Sports: The Innocence Lost

Recently in class we were required to read Eric Dunning’s Dynamics of Modern Sport. His piece is about the current shift in sports, and how the “amateur attitude” is decreasing as the “attitude of professionalism” is rising. Dunning talks about how sports are being transformed into high valued institutions and are becoming a central source of identification. He reflects on why society has developed this way, and why it will be hard to break this trend. Dunning’s writing of Dynamics of Modern Sport really reminded me of one of my past lectures in my Sociology 102 class. This sociology class is based on sport in the society and one of the most recent topics has been on the performance ethic.

As taught in class, the performance ethic is a set of beliefs which emphasizes that sports experience can be measured in terms of improved skill  and competitive success. Ergo, they are no longer about having fun, in fact, fun is measured by how much one has improved or succeeded. This is the exact same idea that Dunning writes about in his article. During lecture multiple examples were shown to prove just how prevalent this is becoming in society. 

The first, and most effective example the professor used was Friday Night Tykes. This is a television show based out of Texas, about eight and nine year old kids playing football in a rookie league. The show follows some of the top teams in the league and shows just how grueling and straining it is on the kids. There is crying in almost every episode, whether it is an exhausted kid during a conditioning drill, or another one getting screamed at by their coach. This league is taken very seriously, and puts the performance ethic into perspective.

Many of the player’s parents are interviewed throughout the show, and when asked why they put their kid through so much suffering they respond that their child needs to learn discipline, determination, and  needs to improve in football. The practices and coaches are  on the same intensity level as NFL coaches, except they are dealing with eight and nine year olds rather than professional athletes. The hits that are delivered during practice made just about every one in lecture cringe, and then gasp as the coach told the player that they need to hit harder. The intensity within the league is extremely disturbing as the viewer realizes that this is taking place in 100+ degree weather, in order to win a football league for eight and nine year olds.

During the show it didn’t seem like any player was having fun, rather it looked like this was causing them to hate the sport more and more. The object of this league is to win and it is clear how much the competitiveness over powers the desire to have fun. If Dunning were to watch this show he would be disgusted because of how large the shift is from the amateurism attitude to professional attitude, especially for a youth football league.

Although the interest of sport is shifting from fun to competing, there are many positive outcomes of participating in sports as discussed in Sociology 102. There are higher education rates and GPAs because of sports as well less drug use and pregnancy. Because the performance ethic has become more prevalent, sports have become increasingly privatized, and there has been a major increase in elite training facilities and teams. Parents are becoming more involved and concerned. They believe that putting their child on an elite/ travel team will make them a better parent. This is a big reason as to why the performance ethic is more prevalent in our society today than it has been in the past.

Sociology 102 also touches a lot on collegiate sports, and the NCAA. In almost every lecture, there has been a discussion surrounding the idea of paying student athletes. This too relates to Dunning’s Dynamic of Modern Sports because the conversation is based around the question of whether collegiate athletes should be treated like professionals, and get paid, or treated like amateurs, as they currently are, and receive no income.

The ideas that are taught in Sociology 102: Sports in Society, and in Eric Dunning’s Dynamic of Modern Sports are extremely similar. The sociology class is more based on facts, and has less opinionated influence, where as Dunning’s opinion is obvious through his writing. Either way, both subjects make a great argument at pointing out the shift in sports, and how “the love of the game” is no longer the biggest influence as to why athletes are playing, rather it is about succeeding and competing.