Sociology of Sports

No. 108 

Structural and Cultural Approaches


T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute




First published in, Sociological Perspectives pp. 3-28, V. 1., 1986 and reprinted with permission


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(Winner of the 1987 PSA Award for Distinguished Scholarship).

Structural and Cultural Approaches 
Sport served a political function.
Capitalism supports a division of sports
into 'theirs' and 'ours.'
Into workers sports and bourgeois sports.
The Working class must use sports 
to bring back people from their
lonely, tortured and shattered worlds
to their rightful human dignity.
          ....from Arbeitsports by Fritz Wildung

    A Marxian theory of sport has two major dimensions:  a
political economy in which one weighs the degree to which sports
serves the accumulation problems of advanced monopoly capital and
a cultural-marxist dimension in which one examines the ways in
which  sports solves the problems of legitimacy and helps produce
alienated  consciousness in self and society.  This paper provides
insight in  both uses to which commodity sports are put.  In brief,
advanced  monopoly capitalism uses the advertising industry to
colonize desire  and myth in sports as an envelope in which to
insert commercial  messages.  The human desire for good and
enlivening social relations  is transferred to the lifeless
commodity.  A better use of sports is  to locate desire within
community and interpersonal concerns rather  than profit and a
false solidarity.  A radical research agenda is  summarized in the
last section. 

The Sociology of Sport.  The Sociology of Sport is increasingly                      
disputed ideological territory in American social science.  On the
one hand is the uncritical descriptive statistical examination of
sports activity created by an admiring journalism.  In the same
camp is the celebratory history of sports and sport figures which
redeems its ugly aspects by enlarging the heroic efforts of
individual players and teams.  Joining with these extensive
statistical presentations and their selected historical forays is
a safe and bland sociology of sport which trivializes and
depoliticizes sports in particular and leisure time pursuits

     Among the major introductory textbooks of the past 20 years,
very little attention is paid to the sociology of sports.  Babbie
(1983) does not mention sports or leisure as an institutional form. 
Wilson (1971) treats leisure activities as a subsection or work
containing no theory or analysis.  McGee (1980) does not mention
sports and treats leisure activities as a problem which may arise
in the future as people work less.  Again no analysis.  Ritzer et
al. (1982) has a very decent section on sports although it is
primarily descriptive of organization and variety.  It does have
some mildly critical dimensions about sports as corporate business
as well as the disturbing influence of mass media.
     Opposed to this happy, marginalized view of sports is a new
genre of Marxian work embodied in the works of Paul Hoch (1972),
Jean Marie Brohm (1975), Richard Gruneau (1981), Jon Sewart (1981),
Leon Chorbajian (1984), and Thomas Keil (1984).  A marxian
perspective when viewing sports has two major approaches:  The
first and more orthodox approach centers on the political economy
of sports while the second focuses upon its ideological meaning for
socialization as well as for the legitimacy within a strife ridden
Structural Analysis.     Central to the first approach are the                       
concepts of profit, capital accumulation, concentration of wealth,
extraction of surplus value, externalization of costs as well as
the exploitation, objectification and commodification of athletes,
games, leagues and seasons of play.  This approach is concerned
with the ways in which the mode of production of sports is
organized to socialize the costs of production while the profits
are privatized.          
     Economic benefits of commodity sports include profits, tax
write off for losses, residuals, stock and real estate appreciation
as well as copyrights and commercial spin-offs.  Profits from
financing, construction and auxiliary services to sports all
redound to the private owner while the costs of production are
transferred to the tax-payer, workers and fans through player
training programs in school, college and community, public stadia
building, low wages and benefits for nonathletes, ticket and
television revenue.   
     Modern American society invests a great deal of resources in
commodity sports.  This political economy critique of sports shows
how it accumulates and concentrates capital for ownership, how it
manages player unrest, how it has developed to a labor aristocracy
which joins with management to exploit other sectors of the working
class and how it commodifies every element of sports from
intermissions of play, to grand moments in play, to the very
reputations and esteem of players.   
     There is also an economic analysis of mass sports made of the
ways and means by which banks and monopolies have taken over the
financial side of sports; the interconnections between ownership
within and between differing sports; between sports and other
economic activities such as publishing, cinema, advertising, as
well as gambling and politics.
     There is the mapping of the subsidiary businesses to sports;
transport, food, hostelry, equipment manufacture, construction,
sports medicine, development schemes as well as insurance and
investment.   There is a critical history of sports created as
well.  Brohm (1975) notes that world sport paralleled the rise of
colonial imperialism.  Sport is modeled upon capitalist modes of
production; upon the accumulation ethic and is assimilated by the
state in such a fashion as to socialize the costs of producing
athletes, stadia, and injury while privatizing the profits of mass
     There are the forms of crime, forms of policing, forms of
justice and forms of control to be studied -- a sort of
micro-criminology.  There are the frauds, tax evasion,
black-listing, spurious bankruptcies, bribes, medical crime,
illegal transfers and point-fixing to be analyzed.  These analyses
are made in the traditional structural analysis of the political
Cultural Marxism:   The second major approach in Marxian analysis
is a cultural Marxist analysis.  It involves the concepts of legitimation, 
ideological culture, alienation, false consciousness, solidarity, massification, 
character, structure, surplus production and the realization problem.  
Cultural Marxism studies how commodity sports creates a false solidarity
between and among workers and owners, Blacks and Anglos, rich and
poor, East and West, North and South as well as between nations
within the world capitalist system and between the socialist bloc
and the non-socialist bloc.  In Brazil and Argentina, revolutionary
groups stop the revolution for the World Soccer Finals.
     Commodity sports colonizes the beauty, elegance, joy and
despair of physical performance.  Thus it bends eros to the
accumulation and legitimation needs of capitalism in crisis (as
well as bureaucratic socialism, feudal relations in the Mid-East
or fascist relations in the poor capitalist countries).  Eros is
colonized in order to transfer desire from essential social and
community needs to privatized consumer goods.  In advanced monopoly
capitalism, the entire sports ensemble becomes a product sold to
major corporations which need to dispose of surplus production in
order to realize profit.
     Commodity sports legitimates the false separation of social
life into the world of work which is said to be necessarily
alienating on the one hand and the world of play in which one finds
delight and joy on the other hand; in which the forces of life may
be expressed in exhilarating play and thus redeem the bitter
imperfection of alienated relations at work, in school, in family
or in church.  The possibility that eros, conceived as the forces
of life, could be expressed at work, school, in family or in
religious practice is falsely excluded from the consciousness of
the worker, the student, the husband or the somnolent church-goer.
     These two approaches together, use of sports for the capital
accumulation and the use of sports for the mystification of
conflict relations in class, racist, sexist or national
chauvinistic societies combines to provide the emancipatory
knowledge basic to the transformation of society in general and
sports in particular to more human and humane purpose.  The
critical project is always to advance the radical anthropological
project of Marx in which the individual constitutes himself or
herself as species being, i.e., as human, by the appropriation of
nature including one's own athletic abilities in building a just,
harmonious and egalitarian social life world in concert with
others.  It is to that end that this paper is written.
     Before I develop both approaches a bit, I would like to set
forth the contemporary but depoliticized ways in which athletes and
fans falsely understand the meaning of sports.  One must remember
that there is some truth value in each approach.  It is not that
these other approaches are false but rather that, in their limited
truth, they provide a false consciousness of sports in capitalist
societies which deflect the authentic self knowledge of sports and
society and thus defuse and deflect political control over the very
institution so many give so much of the body and loyalty.
The False Self-Understanding of Sports: 
Health and Character building.  
The officially given uses to which sports and other athletic activity
are put center around physical health and character building.  The
vast resources laid on for physical education in high school,
college and city league programs are justified by appeal to the
presumed increase in quality of life or in moral character for
participants.  There are several features of modern sport activity
which bespeak this rationale.  The incidence of injuries to
professional ball teams subvert the claim of better physical
condition as a result of participation.  
     The use of drugs to train and repair players as well as for
controlling pain so one can play while injured also calls such a
rationale into question.  The kind of muscles used and the
development of them may have no real lasting effect on quality of
health.  And the physical deterioration of players after they cease
playing suggests that this philosophy of sports is much more a
gloss than substance.
     And as far as the moral character, in commercial sports in
particular and competitive sports in general, one must wonder
whether that particular character is, indeed, an ideal to be
adopted.  The widespread cheating by coaches and players, the envy,
disappointment, cynicism and hypocrisy entailed in commercialized
competitive sports, as well as the abusive and profane behavior of
the fans, leave one in doubt about the psychological benefits
accruing from and calling for such social investments.
     Finally, the minuscule differences in performance of runners,
throwers, catchers, batters, and jumpers need critical analysis. 
With electronic timing and measurement, the differences between
"winners" and "losers" in races, series, and games may be magnified
far beyond any sensible proportion.  If two runners finish within
a tenth of a second in a four minute mile, how is one declared a
winner and the other a loser when both are superior examples of
athletic excellence.  If two teams are tied in the last minute of
play after a long season and the "winner" depends upon the last
basket in the last second -- or the last pass on the last down or
the last kick in overtime, all this is exhilarating drama but rests
more comfortably in an analysis which places sports in a dramatic
framework about endurance, persistence, or national superiority
than in one centered on superiority or merit.
     It is the view taken here that these physical activities are
central to the human project if organized adequately; that these
aesthetically pleasing capabilities are and should be expressed in
the world of work, family life, politics and, indeed, sports,
theatre, dance, and the plastic arts.
Solidarity.    Perhaps the most visible and most pervasive            
understanding of sports activity is a solidarity use.  High
schools, small towns, large cities, entire nations, friendship
groups, male associations, father-son relationships, as well as
whole economic systems make use of the aesthetic, dramatic,
mysterious and strategic responses in sports, games and play to
define, to celebrate, to expand and to reaffirm a special
solidarity status for those assembled to participate or to observe. 
     As a solidarity device in conjunction with a variety of other
solidarity supplies; food, alcohol, violence, risk, song, sexual
display, chants, special clothing and physical ecstasy, such sports
as football, basketball, soccer, hockey, and baseball bind people
     The solidarity function is central to a sociological
understanding of sports, games and play.  We do act, feel and think
as one as we cheer, chant, despair, and rejoice together at the
turns of events in the game.  There can be no greater solidarity
than dozens, thousands, millions thinking, doing and feeling the
same things in the same place at the same moment.  These are the
precious, rare moments of perfect harmony and collective exuberance
in a world all too short on such moments.
     But it is this a narrow solidarity limited in time and place
and confined to the world of make-believe and not-for-real.  When
the game is over, the enthusiasm dies, the solidarity runs short
and disharmony in other relations reassert themselves.  Much as one
hour a week cannot answer to the religious impulse, one game a week
cannot answer to the solidarity needs of a racist, sexist or
elitist society.  In this respect more radical structural solutions
are preferred.   
     In a conflict-ridden society where each is the natural enemy
of similarly-situated competitors for jobs, for land and resources,
for sexual access, and for other scarce items, where there are
class antagonists and ethnic opponents, where ever more people are
impoverished, such solidarity activity is important to the masking
of these antagonisms.  When the home team beats the putative enemy
with skill, genius, heroic acts, with deceit or trickery and guile,
great delight, joy and enthusiasm emerges and can be shared with
those-present-on-our-side.  Class antagonisms, ethnic hatred, as
well as gender and national hostilities with real conflicting
interests can be assimilated to the harmless competitive in sports. 
The structures of privilege, inequality and oppression are left
intact by such use of solidarity moments in sports.
Alienated Sexuality.     Perhaps the most simple-minded view of the
 current way sports is organized centers around sex and violence.  
This view reduces the analysis of sports to some universal psychological 
drive/anxiety about sexual and violent behavior. 
The depth analyses made in this kind of understanding is that the
equipment and events in football, basketball, baseball, golf and other 
sports events lend themselves to sexual interpretation.  
     The pitcher throwing the ball to the catcher to deceive the
hitter readily lends itself to this interpretation if we regard the
bat as a phallic symbol, the ball as a sperm, the catcher and the
mitt as earth-mother and her genital organ, the pitcher as the
castrating father and the home run as the symbolic murder of the
primitive father.  
     In like fashion, football action may be so reconstructed as to
evoke the primal scene.  If the goal line is the hymen and the
ballcarrier the phallus while the ball itself is a primitive womb
to be delivered in triumph to earthmother, then a touchdown is a
symbolic rape uniting sex and violence in a series of downs in
which the underdog team (the symbolic son) pushes away the defenses
of the favored team (the primitive father) to penetrate the sacred
opening of that mother.   
     Golf also takes on sexual meaning if we convert the golf club
into a phallus, the white ball into sperm and the drive itself into
an ejaculatory orgasm aimed at a hole-in one.  Basketball with its
inaccessible hoop, its oversized balls and its slam-dunk could
create an image of the primal scene in the violence of rape.  And
so on.  In these analyses a horse is a phallic symbol as is a car,
motorbike, bicycle, rifle or running back.  In sports, one side
represents father, one side the adolescent son reaching for
incestuous control of the primitive mother embodied in the win, the
bucket, the touchdown, the hole in one, the home run.  
In this perspective, sports is seen as a form of sublimated
sexuality which makes the world safer for decent women.  
     A variation on this theme is that sports and the deep
involvement of Americans and people everywhere with them is an
expressive outlet for undesirable and/or unusable emotional drives
or psychological imperatives.  Rage, anger, antic genius, violence,
sexuality, fantasy, foolishness, and humor (eros generally) are
said to be "safely" channeled into harmless pursuits through
sports, games, reading novels, watching plays and dreaming.  It is
not that these are central to all forms of human activity but that
they have a very limited place in "real" life and must be rendered
neutral by expressing them in non-serious endeavor.    
     Sports is, here as before, a safety valve to discharge
"naturally" occurring and "dangerous" emotion.   
Divertissment       Another well received view of sports is as a 
diversion from serious matters. 
 In this analysis, ordinary work, politics and family are adult matters. 
One who seeks escape into trivial, non-serious activity is
immature.  More generally, the social world is split into two
components: seriously intended social reality on the one hand and
make-believe, just-pretend and just-for-fun on the other.  It may
be all right for children and students to engage in such frivolity
but the sober citizen works hard and remains joyless.  
     In this view, eros is not to be linked with work still less is
it to be colonized to encourage consumerism--eros is to be denied. 
This view sees life as necessarily involving suffering--joy is
unnatural.  In a marginally efficient mode of production the
Protestant ethic of hard work and self-denial has a certain social
utility.  In an affluent society, this approach makes sense only to
those whose relationship to the means of production is so
precarious that the least indulgence would be a serious matter.   
     A great many people including some Marxists hold a differing
view.  They accept that life is alienating and that people
inappropriately escape that alienation by fleeing the family,
onerous work, dull/mean-spirited religion as well as massified
educational forms to the lively world of play and sports. 
Alienated workers escape the boredom, drudgery and humiliation of
work in the ever expanding weekend of commercial sports, drinking,
bowling, jogging, hunting or swinging sex.  People give up on
local, state and national politics, surrender elitist control over
politics to the politicians in exchange for the private freedoms of
sports, games, and play.   
     The difficulties with this analysis are many including the
unjustified assumptions that work and sexual life within
institutional marriage forms or institutional politics necessarily
are alienating.  It simply does not follow that since these are
alienated in this social formation that they must be alienated
everywhere, eternally for all people.  There is the prior question
about the relationship between reality and make-believe.  
     Sports, games, theatre, fiction, rehearsal, are, have been and
must be integrally linked to the human project (Young, 1983).  As
we shall see a bit later, the realm of make believe and magic can
be alienated from the human project--the salient political question
is how to forestall alienation.  The short answer lies in the
democratic modes of production for make believe and just-pretend
including sports. 
The Political Economy of Sports    There are several structural                                
characteristics of a political economy approach upon which I
touched earlier and would like to develop a bit here.  The first
and most general point I want to emphasize is that the character of
sports varies with the mode of production of the society in which
it appears.  The history of sports parallels the history of human
     In each of the five great modes of organization for social
production, sports and the world of serious activity has been
mutually inter-dependent.  In primitive communal societies, in
slave, feudal, capitalist or socialist society, sports has been
shaped by the dominant mode of production. 
Contemporary sports:     Football, basketball, soccer, track and
field events have their origins in inter-tribal, inter-feudal and inter-
capitalist warfare. 
Football probably started out as a predator village kicked the heads of
conquered neighbors around.  Baseball is little else but the
skilled use of the bludgeon.  Field events:  shot put, javelin,
hammer throw and archery all come out of the weaponry of feudal
     Such events as the marathon, the hurdles, the obstacle course,
the dash and the relay recapitulate the structure of field
communication in the various military encounters between low tech
armies from the wars between city-states in ancient Greece to the
crusades through the feudal conquests of France, Britain,
Scandinavia and the African nations.   
     The modern assimilation of sports to military goals came in
1811 when the Germans were occupied by the armies of Napoleon.  The
mass calisthenics which later came to be associated with the
Jugendschaften of the Hitler era, were encouraged as prelude to the
overthrow of the French oppressors by German patriots.
     In our times, sports is shaped more by the commercial needs of
advanced monopoly capital.  There are several points at which its
needs shape the structure and development of sports.  The most
significant structural change in modern sports is the gradual and
continuing commodification of sports.  This means that the social,
psychological, physical and cultural uses of sports are assimilated
to the commercial needs of advanced monopoly capital.   
The Realization 'Problem'
A major use to which sports are put by commodity capitalists
is in the solution to the "realization problem."  Given the
profit motive, capitalist firms produce more than their workers can
buy.  This happens for two reasons. First, workers collectively do
not get paid 100% of the price set by the market.  For any given
firm labor costs are about 25-35% of the price set.  Across all
workers who share in the division of the profits, the wages are
less than 100 percent of the price available with which to purchase
the goods they produce.  
     In low profit lines, workers may have 95% of the value
produced; in high profit lines of production, they may have less
than 50% of the value of the wealth they produce.  Whatever the
case they can't buy it all.  In such a case, the economy tends to
slow down to recession or depression levels.  There are several
ways to renew demand each with other problems-
	warfare destroys wealth and renews demand. 
	A prolonged recession renews demand. 
	Price wars dispose of surplus production but benefit big competitors.  
	Crime requires replacement of items stolen. 
	The welfare state redistributes wealth.  
	Credit and deficit spending can keep the system going a while longer. 
	Capitalists compete for foreign markets and try to capture surplus value from
		foreign economies with which to renew demand
However,  a major way to dispose of "surplus" goods and realize profit is to
transfer desire from the world of cultural events; sports, theatre, religion or
patriotism to the world of commodity production via advertising. 
	The inability of a capitalist firm to dispose of "surplus"
production leads corporations to purchase sports programming as a
commodity to generate demand by using the beauty and elegance of
athletics as an envelope in which to insert a commercial message. 
Extracting Surplus Income.  A second structural feature of advanced 
monopoly capitalism which besets the accumulation process is the
great inequality of income distribution among those who do work for wage labor.  
     The Yuppie portion of the population has discretionary income
as do most elements of the capital class, but in the capitalist
system today a few million people get around 40 percent of that
wealth and hundreds of millions share less than 50 percent of the
wealth.  In America, the bottom 20 percent of the population share
only five percent of the gross national product.  A lot of money to
be sure but far less than is required to purchase all the cars,
beer, refrigerators, cigarettes, and other items produced.  
     The few million who do have surplus income and could purchase
the surplus production don't need the fourth car, the fifth
television set or the tenth toaster.  This distortion in income
means, again, that capitalists can't realize profit. A third reason
that there is a surplus of goods is the tendency in capitalist
systems to disemploy workers by the use of new technology or by
increased productivity from each worker.  
     These disemployed workers join the surplus population.  Their
material needs may be met by the state in its welfare system, by
family members, by private charity or by friends.  Again many turn
to crime as a way to reunite production and distribution.  So, in
order to dispose of the surplus production on profitable terms,
capitalist firms turn to advertising to create an ever expanding
layer of false needs and wants among those who may have
discretionary income.  Or try to expand markets overseas to the
disadvantage of capitalists in other countries who also have the
same realization problem.   
     Since sports events generate large audiences and participants
(for any or all of the reasons mentioned earlier:  the alienated
solidarity, the alienated sexuality or the alienated aesthetics of
play), advertising firms buy the audiences and sell them to
capitalist firms which are large enough to have national markets
and wealthy enough to pay the costs of the audience, the
commercials, the media time and the teams involved.  Apart from the
fact that this solution to the problem of capitalist production
greatly inflates costs of distribution and apart from the fact that
small firms tend to fail, the real problem of this growing alliance
between sports and capitalism is the linkage between mythic
concerns of a society and profit concerns of private capital.   
Cultural Marxist Analysis of Sports.   
 In brief the argument in Cultural Marxism  is that sports has absorbed 
some of the  religious needs of a secular society for solidarity and 
for a metaphysic.  
The analysis of sports presented here is that it embodies elements 
of  four great founding myths of society -- especially that of a morality
metaphysic which instructs players and fans alike about how to
approach the problematics of interpersonal interaction; how to
relate oneself to the social unit, and how to confront the
imponderables of nature and other groups.  
     It seems to me that it is this morality metaphysic which so
intrigues and so engrosses fans in the actions and outcomes of a
sports event.  It is this morality metaphysic which can be used as
an envelop in which to insert advertisements.  To understand the
rise of commodity sports in America, we need to connect the
political economy of capitalism to alienated social life.   
     Every society has four general myths which help reproduce it
across generations.  The first great myth is, of course, the
creation myth.  The second myth and the one used here is the
morality myth -- one which instructs us on how we are to deal with
the ordinary contingencies of life, how we are to relate to others
inside and outside our group. 
 Morality myths instruct us about the forms of evil, the sources
of evil, the agents of evil and the solutions for evil.  
A third great myth form is one which tells us how to understand and
survive the inevitable tragedies which is the common lot of all people --
what to do about death, about love gone wrong, about children gone wrong 
and about the imponderables of life.  
The fourth great mythic form speaks to the future and to
the failings of the past in that social formation itself.  This
fourth mythic form usually says that times were good before, they
turn bad through no fault of the system and they will be good again
if one has faith.   
     A myth is a line of symbolic activity -- activity in music, in
activity, in mime or in words -- which grasps the basic concerns of
a society and resolves the conflict and contradictions inherent in
social life in its chronology and in the logic of its action
(Silverstone, 1983:138).  
     The simplicity of the sports event is especially amenable to
mythic use.  In the play, the protagonist must overcome adversity
in society and in nature.  Each play and player must, to be
successful as a mythic element, transcend everyday activity.  The
game is trans-parent in its play and unlike written or narrated
myths has no foregone conclusion.  Every fan has the same standing
as do all others.  In those crucial moments of play, a satisfactory
event is anticipated and recognized by all present.  One does not
need a priestly functionary to interpret the mysteries as in
religious myths.  In that respect, sports may be experienced
directly for its aesthetic and mythic meanings.   
     The structure of sports as a mythic form is about
socialization under conditions of conflict.  In feudal society; in
competitive capitalist societies with class as well as ethnic
conflict; in the world capitalist system with its nationalistic
antagonisms, the mythic structure of modern adversary sports
resonates with the lived experiences of workers, Blacks, third
world patriots as well as partisans of geographical animosity.  All
stress the need for the individual to accept and to work within the
existing structure of social conflict and "friendly" competition. 
Commodity capital, with its internal crises and contradictions
has assimilated the mythic form to its own needs for survival, for
profit, for socialization to competitive, aggressive, privatized
character as well as for legitimacy with workers, consumers and
citizens who are its natural antagonists.  I raise the question
about whether American sports in its commodity form -- however
excellent and appealing -- should be harnessed to the ideological
needs of a given class or elite in any society.  The view advanced
here is that sports, indeed all cultural activities, might better
be oriented to the general social interest in authentic solidarity
and prosocial cooperation rather than the special character and
consumer morality of monopoly capital.  
     Every social group needs to use the awe and mystery of myth,
     magic, pretend, rehearsal, play and the world of imagination
     and make- believe to the reproduction of cultural forms.  
All sports activities are mythic endeavors in which the forces
of life are pitted against the forces of nature.  In the case of
football, basketball, baseball and, more intensely tennis, the
effort to control a ball pushes the player to the limits of
psychobiological capacity and endurance.  The catch takes on added
drama if it occurs in a strategic moment of play.  Still more
dramatic impact arises should the moment of play be located in a
strategic game or even in a moment of note in the entire history of
a league or nation.  
     The means by which conflict is to be resolved is by excellent
individual performance within the logics of team goals.  In a
recent (18 July 1983) Monday Night Baseball game, the shortstop of
the Toronto Blue Jays made four such plays in that single game. 
Few persons on earth could have made the moves as swiftly, as
gracefully or as accurately and with the panache displayed.  The
grace, beauty and art possible from the human body shown forth
clearly in that game.  
     In like fashion, the extension of the physical capacity of the
human body in making spectacular catches in football is even more
remarkable taking place as they do in the face of expert defensive
play by the opposing team.  Most of those who watch football know
and appreciate those catches, the moves for which match in grace
and timing the finest of ballet.  By themselves, this physical
excellence is only of passing interest -- observed only for the
purest of aesthetic reasons as indeed one may appreciate ballet. 
But unlike most ballet today, sports games are located in
significant social frames within which they take on mythic force. 
In a world series, with the bases loaded and two out, and with
the score tied in the ninth, a long fly ball is immediately
anticipated as a dramatic event.  As the center fielder races back,
gauges the flight, lifts off the ground in every effort, whether
the catch is made or whether the ball clears the 430 foot marker,
the partisan crowd is on its feet as one, explodes in a cheer of
delight as one and appreciates that all others present share the
grand moment. The soaring grace of the fielder's catch or the
perfect timing and power of the batsman testify to the possibility
of human success in everyday life.  That is what the myth -- and
the game -- is all about. 
     As noted, the sports event teaches us four things:  it tells
us what the sources of evil are, it tells us who the agent of evil
is (often conceived as the enemy), it instructs us in the forms of
evil, and it instructs us in the means by which evil is to be
     In the case of baseball, the source of travail is to be found
in the physical forces of nature; time, space, gravity, weather and
light.  The sources of evil are found as well in the individual
imperfections of the players:  the lazy player, the inept player,
the foolish player, the cheating player, the selfish player, and
the indifferent player.  Evil is to betray one's teammates to
sloth, greed, envy, pride, anger and hate.  
     If not the unproductive team member, the agent of evil is the
outsider.  For most major sports, it is the visiting team.  High
school and college sports set as enemy the opposing team much more
than do the professional teams although in baseball, everyone hates
the Yankees; in football for years it was the Chicago Bears and in
basketball the Boston Celtics who embodied adversity.  
     The particular forms of evil embodied these teams entailed
unfair tactics, dirty play, illegal recruiting, purchasing of
pennants and players as well as architectural innovations of the
field of play which gave unfair advantage to the other team.   
     When combined, the forms and agents of evil as embodied in the
mythic structure of sports teaches a lesson.  It says the tribe is
the paramount unit of social order, the enemy is other neighboring
tribes; they cheat and thus are less than human.  This default
renders the home tribe the embodiment of the human being in its
highest, most principled form -- however, since the opposing team
violates the rules of social life found in the sports event, it
excludes itself from the normal courtesies of social conduct.  Such
self exclusion in turn justifies less-than-social treatment of the
enemy.  By this practical logic, the home tribe at once justifies
noncompliance with social rules and in the same moment preserves
the home tribe myth of superior moral standing.   
     If the Yankees buy up all the best players, they default on
the rules and may be subjected to tactics otherwise inconceivable. 
Since the Chicago Bears hit, gouge, kick and pile on, they
disqualify themselves as equals and may be hit, gouged, and kicked
without culpable wrong imputed to the home team.  Since the Celtics
use picks, fast breaks, double-teaming, presses, and platoon
substitution tactics; since they grab the super stars from college
ranks and use the home court advantage in extremis, they also are
the embodiment of evil for all other home teams -- and the Celtics,
Bears, and Yankees view the Philadelphia Warriors, the Green Bay
Packers, and the Dodgers as less than human.   
     In the Marxian analysis presented here, sports have been
commodified and massified in response to some of the structural
problems of advanced monopoly capitalism.  A separate but parallel
analysis is possible for bureaucratic socialist economies or the
semi-feudalities in the Mid-East and Far-East.  
     In brief, sports solves the problems of accumulation and
legitimacy in the ways mentioned above.  Sports in its present form
presents us with a modern metaphysic for daily life.  It redeems,
in a false and trivial manner, alienated conditions of work.  It
provides alienated solidarity in a conflict ridden society.  Its
super-masculine model of play offers to redeem an alienated
sexuality.  And its aesthetics and metaphysics provide an envelope
into which to insert a message vesting desire into possession of
material goods rather than in primary social relations.  In a final
section, I would like to add to this cultural analysis of sports,
a structural analysis of advertising since the advertising industry
is the enterprise which uses the metaphysics and aesthetics of
sports to colonize social desire in the interest of private profit. 
This analysis is part of a larger analysis of the use of dramaturgy
in society to manage the political and economic problems of class
cleavages, racial conflict, gender preference and bureaucratic
authority in mass society.
     The major thesis of this work is that the technologies of
electronics, theatre, and the social sciences; sociology, as well
as psychology, are used conjointly to mystify consciousness and
subvert democratic and collective political possibilities in the
interests of class elites as well as other elites within the world
capitalist system (and in bureaucratic socialist societies).  
     This technology provides a slick, smooth, scientific way to
preserve privilege in a putatively democratic society.  The crude
and disruptive politics of fascism are replaced by an $80 billion
industry of dramaturgical practitioners in the advertising industry
whose only productive labor is to serve elites in the extraction of
surplus value and creation of false consciousness.     Commodity
sports is but one expression of the alienation of the lively arts
to the managerial needs of capitalism.  Commodity politics,
theatric commercials, electronic religion as well as the spectacles
of space and war all converge to use dramaturgy in the sociology of
fraud to serve power, privilege and the great wealth of
multinational corporations.   
Advertising and Commodity Sports  
I have suggested that commodity sports a metaphysic about how to
do life.   Located within the problems of commodity capitalism, 
sports lends itself as a particularly effective tool for advertising. 
If the morality myth embedded in sports resonates with the lived
experience of fans, advertising resonates with the structural
features of advanced monopoly capital.  
     In an automated, productive economic system the main problem
of the capitalist is to realize profit.  The shift is from the
exploration of the working class to the extraction of surplus value
from the consumer.  To do this it is necessary to use science and
guile rather than coercion and discipline.  The modern corporation
cannot force the consumer as readily as it can coerce the employee. 
It turns to depth psychology and social science to generate demand. 
Monopoly capital uses advertising to solve the problem of
accumulation and of legitimacy.  
 Advertising uses the drama and mythic power of sports to generate 
demand and to realize profit for advanced monopoly capital.
 There is also the shift from price and quality to generate
demand.  It is not possible to use pricing to generate demand in a
stable monopoly system (Baran and Sweezy, 1976:115).  Were one of
the ten or so giants which dominate a product line to resort to
price as a demand mechanism, it would destabilize the entire
industry with devastating results for many.  Quality cannot be used
to generate demand for several reasons.  There are the additional
costs of quality; there is industrial espionage which quickly ends
any advantage a new improvement might bring.  There is the
profitable parts and repair industry and most of all there is the
advantage of built-in obsolescence for future demand -- all of
which militates against quality -- and for advertising.  The
products advertised nationally are products from the monopoly
sector.  Products from the competitive sector of the state sector
are seldom advertised on mass media.  
A third thesis on advertising relates more directly to the
realization problem. 
 A capitalist economy can only realize profit if all products are sold. 
But since workers do not have 100% of the price of a product paid to 
them directly or indirectly, capitalist economies tend to have surpluses
which are not readily absorbed by workers taken collectively -- 
and the tiny handful of capitalists could not use all the gas, beer, autos, 
chain saws and sanitary napkins produced -- so they must create a 
neurotic need for such surplus purchasing.    They must generate
layer upon layer of desire and they use the elegance of professional
baseball, football, basketball and soccer to do so.
     Commodity sports with its morality lessons provides an envelop
in which to hide the compulsion to consume apart from need, apart
from merit, apart from other needs, apart from thought and words. 
Advertising, of course, cannot increase demand for all commodities
but can shift demand from commodity A to commodity B.       
Fourthly, advertising is the cheapest way to reach millions of
people.  Commission sales only works in very special circumstances. 
In cons or swindles, in real estate and other super high profit,
high growth lines, face to face sales can be used but not in mass
sales with low profit margins.   
     So in the U.S., it is the structural needs of advanced
monopoly capital in general by which one can best understand the
growth in broadcast sports.  And it is the morality myth embedded
in sports which connects compulsive needs of the consumer with the
compulsive needs for profit.  Other myths may be also used to
create demand -- on day-time television, oriented to the alienated
house-wife, a differing myth is used to envelop demand -- that of
the competent woman, still attractive and able to cope with the
many failings of husband, children and neighbors.  Such women use
the household budget (about 60% of family income) to marshal the
supplies to sustain her social skills.       
     Advertising capital furnished by monopoly industries at once
encourages the production of cherished cultural supplies such as
sports and transforms these in the same moment into their alienated
form.  A whole host of unproductive labor is used to reunite
production and distribution on profitable terms for the monopoly
capitalist beset by increasing costs of production, increasing
legal restraints on dangerous practices, increasing foreign
competition, decreasing markets in the unfree world, and decreasing
freedom to control third-world supplies.  Advertising is a
necessity in this time of crisis for monopoly capital.  Sports is 
a happy cultural activity upon which capitalism may parasitize --
for a while.   
Conclusion.    There are many ways to understand the huge             
investment a society allocates to sports and to other athletic
activity.  At any given level of analyses there are significant and
important validities upon which to focus depending upon the
interests and concerns of the critical scholar.  In the previous
section of this paper, the focus has been the mythic character of
the rules and lines of play in contemporary American sports
culture.  In the earlier section, the focus was upon the political
economy in which sports are located.   
     A political-economy approach to sports examines how and why it
has been commodified.  The Marxian view is that commodity sports is
used by advertising to generate demand in an economic system in
which demand is restricted by profit considerations, by monopoly
practices, and by a continuing discrepancy between aggregate wage
and aggregate price across all capitalist lines of production.  The
need for profit in advanced monopoly capitalism results in every
possible good or service be commodified.  Sports is commodified and
sold to the largest corporations in order to add dimensions of
desire and false need to products without intrinsic value to those
with discretionary income.   
     That so many people invest so much time, emotion and money in
these pursuits instructs us that something important is happening. 
It is the view advanced here that sports has gradually absorbed the
religious impulse of a secular society, commodified it in
capitalist societies and is in the process of assimilating that
impulse to the economic and legitimacy needs of capitalism. Perhaps
there are better ways to understand sports but I know no better for
the present organization of American sports.   
     The analysis here presents a given sports event as an instance
of one or more of the four great myths found in a society with
which to instruct its young people in the metaphysics of human life
as it is constructed in that culture. The four myths are:  the
Creation Myth, the Morality Myth, the Tragic Myth, and the Destiny
Myth.  All interesting novels, plays, poems and sports events
incorporate the structures of one or more of these myths into its
story line.   
     The Morality myth of advanced capitalist society suffuses the
structure and chronology of the contemporary sports events in the
United States.  Competition, the resultant system of individual
stars and individual viewers, the emphasis upon playing within the
rules set by a small non-playing elite, the constant push by
coaches and managers for greater productivity, for personal
excellence and for uncritical acceptance of the authority system
all resonate with the problematics of capitalist production in
shop, office, school and factory:  competition, discipline,
creativity, teamwork, victory, and alienated joy.      
     As an embodiment of a mythic form which instructs all persons
concerned, fans and players alike, on how to live out one's life in
a laudable and praiseworthy style, sports supplements, complements
and in some instances, displaces the sacred writings of the Bible
and the Church Fathers.   In a secular society, the drama of sports
events absorb and bend the quest for the sacred to the profit
concerns; to the control needs of the rich and the powerful.
     It is this concern with the morality myth which so intrigues
and so captures the fan and the player.  We all need a metaphysic
for the shaping of our everyday behavior.  Professional football,
baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, each in its differing
format, provides us with such a morality.  
     I suggest there is a basic incompatibility with commercial
sports and the longer historical interests of a society.  I propose
that a society which permits its mythic forms in sports to be
purchased as a commodity, mortgages its future to the rich and the
powerful.  In this case, it is the private capitalist firm which
has absorbed sports to its ideological, political and economic
     Such commodification of sports ceases to serve the general
social interest in morality, in solidarity, and in excellence of
individual effort when these interests are confined within the
special interests of the capitalist firm for profit, for
legitimacy, for growth and for control of markets, material and for
a complacent labor force.   
     The argument presented here is that there is much of social
value found in sports and in other mythic carriers.  Given the
social utility of morality myths and the great investment of time,
talent and concern with sports in America, the significant question
to raise is whether a society should so organize that talent and
time of athletes, artists and actors to serve interests of private
profit.  Corollary to that question is whether other forms of
sports, other modalities of morality, other structures of myths
might not better serve the social interest or the human project.  
     In this respect, the sociology of sport fits within a larger
framework of the political economy in which it is found.  The usual
approach to the study of sports sociology surgically isolates
sports from the society in which it is found and from the content
and outcomes of the cultural activities.  One should keep in mind
that it is the cultural activities -- ranging from family life to
religious life and embracing art, music, science, games, leisure
time activities as well as politics and parties -- which give life
its distinctly human character.  Work, food, shelter, health care
and survival skills are basic to life but the creation of culture
in all its forms is basic to human life.  
     The propensity is to trivialize the sociology of music,
theatre, sports, folk arts and their economic and political meaning
of these.  A Marxian theory reclaims these cultural activities and
locates them in a research endeavor which emancipates them once
again to celebrate distinctly social and collective endeavors.   
A Radical Research Agenda     
These concerns constitute a radical research agenda for a
critical sociology of sports.  It seems to me that the ideological
hegemony of capitalism and of bureaucratic socialism are
particularly vulnerable to such research in sports, as well as in
crime, in sexual repression and in the politics of torture and
     Crime, sports, religion and sexuality are enduring and
intriguing concerns of Americans and of other nationalities around
the world.  The very use of these domains by the powerful and
privileged open up possibilities for critical understanding and for
progressive politics.  If people are able to see the repressive
uses of sports, sex and essential social goods, they may, in the
same moment, see emancipatory uses.  The task for the critical
theorist is to challenge the celebratory, statistical approach to
sports sociology with a more historical and constructive critique. 
     Opposed to a happy view of sports is the sociology of sports
created by critical theorists.  As noted, this work is concerned
with the role which sports in its present format plays in
reproducing the structure of class privilege and the concentration
of wealth and class relations.  Some of this new work concentrates
upon the social sources of human consciousness and tries to show
how sports legitimates national and ethnic loyalties by competitive
striving.  The Olympic Games serve as a rich source of material for
this sort of critical analysis.    
     Also opposed to a depoliticized sociology is a series of
analyses on how sports socializes young people to a special,
historically grounded structure of self, personality and
psychological mappings.  Challenging a view of human nature as
necessarily racist, necessarily violent, necessarily masculine,
necessarily competitive or necessarily privatized, these analysts
assert the possibility of a different psychology, a different
structure of self, a different sport not oriented to the violent,
destructive forms of behavior found in football, boxing, or hockey. 
     In history and in theory, cooperative, communitarian and
creative forms of play, game and sport are found.  Since these do
not help create competitive workers, ambitious professionals,
authoritarian functionaries or compulsive consumers, these forms of
games, sports and play are selected out of sports history while
more competitive games and sports are selected into the social
experience of the child, the adult and the senior citizen by a
complex institution of sports board members, owners, sponsors,
coaches, fans, and editors.   
There is much to be done; it will be interesting.

Dance is the unity of force, 
time and space, 
bound and unbound by inner rhythm.
Dancing can be done by anyone
who has desire and love.
          ...Mary Wingman
          in her Philosophy of the Dance

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