Sport as a Vehicle for Change

By | February 15, 2016

This past week, our class focused on two superstar, transcendent footballers that were (and continue to be remembered for) both their performance on the pitch, as well as their use of their image and likeness for their perceived “greater good”. One, Socrates, the great Brazilian midfielder who earned his doctorate prior to his incredible success with the club Corinthians, publicly declared his intention to leave his home and play abroad if the Brazilian government refused to heed to the public’s demand for democratic elections. The other, the legendary Diego Maradona, frequently professes his strong, leftist political views to fans and the media alike; he has even so far as to have gotten tattoos of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara! The uses of football for change doesn’t have to be employed by the players themselves, either. Just this past week, Liverpool fans staged a 77th minute walk-out during a Liverpool Sunderland match at Anfield to protest the club’s decision to raise certain ticket prices to $77 (in fact, after the walk-out, Sunderland scored two late goals to secure a draw and snatch 3 points from the Reds!).

What makes sport so compelling as a vehicle for social or political purposes? For one, the excitement of sport cannot exclude people based on race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Today, the best footballers in the world span the entire globe and encompass an incredible diversity in terms of background and upbringing. Football is no longer a sport of the “elites”, as it was during its early roots within English schools. The same goes for enjoying soccer as a fan; there are hardly any financial constraints from watching, loving, and supporting a club. Because of this, sports are an enjoyment for all of the masses; this makes sport a fair and equal platform for political movements for all to capitalize on.

I also believe that the tremendous amount of respect the public has for world-class athletes plays into the strong influence they can utilize in the public sphere. Despite former NBA basketball player Charles Barkley’s claim that “[He] is not a Role Model”, in today’s society, athletes are idolized and worshipped like Greek gods by the fans of their respective sports. This love and adoration for great athletes ensures that an athlete’s views and stances will be more closely monitored and listened to than the every man.

4 thoughts on “Sport as a Vehicle for Change

  1. Breanna Atkinson

    I agree with what you are saying, but it is very interesting to think that athletes are considered role models so often in all societies. Being extremely dedicated to their sport is definitely something to look up to, not to mention the perseverance, dealing with adversity, coming back from failure, and so many other attributes that serious athletes naturally have and learn through experience in their sport.

    What is really interesting is why athletes are so much more often listened to when it comes to music tastes, fashion, politics, you name it! Maybe this is a question that can be answered through research, or maybe it is more a question we must each ask ourselves. Why are athletes so often the best vehicle for change and why do I, in particular, look up to athletes so much?

  2. R. Lewandowski

    I agree with your characterization of sport as a “vehicle for change,” but I wonder if there is something more than a universalization of soccer across divisions like nationality, race, and gender that make it so. You mention: “the excitement of sport cannot exclude people based on race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.” At a high-level, I think that this rings true when we think about how soccer became so widely accepted among the masses despite its elitist roots—something that cannot be said for sports that require higher monetary investment, such as golf or cross-country skiing.

    Yet, in his book The Game of Our Lives, David Goldblatt’s analysis of the composition of fans in a soccer stadium suggests that soccer’s appeal may not be as democratic as we think. For instance, Goldblatt mentions that female attendance at many games is far below their male counterparts. [“…as late as 2007 women made up only 5 percent of the crowd at Aston Villa and just over 10 percent at Spurs and Chelsea.” (pg. 55)]. Similarly, the crowd’s socioeconomic status is becoming ever more stratified; Goldblatt contends that the typical English Premier League crowd is now richer and significantly more middle class than in the 1980s (pg. 56).

    The question, then, is why does soccer persist as such a strong vehicle for social change (at least in England) when its reach does not actually represent society’s diversity?

  3. Jed Stone

    I certainly agree that power the people as fans have in the Liverpool match, or how great players have staged themselves for political causes. However, I do wonder the extent to which it forces institutional change on the level of a Club, a Country, or FIFA. It seems that wealth runs so much of football, that even if the fans demand change, money will still run the game.

  4. ryang

    Considering the power that athletes seem to posses in social and political realms this makes me wonder what would happen on the college-level if athletes were to utilize their power. For example with the many controversies surrounding race and sexuality that transpired in the past year could the commentary of our beloved basketball players changed the playing field? Could some choice words by Grayson, Jahlil, or Tyus made the administration change the way they approached the various crises or would it have had no effect?

    The power of athletes is in how they bring together people of all different backgrounds. They are both hero’s and symbols in the eyes of fans and spectators. They can be a hero or spokesperson for social or political causes like Socrates and Maradona were or they can be symbolic of the struggle many people take to try and lift themselves out of bad situations to get to somewhere better.

    Keeping in mind how powerful athletes are and the amount of respect they garner parallels interestingly with politicians that usually do not have nearly as much respect by the general public. This pattern also demonstrates how society values different things and working and serving in public service does not always mean you are respected or appreciated for your work.


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