Based on the functionalist school, society has different parts with each working towards the wellness of the whole. Therein, it is hypothesized that sport is a part of the society which plays a certain role towards the betterment of the whole society. For instance, sports are important in regards to teaching people basic norms and values (Coakley, 2004). It is also clear that sports play an integrating role as they encourage people from different backgrounds to come together for a common purpose. Such people often come from different classes, races, genders/sexes, regions, etc. Several sports are done by a team. Hence, sports are crucial in instilling the element of teamwork and hard work among fans and participants. Despite the strengths of the school, a major criticism is that it supports the status quo.
The theory also exaggerates the benefits of sports. The theory equally fails to observe that sport could distort societal values. Similarly, the theory presumes that an individual pursuits tally with those of the society. It is also clear that the theory favors those people that occupy positions of power.
The Conflict Theory
The conflict theory operates like an antithesis to the functionalist school of thought. The theory is based on the idea that the society is dominated by the powerful individuals. Those in power manipulate other members of the society (Coakley, 2004). On the basis of the theory, those with money, wealth, and economic power dominate others. The theory is focused on changing the status quo.
Using the conflict school, it is visible that sports contribute towards alienation. As Coakley (2004) observed, athletes are alienated from their bodies. The bodies of the athletes are viewed as machines useful in the generation of wealth. Some athletes have also used drugs to enhance their performance levels. Another aspect rests on coercion and control.
It is alleged that sports contribute towards the distortion of both fans’ and athletes’ life objectives. This is true since people begin believing that life is about winning and earning much money. It is clear that sports are a diversion from real issues in life. People often abandon their work to watch sport games. Another aspect that casts sport in a negative light based on the conflict school is that it has become too commercialized. Big multinationals now use sports for advertising purposes while sport teams use their brands to market products. Hence, sports are seen as contributing towards creating a culture of materialistic dependence. Sports have also contributed towards militarism and nationalism. In the sporting events so much emphasis has been placed on the national pride. Sport has also enhanced racism and sexism due to it contributes towards the perpetuation of both sexual and racial stereotypes. In conclusion, it could appear that the conflict theory would suppose that the sports are “the opiate of the masses”. However, the theory is criticized for ignoring group interactionism and its worth.
The Interactionist Theory
Interactionist theory focuses on identity, meaning, and social relationships in addition to sub-cultures in sports (Young & Wamsley, 2005). The theory presumes that behavior entails making choices based on situations. Thus, the theory centers on the social processes that are involved in becoming an athlete. The theory also focuses on the identity the sports give to people. It is safe to observe that sports’ participation gives meaning to people. Similarly, sports circumstances are defined in regards to the associations individuals make with others. The theory also concedes that sports contribute towards the creation of sub-cultures.
The Feminist Theory
The feminist theory has also been used to explain sports. The theory observes that sports are carried out along gender lines (Young & Wamsley, 2005). It also contends that women have been systematically and consistently devalued, oppressed, and exploited. In this regard, sports have been used to perpetuate male dominance. Further, the theory portends that in the current set-up, the organization of sports is geared towards teaching “manly” ways/values to the society. Although the theory brings out the idea of discrimination based on sports, it fails by only focusing on gender/sex.
It is clear that each theory has its strengths and weaknesses. Whereas the functionalist school underscores the value of sport contributing to the societal good, the conflict theory takes a contrary view by observing that it plays a conflicting role. On the other hand, the interactionism school brings out the role of sports in the interaction process while the feminism perspective underscores the gender dimension in regards to sports. Hence, no theoretical perspective is better than the other since each makes a unique contribution towards understanding the sociology of sports.