The reasons why we like sports can vary on a spectrum, but for the most part, our attraction to sports comes from three things, one of which is its unpredictability. Without this factor, the essence of competition would be completely lost. Not to say that people don’t like for victories to be planned, as anyone can observe in the continuing success and profitability of the WWE. But even the main point within that sort of sport-based entertainment is the fact that spectators still don’t know the planned outcome. Secondly, there is, of course, the social relatability factor which arguably invites all social factors and different demographics to be united within a common cause or identity. A prime example of this can be seen in the Olympics, as national identities and stories are harnessed to rally national pride to support one’s country’s athletes. Lastly, the third of our core attraction to sport is how society perceives sports largely as one of the last forms of a “pure” meritocracy.
Now as an American, the idea of meritocracy has been instilled in our ideologies since we were born. Work hard, and you’ll reach success. It’s mirrored in sports documentaries, embellished by politicians and blockbuster movies and embedded within the framework of the American educational system. Nonetheless, with any meritocracy there are flaws, with which we have come to grips as we observe the political arena embedded with corruption and the cyclic pattern of privilege within the American society. Within any arena of society, the availability of resources plays a key role in determining the likelihood of success. Sure, rags to riches sports stories do occur, but deconstructing them shows the exception rather than the rule. Our continuing infatuation with the American sports dream has allowed for these inherent inequalities of a flawed meritocracy to continue to be cast aside as successful athlete’s glory distracts us from the true reality.
A large flaw within sports being a meritocracy is the changing access to resources aligned with demographics and geographic location. When I say resources, you might think of access to playing fields or types of organized play. Notably, organized play is becoming increasingly privatized, as access to public recreational resources is diminishing alongside the rise of private sponsored teams, and pay to play youth leagues are dominating pre-professional sports. Nonetheless, this is only the beginning of resources necessary for athletes. Other resources include time within their lives to hone their craft. This can be limited to families stricken by economic toil, where work is more valued than recreation to aid with financial burdens. Other resources that are often overlooked is the access to nutritional food and access to some kind of healthcare to sustain a healthy body. Hard work can’t overpower the basic needs of life.
All of these aforementioned resources provide obstacles for any athlete and aren’t fully accessible to everyone across the board. With this knowledge, it shows that rags to riches stories still include forms of privilege, no matter how small. And with the inclusion of privilege, a meritocracy largely fails — a fact that has continually been overlooked by the distractions and false beliefs inherent in the American Dream.