manner. All team members must function as a cooperative unit. A level of trust is built forming comradery among players on a team. The army does this with recruits who join. They are regimented, taught to function as one unit, and learn to carry out broad objectives. Another dynamic is at play with this. Sports could also contribute to promoting a bellicose mentality and warfare itself. Besides just fighting a warrior mentality must instilled in subjects.Sparta did this during ancient Greek civilization encouraging a warrior society. Both men and women were expected to engage in exercise and sport. This instilled in the society the warrior’s spirit. Fight till the death, be loyal to your state, and work efficiently as a combat force. Modern day society does not like war, but its till happens. Humanity cannot admit that it still has aggressive impulses and that violent occurrences are anomalies. It is unfortunate that violence is part of animal nature. All through the animal kingdom organisms fight for mates and territory. Human beings do the same only with in a complex system of power structures and international politics.
Controlling human violence requires a criminal justice system, a political structure, and a civil society. Sometimes these either fail or are too weak to control instinctual impulses. Sports may be a way to control violent impulses of the public. Professional sports simulate the Roman gladiator games, only without the possibility of death. The environment is controlled and sports organizations ( not always ) try to protect the health of their athletes. Having people participate or view sports may direct some of the public’s desire for violence away from society. Yet, wars still happen and crime is still prevalent. Sometimes sports can be a catalyst for violence. Football hooliganism has become a major problem in Europe. Right wing extremists, street brawlers, and overzealous fans assault people at soccer matches. This case sports becomes another violent terrain. It has become a delicate balancing act. There are positive effects of a shared activity among the public. For sports it can also lead to possible division if not managed properly. Europe’s failure to challenge and address the growing disorder from football hooliganism will cause discord. Also a situation similar in the US is the widespread domestic abuse by football players and the NFL’s refusal to address it. Critics say that it is the aggressive nature of the game, which players bring home causing the domestic disturbance. It is a hyper-masculine atmosphere the denigrates anything female, which may explain some of these antisocial behaviors. Although domestic violence existed before football, some wonder if this just exacerbates it. There is an ugly side of sport that is not recognized . Recently, scholars and historians of sport are examining this link between sports and violence.
The definition of sport has expanded to include activities that are not specifically physical in nature. Electronic gaming, race car driving, and poker are now considered sports. They may not be as mainstream ( race car driving has gradually become more mainstream), but they have an increasing fan base. It is not strange to see ESPN broadcast a poker tournament. A sport does not always have to involve intense physical activity. Hunting for many in certain parts of the world is considered sport. This does not involve the throwing of balls or complex body movement, but a gun and the ability to track wildlife. Fishing has also been broadcast on ESPN as well. Sports can now be simply considered a game that consists of contests in which there will be winners or losers. As technology advances and interactive entertainment flourishes video games have become an important industry. Video game enthusiasts began playing popular franchises together . Later they decided to hold competitions for prizes that could be won for high scores. Video gaming competitions have players compete in fighting games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or other fighting game franchises. There is a level of skill learning long combos and executing them fast enough to win matches. The reason some underground sports do not get exposure is because they do not have an official organization. These organizations set guidelines, policies, and rules for particular sports. Underground sports do not receive the any if at all TV broadcast. Mixed Martial Arts seems to be an exception. The sport was not as popular in the 1990s. The 2000s brought new opportunities for MMA. When it was shown on the Spkie TV network in the US, the public started taking interest. It was something new and unknown. This model may not work with all underground sports. Demographics, marketing, and media play a role in the level of success. The definition of sport is not monolithic; it can have multiple elements.
The other aspect of sport is the role of biological sciences. Skill, technique, and general athletic performance are studied through the context of exercise physiology, sports psychology, and anatomy. There are questions that are asked, that still have no answers. Has human physical capability reached its maximum? Is athletic ability determined mostly by genetics or training ? Can women in the distant future match men’s levels of athletic performance? These questions are still vigorously debated. Training techniques are rapidly being altered to see just how far athletes can push their performance. There is also controversy in regards to the use of performance enhancing drugs. They have been a part of sports since its development, but modern day society has become solicitous about them . Arguments range from the concept of fairness, health, and issue surrounding transhumanism. The last argument seems to be the most cogent. Should humanity enhance itself by pharmaceutical, chemical , or genetic means?This is raises a huge bioethical question. Humanity has a way of altering nature and abusing new found knowledge. When humanity understood nuclear physics, this lead to the creation of atomic weaponry. When humanity invented guns warfare could be conducted more efficiently. Science has produce many great milestones, but with that achievement comes less than positive repercussions. With every new medicine created there is a potential for abuse. These questions are becoming more interesting considering scholarship is putting focus on these topics. There is still much to be learned about the human body and even more in regards to how it effects athletic performance.
Sports are multifaceted. Today professional sports are a billion dollar industry. The Olympics has competitors from all over the globe and sports have large air slots on television. Professional athletes are not the only ones playing sports. Children and the elderly are participating. Youth are playing football, soccer, baseball, and other sports in either in school or through youth league organizations.
Boys and girls want to either emulate or have aspirations to be like their favorite athletes. The United States has seen a growth in youth sports from the 1950s onward. There are positive benefits for children. They learn how to collaborate with others, it keeps them out of trouble, and keeps them physically active. However, there are issues. Aggressive parents ( soccer moms or football dads ), the student athlete challenge, and injury are causes of concern. Parents need to remember that this should be enjoyable for the children and not push them too hard. These are children not professionals. The student athlete issue creates a problem. Young people should remember that academics are just as important as your athletic pursuits. This is especially critical for students entering universities. The goal is to leave with degrees first and for most. Children seeing as they are still growing and developing injuries carry an extra risk. Coaches, parents, and physical educators should be aware of potential harm. The elderly are taking part in sport and physical between each other as well. Seniors either are taking part in swimming, walking, and even bodybuilding. Ernestine Shepard who still active in fitness made a Guinness World Record as being the oldest female bodybuilder. She at the age of 78 shows no sign of slowing down.
The reason seniors continue to be physically active is for the sake of their health. When people age there are changes in both the nervous and circulatory system. This can lead to diseases that are neurodegenerative or cardiac illness. Maintaining good health is critical to the quality of life. Medical professionals thought at one time it was a good idea that seniors slow down in old age. This has been challenged and now it is recommended that seniors engage in some form of moderate exercise. Sports activities among seniors help fight loneliness or depression. These feelings become common in old age, when psychologically an individual goes through introspection about their life. It seems that sports and physical activities are having more of an impact on the public’s lives than previously thought. What started off as simple recreation in ancient times became a professional industry. Still professional sports is relatively new. It really is the creation of the 19th and 20th century. The influence on culture can be seen in film, news media, radio, and television. The digital age has pushed sports exposure further, giving fans greater exposure and access to information. Stats and results become readily available. Fans can communicate to each other at their own convenience. Sports are constantly evolving and it is uncertain what it will be like in the future. There is a possibility new sports or games will emerge either dethroning the popularity of current ones.