Sociology is one of my favorite subjects, especially when applied to sport. The study of people and society. Sport in general is a unique aspect of society from which we can observe a great deal about what that culture values and holds in high regard. In this example, I will only be looking at two sports in America.
Take for example the sport of football. A game of speed. Of strength. Of power and performance. Also time-bound – you must win in 60 minutes. Putting on a show while doing everything you can to physically dominate and overcome your opponent. Football is arguably the most popular sport in America – just look at the growth of kids playing the sport nationally, the popularity of the college game and the attention it gets in the media and the growing number of viewers watching the Super Bowl every year.
Take the game of baseball, on the other hand, as being very different. A game of precision. Of speed. Of mental toughness, of being able to stare down a batter or pitcher. Of significant individual contribution as part of a team effort. “America’s pastime,” literally to pass the time. Certainly very popular and one of the oldest sports in America, but arguably not currently as popular as the game of football.
Now, consider how these sports represent American values as a whole along with how America has changed over the last century. Certainly we possess both sets of values as a culture, but the fact that the game of football is so popular is telling us something important. Personal opinions aside, America, as represented by the popularity of particular sports, values the power and performance model of sport more than the game of precision. Yes, both are values, but as represented by its two most popular sports, America prefers the domination game more. The rise in popularity of football is historically consistent with the Industrial Revolution and America’s place in the global environment, both in war and in economic positioning. America’s circumstances are different now, but hopefully you get the point.
I personally love “sport” more than I love any particular “sport,” though I do enjoy watching and playing some more than others. When looking at the elements of a game and the consequences realized as a result (physical injury, social values passed on to younger generations, etc.), changes don’t come without challenges. Considering the recent attention in the media regarding head injuries in the game of football, one must also consider how this came problem came about. The game of football is actually much safer now than it ever has been, considering that at it’s infancy there was no such thing as protective equipment at all. Early players wore no helmets and no pads, yet still crashed into each other with just as much ferocity as they do now. Due to certain rule changes as well as advances is protective equipment and medical diagnosis and treatment procedures, we are advancing toward a safer way to play.
That said, changes to the sport by those who are in a position to regulate those changes will not come without objection by some who want to see the game preserved as this power and performance model discussed above. I believe that there is a balance that must be achieved between the two conflicting interests in order for the game to continue to represent what it has for so long, while also not putting our youth at risk. Because of the long held beliefs that America is a powerful nation, one of strength and might, of which the game of football can be a metaphor, overarching change will not come without a struggle. Indeed America is changing, as it always has been, and for most of us change is difficult. It would be much easier if everything stayed the same, but that just isn’t the case. We must continue to reflect and consider how our actions affect others and rationally consider who we are as individuals as well as a society. We live a great time for communication, as it has never been easier to learn and share with one another. Let us continue to keep the lines of communication open with the best of intentions for who we are and who we want to become.
We all know football is a dangerous sport, as it always has been. There will always be an inherent risk with most sports, so it is up to the individual to do what is in there best interest with regard to participation. If we work together, I’m confident we will find a way to mitigate the risk involved in sport so as to not jeopardize the values we desire sport to reflect. Our sports will likely change over time anyway, so perhaps this issue is the catalyst for something else to come about.
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