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The Social-Conflict Approach and the Sociology of Sport

The Social-Conflict Approach and the Sociology of Sport


Discussion Question 1: Involvement in Reform Efforts vs. Concentrating on Studying Society

Arguments for Sociologists’ Involvement in Reform Efforts:

  1. Social Responsibility: Sociologists have a unique understanding of societal issues gained through their research. By actively engaging in reform efforts, they can use their knowledge to address social inequalities and injustices, contributing to a more equitable society.
  2. Practical Impact: Being directly involved in reform efforts allows sociologists to translate their research findings into tangible actions. This can lead to real-world changes that benefit marginalized groups and promote social justice.
  3. Enhanced Research: Active involvement in reform efforts can provide sociologists with insights and data that might not be accessible through traditional research methods alone. This practical experience can enrich their understanding of complex social dynamics.
  4. Advocacy and Awareness: Sociologists engaging in activism can raise public awareness about important social issues. Their involvement can encourage public discourse and mobilize support for necessary changes.

Arguments for Sociologists Concentrating on Studying Society:

  1. Objective Research: Remaining impartial and focusing solely on studying society helps ensure the integrity of sociological research. Involvement in reform efforts might introduce bias or compromise the objectivity of their findings.
  2. Expertise Utilization: Sociologists have a specific skill set in researching and analyzing societal patterns. Their primary contribution may lie in producing accurate and unbiased research, leaving the practical application of that research to policymakers, activists, and other stakeholders.
  3. Ethical Concerns: Engaging in reform efforts could blur the line between research and advocacy, potentially undermining the credibility of sociologists as objective analysts.
  4. Limited Resources: Sociologists may lack the time, resources, and expertise required to effectively lead reform efforts. Collaboration with activists, policymakers, and other professionals might yield more comprehensive results.

Discussion Question 2: Lapchick’s Contention of Discrimination Against African–Americans in Sports

Lapchick’s contention that African–Americans face discrimination in sports might be hard for some people to accept due to several reasons:

  1. Colorblind Ideology: Some individuals may subscribe to the belief that we live in a post-racial society, assuming that discrimination no longer exists. This can lead to denial of systemic biases and inequalities.
  2. Visible Representation: People might perceive an increase in the number of African-American athletes as evidence that discrimination no longer plays a significant role. However, representation doesn’t necessarily equate to equal opportunity or treatment.
  3. Individual Achievement: People might attribute success or failure in sports solely to individual talent and effort, ignoring broader structural barriers that can affect opportunities, recruitment, coaching, and access to resources.
  4. Lack of Awareness: Discrimination in sports can be subtle and hidden from public view. Unless individuals are exposed to comprehensive data and research, they might not fully grasp the extent of the issue.
  5. Cognitive Dissonance: Accepting the reality of discrimination can challenge deeply-held beliefs and worldviews. It might be uncomfortable for some to acknowledge the existence of racial disparities and injustices.
  6. Media Narrative: The media often focuses on success stories and remarkable achievements, which can overshadow discussions about systemic discrimination and underrepresentation.
  7. Attribution Bias: Some individuals might attribute disparities to factors other than discrimination, such as supposed differences in talent or dedication, without critically examining systemic factors.

Overall, overcoming skepticism about discrimination requires education, open dialogue, and an understanding of the complexity of societal dynamics, which is why sociological research and advocacy are crucial in addressing these issues.

The Social-Conflict Approach and the Sociology of Sport



As noted in the textbook, each of the three major paradigms may be applied to a wide variety of

topics. The conflict perspective has been especially popular among sports sociologists. In fact,
Harry Edwards, who published the first major text in this area in 1973 while a member of the
faculty at San Jose State University, is a strong adherent of the conflict perspective.
More recently, Richard Lapchick, the director since 1984 of Northeastern University’s
Center for the Study of Sport in Society, has emerged as a second well-known conflict theoryoriented sports sociologist. Unlike Edwards, Lapchick is white and was heavily involved as a
civil rights supporter and anti-apartheid activist in his youth; he has repeatedly received death
threats and has also been physically attacked by opponents of his struggle for racial justice.
The Center began with an operating budget of $125,000, which has now grown to over a
million dollars a year. Lapchick and his twenty-one person staff have collected a massive amount
of data documenting the persistent discrimination against minorities and women in spo rts. Some
examples: Lapchick points out that African–Americans have a substantial share of players in
only five professional sports: boxing, track, basketball, football, and baseball. The share of black
players in major league baseball shows a notable decline, falling from 19 percent in 1995 to 8
percent in 2015. In all professional sports, the vast majority of team owners, managers, and head
coaches are white.
In a tradition established by Marx, conflict-oriented sociologists have commonly felt obliged
to go beyond merely documenting the existence of injustice. They actually work to overcome it.
Harry Edwards attempted to organize a boycott by African–American athletes of the 1968
Mexico City Summer Olympics as a protest over the lack of black coaches on the U.S. team and
related issues. Although the boycott failed, Edwards was instrumental in encouraging sprinters
Tommie Smith and John Carlos to publicize their political beliefs by bowing their heads and
giving black power salutes during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter dash.
Like Edwards, Lapchick is also an activist. His center has spent over twelve million dollars
in tuition assistance for students who have used up their athletic eligibility. The organization also
sponsors outreach programs such as TEAMWORK, which encourages professional athletes to
speak to schoolchildren about the realities of high-level sports. A favored theme: stay in school
and get your degree, because while almost half of black professional athletes believe that they
will make it in the pros, in actuality, only a small percentage actually do so.

Discussion Questions
1. Do you think it is appropriate for sociologists like Edwards and Lapchick to become involved
in reform efforts or would they be wiser to concentrate merely on studying society? Develop
arguments supporting each position.
2. Why do you think many people find Lapchick’s contention that African–Americans are widely
discriminated against in sports hard to accept


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