Is Sport a Reflection of Society?

To look at sport as a reflection of society is an oversimplified way of looking at the sport-society relationship.  As with other institutions in society, sports are a site for production, reproduction and transformation of society and culture.  Sport has been used as a site of production in producing a culture and society that revolves around sports.  Sport has been used as a site to reproduce existing values in society, and finally sport has been used as a site to transform and change society’s paradigm.

As sport developed throughout the ages it has produced its own culture and place in society.  Sport has become the focal point in many societies, it is an institution that brings communities together or separates them.  It even allows people to act in an irrational manner that would otherwise be classified as crazy or even criminal.  Sporting events have been used as times to get together with others, in some cases they have been turned into a holiday or taken the place of religion.  Sport has the power to separate communities as well, whether that community is rooting for different teams or they take different stances on an issue.  For example, a star athlete on a local team gets in trouble with the law for sexual abuse.  The community then takes different stances on the issue and creates a rift in that community.

Half of the community believes the athlete should be punished, the other half believes the athlete should get off easy because there is a big game coming up.  Sport also allows people to act differently than they normally would.  The half of the community who is supporting the athlete accused of sexual abuse wouldn’t normally support a criminal.  It’s just the fact that the athlete is a star.  Society has also come to accept violence in sports, such as fighting in hockey.  In other areas of society fighting would be condemned and could even be considered illegal.

In addition to this culture developing around sport, sport has been used as a vessel to reproduce already existing values in society.  In many societies the concept of meritocracy holds true throughout all of its institutions including sports.  One could go to any sports practice and hear a variation of “you can go anywhere and succeed with hard work!”  Another concept that is stressed throughout sports is that of family values.  Athletes are often encouraged to treat their team as a family and hold the same value and respect for your teammates as you would your family.

Finally, sport can be used as a site to transform and shift the paradigm of society.  Minority groups, the government, and others have realized that at the biggest stages, sport can be used as a dynamic catalyst for change.  The biggest stages of sport, such as the Olympics, have been used as a catalyst for change because of the amount of people who attend, the exposure of the event, and the media coverage.  This allows the word to spread around the world very quickly.  The acts of John Carlos, Tommie Smith and other athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics allowed the world to see that developing countries, such as South Africa and Rhodesia, were not the only countries oppressing their minorities.  The USA had its own problems with oppressing and segregating African-Americans.  This act of the civil rights movement opened the eyes of people in the USA and around the world, and allowed change to happen in their society.

Sport is more than just a reflection of society.  Sport has the capability to produce its own culture within a society.  Sport can be used as a vessel to reproduce longstanding values and traditions of a society.  Sport even has the power to transform and change the dominant way of thinking in a society.  Sport cannot merely be a reflection.  It is a major institution and component of any given society.

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