If you’re reading this, you probably like sports. Whether you’ve played them, are a die-hard fan or maybe just a casual observer, sports most likely brought you here. Anyone who has read, watched or talked about sports has heard the cliché that sports are anything but just a game. Within the foundation of this cliché is the recognition that sports are a social construction. The emergence and popularization of mass sports has become especially permeated within every facet of society today. Sports images can be found in supermarkets, bookstores, gas stations and coffee shops. I’m looking at you Dunkin Donuts. With this increased role, it’s significantly important that fans — or non-fans — step back and understand sports’ role and power within our society. Like economics, politics or entertainment, the sporting industry’s power today is demonstrating how a cultural industry can largely affect and influence our lives locally, nationally and globally, sometimes without us even noticing.
The beginnings of local sports can trace its way from traditions and the development of physical games that provided both release and entertainment for communities around the world. How did baseball make its way from local upstate New York fields into million dollar stadiums? This was due, in part, to the popularization of the sport and the enjoyment of the spectator. But with this enjoyment of the fan masses, businesses realized how profitable a cultural product like baseball could be. Local government soon helped bring in local stadiums with tax breaks, displacing people and clearing land in hopes of attracting profits and votes. Modern sports have become largely a business venture, profiting off the loyalty of regional fans to their respective teams. This incredible “die-hard” loyalty is something all businesses strive to attain, and the sporting industry has successfully been harnessed and packaged to become a massive player in both politics and the economy.
On a national level, the powerful sporting industry has a strong political connection. Why do we care that Bernie Sanders was shooting hoops during the campaign trail? Why does it matter that Tom Brady is linked with Donald Trump? The questions reveal the parallels of how powerful a cultural product like sports can be used as a political instrument. Politicians see sports as another way to push their image and garner votes. The game doesn’t matter for them necessarily. This is also true when we look at the Olympics, as sports is intertwined with politics behind a curtain of honor and nationalism. For example, when Putin brought the Olympics to Sochi to 2014, it was a political maneuver to showcase his image of a new Russia under the blanket of the world’s most exciting games.
To recognize sport outside of the perspective of the fan is vital, as sport is being increasingly used as a way to influence and profit off the masses. So before you gear up for your NFL teams’ pick in the upcoming draft, put on all your Steph Curry gear or attend a Red Sox game, you should take a step back and understand exactly what you are buying into. It’s anything but just a game.