This article is the seventh in a series about sports in American culture.
Q: What are the benefits of sports to society?
A: From an online website titled scholaradvisor, there is an essay titled “Sport is an Important Part of Life.” Sports offer people competition without violence, for the most part. Exceptions are hockey and football in this country. Sports bring a lot of people together who might not be associated otherwise, both on teams and in spectators.
Sports provide people who are socially awkward and friendless opportunities for acceptance. These persons can feel like they belong and can feel like part of a group. Sports, likewise, promote good health and motivate people to exercise. Sports spectators also are motivated to get into shape. When big sporting events take place, more people begin exercise programs and join gyms.
Sports have been a part of life as long as there have been human beings. Sports are part of the basic instincts of competition and playfulness. They help provide a structure that enables athletes to compete without violence, for the most part.
The field of sports provides many jobs and a great deal of income for the economy. Exercise, competition and teamwork are positive experiences to enhance function. Group goals in sports build interpersonal relationships and comradery.
In an article titled “5 Ways Professional Sports Benefit Society,” sports provide a casual topic of conversation between people who have nothing else in common. Sports are a popular topic that is an alternative to conversations about the weather or jobs. Actually, people can watch sports games together even without much conversation.
Sports also works for conversations between coworkers or family members who don’t have anything in common or even don’t especially care for one another. People who feel they have nothing of significance to talk about can converse about sports.
The next benefit of sports is they give cities identities. Big cities are also renowned for other famous landmarks, but sports bond people together in a more intense way when thousands of fans support their respective teams. When people move from one location to another, the hometown teams provide continuing ties to their hometowns.
The third benefit of sports is most players are good role models. But when society pays players millions of dollars and then tells them they are important, powerful, famous and irresistible to women, a certain number of them, although a definite minority, will internalize these compliments and treat others badly. Athletes make many valuable contributions to society.
Many athletes fund foundations for charitable activities with their own money. Others pay for life saving procedures for those who are indigent. Some participate in reading programs in schools, visit sick children in hospitals and entertain children at ball games.
Also important to remember about sports is most athletes play for love of the sport. Except for the highly paid players, most professional athletes are not wealthy. But most of the athletes, even those not highly paid, participate in community activities that benefit children and the underprivileged.
Fourth, in professional sports, the experience is more significant than the end result. This phenomenon exists because there are a whole lot more teams than there are championships. Thus, there are more losses than wins in any given sports season. Enjoying sports together provides opportunities for friends to get together, share food and root for their favorite teams. Losing is disappointing to fans, but most of them stick with their teams, win or lose. Fans who only like teams when they win are not true fans.
A fifth contribution of sports to society is to provide drama that does not have real consequences. Sports are real, but in the total scheme of things, they are not the most influential aspects of society. Sad real-life events and catastrophes easily eclipse the importance of ball games. Enjoying sports is a way of escaping from awful realities that provide temporary distractions.
In an article titled “Sports in America,” under the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany website, sports are called the glue that bonds the country together. Sports preceded the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century. Native Americans played a variety of games, some of which resembled lacrosse. Basketball, baseball and football evolved from games brought to America by European settlers during the 17th century. In the 19th century, these sports were re-fashioned and have become the most popular games in America.
Many social rituals have developed around athletics. Local high school team sports are large events in many communities. Fans of big university games and professional teams frequently gather in parking lots surrounding the stadiums for so-called “tailgate” parties before games. Fans also congregate at one another’s homes for parties during games. Baseball fans travel to training camps in the South or Southwest to watch players prepare for the opening of professional baseball.
Individual sports also began in colonial times, such as shooting, fishing, running, horse racing and boxing. Golf and tennis appeared in the 1800s. In recent decades, challenging contests have emerged, such as mountain biking and sail boarding.
• Next week’s article will discuss additional benefits of sports to society.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University