chapter  6
36 Pages

Get in the Game: Race, Merit, and Group Boundaries

Most sports are based on the idea of a relatively straightforward gameshooting a ball in a net, racing a horse around a track, chasing a puck with a hockey stick, running a race to see who is fastest. While these games seem simple, the world of sports is anything but trivial or inconsequential. Sports loom large in society, and many of you reading this book probably consider yourself a fan or sports enthusiast. Perhaps you are wearing a jersey or a cap with your favorite sports team’s logo. Maybe you watch your favorite teams on TV in the evenings, or stream highlights on your phone as you ride the bus to campus. Many readers likely have fond memories of playing sports as a kid, or still play pick-up games with friends on the weekends. For the fan, the importance of sports is self-evident. Even for those of you who don’t identify as fans, the world of sports pervades our everyday social lives. Myriad sports stars have become household names and celebrities-Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Usain Bolt. The contemporary sports landscape is expansive and varied, including major league sports, global spectacles like the Olympics, college sports (officially classified as amateur but generating billions of dollars in revenue), as well as a diversity of locally organized athletics such as community leagues, clubs, and athletic facilities. Like many aspects of our social worlds, the contemporary sports landscape may seem obvious and natural. People like sports, so it’s no wonder a massive industry has developed around athletic competition. But our sociological imaginations push us to dig deeper, in order to see the strangeness in the seemingly familiar activities of playing a sport, watching sports on TV, or buying sports paraphernalia. As we do so, it becomes clear that the sports landscape as it exists today represents a fascinating evolution from decades past, in terms of which sports are popular, how they are organized, who is playing them, and how they become consumer goods.