The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated fundamental changes in people’s everyday lives. For example, social distancing measures drove changes to individuals’ fitness routines, leading to the popularization of home workout equipment such as the Peloton spin bike and treadmill. Part of Peloton’s growing ubiquity is likely due to the social aspect of its platform and the sense of community many users feel through the use of hashtags and Facebook groups based on shared interests and identities. As a sociologist, I am interested in how fitness not only improves health, but also provides spaces for belonging. For example, a study published in 2016 about women who participate in Zumba reported that it had a range of benefits, including serving as a means of socialization and camaraderie. Social circles focused on physical activity can nurture fitness engagement and help people stay motivated to achieve their health goals.
From the day Qatar was awarded an opportunity to host the FIFA men’s World Cup in 2022, Islamophobic coverage of the Qatari state has proliferated in Western media. The Western media discourse has been heavily focused on highlighting human rights issues, immigration laws, climate, and bribery accusations while obscuring possible successes of the first Muslim country to hold the FIFA World Cup. For example, an article on Bleacher Report with the title “6 reasons why the World Cup should be taken away from Qatar,“ led with concerns about scorching heat in the small Gulf State, followed by criticisms of how the event would cause a “disruption to European leagues.” At the same time, other sport media analysts have questioned why an Arab country (approximate population of 2.8 million) with little soccer history succeeded in becoming the host nation. Such reporting serves to cast doubts on the acceptability of holding a mega-sporting event in a Muslim country.
In the high-stakes world of NBA free agency, players coming and going is never simply transactional. Free agency is a source of hope and intrigue for fans and a rite of passage for players who are theoretically liberated to select the team that empowers them to fulfill their goals. It is also a major media spectacle, with each player coming, going, and staying the subject of analysis and scrutiny by journalists and media commentators. With free agency underway again, we ought to reflect upon the legacy of sports media rhetoric surrounding the most impactful free agency in NBA history: that of LeBron James and “The Decision.”
Does holding a sporting mega-event like the Tokyo Olympic Games amidst a pandemic and the continuing environmental crisis of global warming exemplify the “death drive” of 21st century capitalism? By “death drive,” I am referring to recent work by the Swiss-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, who argues that the capitalist system’s “compulsion of accumulation and growth” is driving global society towards environmental and human catastrophe. Han extends from the work of Sigmund Freud, who believed that the “cruel aggressiveness” of humans could be attributed to our propensity for self-destruction and our “drive to return to the inanimate condition” of death. Han uses Freud’s notion of the death drive to explain the destructive tendencies of capitalism. It is the human’s “unconscious fear of death,” he writes, that feeds the capitalist order: people pursue and accumulate capital as a way of escaping the grips of death, believing that more growth, more power, and more capital “means less death.” The result is a “frenzy of production and growth” as capitalism prioritizes unrestrained entrepreneurialism and the accumulation of capital over the global ecosystem and the well-being of life on Earth.
In 1970, American economist Milton Friedman wrote that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” If Friedman were alive today, he would scarcely recognize the contemporary corporate social responsibility (CSR) landscape. Indeed, in the 21st century, CSR initiatives—that is, the integration of social and environmental concerns within business operations—have become so commonplace that their absence from a corporate portfolio would seem strange. An often-cited example of contemporary CSR practices is that of TOMS shoes: For every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS would donate a pair to a humanitarian organization in the global South. The calculus here is not difficult to figure: At a small investment cost, CSR allows a corporation to showcase a desire to be a “good neighbour,” affords it a social license to operate, and enables it to reap the benefits of favourable media coverage.
Professional Black athletes navigate a fine line between being autonomous, independent, wealthy elites and undervalued, replaceable workers in a larger sports industry governed by logics of racial capitalism. The late Cedrick Robinson’s Racial Capitalism theory sees the systems of capitalism and racism as interconnected and inextricably linked. Robinson, a political scientist, argued that economic and social values are ascribed to individuals differently according to race. With this in mind, Black celebrity athletes occupy a seemingly powerful, yet precarious status. Journalist William Rhoden used the term “40 Million Dollar Slaves” to highlight the ways in which Black athletes’ accumulation of wealth does not fully alleviate their oppressed status in an anti-Black American society.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka declared she would not participate in press conferences prior to the 2021 French Open. Reactions to her refusal were filled with anger and criticism. In a deleted tweet, Roland Garros posted images of athletes doing press work with the text, “They understood the assignment.” Early reporting provided lip-service to Osaka’s concern for her own mental health while emphasizing other players, such Rafael Nadal, disagreed with her. Similarly, tennis icon Billie Jean King criticized Osaka for avoiding media since the press helps build the sport. Others characterized her as a self-centered, childish millennial unwilling to sacrifice like other athletes. And after assessing a $15,000 fine for not meeting contractual media obligations, she was further threatened with suspension from other major tournaments.
While basketball fans rejoice at the start of the 2020-21 playoffs, I am eerily reminded that it will mark the culmination of the first full NBA season since the untimely death of one of the league’s greatest stars—Kobe Bryant. On the foggy morning of January 26, 2020 in Calabasas, California, a tragic helicopter crash claimed the lives of Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, and seven others. The stunning news consumed the sporting world and left many people reeling for solace, mourning in disbelief. Many fans like me, who grew up watching Kobe, still experience trouble accepting his sudden ascension.
The issue of amateurism has long been a subject of debate and controversy in U.S. college sport. In 1916, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) adopted an official definition of an amateur athlete as “one who participates in competitive physical sports only for the pleasure, and the physical, mental, moral, and social benefits directly derived therefrom.” This initial definition, which prohibited any form of remuneration including scholarships, has been frequently contested and revised over the years.
Our lives are socially structured in many ways. This means that we are frequently directed to behave in a certain manner, embrace particular values, and think about ourselves in socially patterned ways. Gender and sexuality are especially influential aspects of social structure that affect our aspirations, interactions, and identities.
As sociologists who study such influences, we recently investigated the relationship between gender, sexuality, and sports fandom among U.S. adults in a study published in Sociology of Sport Journal. Prior research indicates that most Americans are sports fans. Yet, historically, sports cultures have often been organized by and for heterosexual men as spaces for them to have fun and connect with one another as they watch and talk about sports. Sports have also been used as sites where men could successfully “prove” themselves to be heterosexual and masculine. In contrast, sports cultures have often been unwelcoming spaces for women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) adults. This has been less true within women’s sports fan communities, although women’s sports are also characterized by a long legacy of homophobia. Still, many people across all gender and sexual identities love to watch and follow sports.