Is Dunning’s Argument Still Relevant?

After committing to the University of Michigan last spring, I immediately decided that I wanted to take advantage of everything this wonderful school had to offer. I wanted to go to as many sporting events, art shows, club meetings, and academic functions as I possibly could. But mainly the sporting events. I have gained a true appreciation for sport through both participation and prospection growing up and have had the privilege to attend both men’s hockey and men’s soccer games here at Michigan. While I knew these games would, at time, escalate into something of pure intensity, the compete level and desperation astounded me. Eric Dunning’s Dynamics of Modern Sport depicts just how ferocious and extreme sports have become over recent years. Whether facing off against a long-time rival or kicking off against a Big Ten opponent, both the men’s hockey and men’s soccer games I attended validated Dunning’s claim on intensified competition within collegiate sports.

Despite sending the game into double overtime, Michigan ties Maryland 1-1 in their very first Big Ten meeting.

After attending a soccer game against newly Big Ten rival Maryland, I was surprised just how important the student section, more commonly known as the Michigan Ultras, is to the game. These die-hard fans, for lack of a better term, evolve the meaning of a game from friendly competition to an all-encompassing sense of sacredness. One of their famous cheers even says “I’m a Victor til I die, I know I am, I swear I am”. Does this martyr mentality imply that sport has evolved into something less of a fun activity and more like a religious calling? Dunning seems to think so. He says there is a newly acquired “profane” nature in sports now and after attending this game and chanting all of the rather vulgar cheers, I have to agree with him. I’m not saying, by any means, that I did not participate in these rather crude and often times obscene songs, but I cannot refute that Dunning’s argument has some validity to it.

One of Dunning’s other points is more of a question than a statement: Does sport encourage a friendly rivalry or does this rivalry encourage fighting and hatred toward the opposing team? In the case of Michigan hockey, rivalry and hatred seem to go hand-in-hand. Last winter I had the privilege of attending the Michigan vs. Ohio State game, a rivalry that goes back multiple years and sparks a lot of passion both on the ice and in the stands. However, does this vehemence trump the true meaning of why these two teams play each other? Or does this competitiveness simply add to the enjoyment of the game? I find this intensity to be thoroughly thrilling and is the kind of school spirit that made me excited to come to Michigan in the first place. However, I can see how Dunning, and many like him, think that hating a team so much, maybe even to the point where you would rather see them lose than you win, defeats the purpose of the true meaning of sport.

Michigan unfortunately falls to Ohio State in a shootout in February of 2014. Looks like the “worst state ever” chant didn’t quite shake the Buckeyes.

The basis of Dunning’s article argues that sports have evolved over the years from a lighter, play-oriented atmosphere to one more work-oriented. Huizinga states directly in the passage that there has been a “fatal shift towards overseriousness” and that the line between amateurs and professionals continues to be blurred significantly. While I still find sport extremely fascinating and intense, when should this ferocious nature end? Having said that, until collegiate sports ever reach a point where the lives or well being of the players and prospectors are in jeopardy, I will proudly continue to chant and show my school spirit for all the teams that I love so dearly.