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Sport, History and Society Essay Sample

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Sport, History and Society Essay Sample

Explain briefly the nature of sociology and history as disciplines. Choose one theoretical perspective and suggest how it might further our understanding of sport as a social phenomenon. – Essay plan.


In this essay I shall define and explain the two chosen disciplines, History and Sociology. The theoretical perspective I have chosen to discuss in relation to sport is race and ethnicity. I shall try and illustrate how throughout history different races, mainly black in this case, have been perceived in society and treated within the sporting world. It will then be brought together in the conclusion, explaining how racial issues or conflicts throughout history have contributed to sport being a social phenomenon. And finally, how black men and women have progressed through the restrictions, which were placed upon them.

What is Sociology?

* Sociology is often described as common sense.

* It could also be defined as looking at common sense historically – common sense often gets out-dated and then becomes known as a myth.

* Sociology is often opposed to wide spread prejudices because :

* It seeks to explain human behaviour. How we behave, why we behave in certain ways and the consequences it has on society.

* This is not always popular – there are certain morals and beliefs, which are seen to be opposed in the study of sociology.

* A definition of sociology could be : ‘the systematic study of human societies principally modern, industrialised ones. It is based on the assumption that human behaviour derives in large part, from memberships of these societies’.

* There are arguments of whether our behaviour is scientifically based, such as we inherit genetically our behavioural traits or whether it is learned or ‘nurtured’ from society.

What is history?

* There is not an exact definition of history, it is basically all the events and processes in the past, which have been fine tuned according to who published or wrote the article.

* Major divides in history =

Ultimate History (have agreed facts) vs. Relative History (never agreed facts).

* How history is recorded – usually one sided and biased.

* Other views on history:

Carl Marx- ‘all history is the history of class struggle’

* Link to sport. History of racial issues within sport.

What is Sport?

* Sport is hard to define as everybody has his or her own opinion.

* An example of a definition would be, ‘A game or competitive activity, which is pleasurable and subject to written rules’.

* It is important to remember that sport is historically specific.

* Some people may argue that sporting history is created by great sporting men and women or it could be made by understanding the struggles and processes taking place in human society.


* The word was first used in the twentieth century.

* It was used to mean people with an identifiable culture or destiny for example the Saxons and Celts.

* Considered to be a biological category.

* A racial group would be people who originate from the same country.

* Racial groups share values, traditions and interests therefore having a common identity.

Sport and the Idea of Racial Superiority

* Europeans who were exploring and colonising the world tried to explain why people didn’t look or behave the same.

* Anyone who differed where seen upon as strange.

* Due to this, ‘whiteness’ became the standard against which everything was compared and evaluated to.

* White Europeans and North Americans developed racial theories, which concluded that black people were uncivilised and animal-like.

* These theories led people to believe that they were intellectually superior beings and therefore deserved to be in positions of power and control.

* This was convenient at the time for white people, who were colonial leaders.

* This race ideology has been continuously changing over the years to fit new circumstances, explain contradictions and to justify new form of racial discrimination. (White America used it to justify slavery.)

* During the early part of the twentieth century they used it to explain the successes of African American boxers and other athletes.

* Black men were believed to have great physical strength and stamina in place of human feelings and emotions and intellectual awareness.

* Example – Joe Louis : Black heavyweight champion. Defeated Primo Carnera (Italian) and was slated by US press. Writers described him as ‘savage and animalistic’.

* Racial ideology and theories still exist today and are continuously adapting to keep up with circumstances.

* White successes in sport are not seen as race related outcomes whereas if a black athlete excels in sport, then automatically it is attributed to race and people embark on searches for people belonging to that racial group with similar physical traits – even thought success relies on much more than just that.

* These racial theories are also ‘expressed’ behind the scenes as well as on the pitch.

* In the book ‘Sport and Societies : Issues and Controversies’ by Jay Coakley, is a table showing the percentage of black, Latino, Asian and white contribution in some of the major sports leagues in 1998.

* The NBA had over 77% of non-white players , but as you moved up the hierarchy it became considerably less.

* All the primary owners, general managers and coaches were predominately white.

* The NBA was the only one with a higher percentage of black people in higher positions than players.

* This is due to pressure from players to have black coaches and managers.

* A lot of black coaches have had a longer and more successful career.

* Because coaching and administrative abilities cannot be measured as objectively as playing abilities, those hiring usually got the instinctive feeling to choose the whites over blacks – ‘racial ideology’


* The racialism in society today is often hard for white people to understand, as ‘whiteness’ has become to be ‘normal’.

* It has got to the point where white people do not think of themselves in racial terms.

* They can almost be perceived as colourless.

* Racial ideologies have become so deeply rooted in society, which in turn affects sports.

* Changing people’s beliefs and opinions is extremely hard.

* Racial superiority has come a long way from the beginning, but still has far to travel.

* Racism will never disappear, it is something that is swept under the rug so it can be forgotten about, but it still carries on to this day.

* Race has been a major factor in sport and has a been major factor within society making it a social phenomenon.

* Although black people have faced many struggles in the battle to rise and be ‘the best’, many have come through to be some of the best sporting athletes the world has seen and who are remembered and praised for their abilities and achievements. Give examples.

* Negative views of racial superiority still exist today in societies and will continually affect the way we live, think and play sport.


Cashmore. E. (2000) Sports Culture- An a-z guide. Routledge.

Coakley. J. (2001) Sport in Society. McGraw Hill publishers. New York.

Greendorfer. S. L. & Yiannakis. A. (1992) Applied Sociology of Sport. Human Kinetics publishers. Leeds.

Hartigan. S., Thompson. G., Wesson. K. & Wiggins. N. (2000) Sport and PE. Hodder & Stoughton. London.

Sleap, Mike (1998) Social Issues in Sport, Hampshire : Macmillan

Web sites:




Class notes- Lecturer Stephen Wagg.

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