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Positive Deviance among Athletes: The Implications of Overconformity to the Sport Ethic

Robert Hughes and Jay Coakley

The purpose of this paper is to develop a working definition of positive deviance and use the definition in an analysis of behavior among athletes. It is argued that much deviance among athletes involves excessive overconformity to the norms and values embodied in sport itself. When athletes use the “sport ethic”—which emphasizes sacrifice for The Game, seeking distinction, taking risks, and challenging limits—as an exclusive guide for their behavior, sport and sport participation become especially vulnerable to corruption. Although the sport ethic emphasizes positive norms, the ethic itself becomes the vehicle for transforming behaviors that conform to these positive norms into deviant behaviors that are prohibited and negatively sanctioned within society and within sport organizations themselves. Living in conformity to the sport ethic is likely to set one apart as a “real athlete,” but it creates a clear-cut vulnerability to several kinds of deviant behavior. This presents unique problems of social control within sport. The use of performance enhancing drugs in sport is identified as a case in point, and an approach to controlling this form of positive deviance is discussed.

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Fraternal Bonding in the Locker Room: A Profeminist Analysis of Talk about Competition and Women

Timothy Jon Curry

A profeminist perspective was employed to study male bonding in the locker rooms of two “big time” college sport teams. Locker room talk fragments were collected over the course of several months by a participant observer, a senior varsity athlete, and by a nonparticipant observer, a sport sociologist. Additional data were collected by means of field observations, intensive interviews, and life histories and were combined to interpret locker room interaction. The analysis indicated that fraternal bonding was strongly affected by competition. While competition provided an activity bond to other men that was rewarding and status enhancing, it also generated anxiety and other strong emotions that the athletes sought to control or channel. Moreover, peer group dynamics encouraged antisocial talk and behavior, much of which was directed at the athletes themselves. To avoid being targeted for jibes and put-downs, the men engaged in conversations that affirmed a traditional masculinity. As a result their locker room talk generally treated women as objects, encouraged sexist attitudes toward women and, in its extreme, promoted rape culture.

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Sports Photographs and Sexual Difference: Images of Women and Men in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games

Margaret Carlisle Duncan

This paper develops a theoretical framework for understanding how and what sports photographs mean. In particular, it identifies two categories of photographic features as conveyors of meanings. The first category is the content or discourse within the photograph, which includes physical appearances, poses and body positions, facial expressions, emotional displays, and camera angles. The second category is the context, which contributes to the discursive text of the photograph. The context includes the visual space in which the photograph appears, its caption, the surrounding written text, and the title and the substantive nature of the article in which the photograph appears. Using 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games photographs appearing in popular North American magazines, I show how these various features of photographs may enable patriarchal readings that emphasize sexual difference.

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Racial Relations Theories and Sport: Suggestions for a More Critical Analysis

Susan Birrell

This paper suggests that sport sociology may be ready to move from a generally atheoretical approach to “race and sport“ to a critical analysis of racial relations and sport. Four theoretical groups are identified from the writing of racial relations scholars: bias and discrimination theories, assimilation and cultural deprivation theories, materialist and class-based theories, and culturalist or colonial theories. In the past, studies of race and sport have fit within the former two theories. A cultural studies approach that blends the latter theories is advocated in order to move toward the goal of critical theory and develop a comprehensive model for analyzing the complex of relations of dominance and subordination simultaneously structured along racial, gender, and class lines.

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The Construction and Confirmation of Identity in Sport Subcultures

Peter Donnelly and Kevin Young

It is usual in interactionist research to view the process of socialization into subcultures as, in part, a process of identity formation. However, we prefer to examine this process, at least in the case of sport subcultures, as a far more deliberate act of identity construction. That is, through a variety of means, the most significant of which is modeling, the neophyte member begins to deliberately adopt mannerisms, attitudes, and styles of dress, speech, and behavior that he or she perceives to be characteristic of established members of the subculture. Such perceptions among neophytes are usually far from being completely accurate and are frequently stereotypical. Thus, it is necessary to examine also the complementary process of identity confirmation in order to conduct a more complete examination of socialization into a subcultural career. These processes, and neophyte mistakes emerging in them, are examined with respect to ethnographies of climbers and rugby players conducted by the authors, together with supporting material from studies of other sports-related aspects of ethnographic research.

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The Socialization of Elite Tennis Players in Sweden: An Analysis of the Players’ Backgrounds and Development

Rolf Carlson

This study analyzed the process of socialization of elite tennis players, thereby contributing to an explanation of the success experienced by Swedish tennis players in recent years. The top five male and top five female Swedish players, along with parents and coaches, were interviewed regarding background, early life sport experiences, and development. All five males held ranking positions among the 15 best in the world. The control group was chosen by matching pairs regarding age, sex, and junior ranking. Results indicated that both groups at the ages of 12 to 14 were equal, but after puberty the development of the groups diverged. As teenagers, some elite players were ranked among the world’s top players while the control group players did not experience success. The results clearly indicate that it is not possible to predict who will develop into a world-class tennis player based on individual talent alone. Personal qualifications and early life experiences in combination with social structures, tradition of sport, and tennis culture all worked together in an optimal way, particularly the local club environment and the players’ relationships to coaches.

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Sports and Male Domination: The Female Athlete as Contested Ideological Terrain

Michael A. Messner

This paper explores the historical and ideological meanings of organized sports for the politics of gender relations. After outlining a theory for building a historically grounded understanding of sport, culture, and ideology, the paper argues that organized sports have come to serve as a primary institutional means for bolstering a challenged and faltering ideology of male superiority in the 20th century. Increasing female athleticism represents a genuine quest by women for equality, control of their own bodies, and self-definition, and as such represents a challenge to the ideological basis of male domination. Yet this quest for equality is not without contradictions and ambiguities. The socially constructed meanings surrounding physiological differences between the sexes, the present “male” structure of organized sports, and the media framing of the female athlete all threaten to subvert any counter-hegemonic potential posed by female athletes. In short, the female athlete—and her body—has become a contested ideological terrain.

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Program for a Sociology of Sport

Pierre Bourdieu

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Denial of Power in Televised Women’s Sports

Margaret Carlisle Duncan and Cynthia A. Hasbrook

Televised texts of women’s sports are examined using the hermeneutical method. This study begins with the observation that women’s participation in team sports and certain “male-appropriate” individual sports is significantly lower than men’s participation in these sports. More striking yet is the media’s (particularly television’s) virtual disregard of women in team sports and certain individual sports. On the basis of these observations, the authors frame their research question: Do these imbalances constitute a symbolic denial of power for women? To answer this question, the authors investigate televised depictions of basketball, surfing, and marathon running. In each sport, the television narratives and visuals of the women’s competition are contrasted with those of the men’s competition. These depictions reveal a profound ambivalence in the reporting of the women’s sports, something that is not present in the reporting of the men’s sports. This ambivalence consists of conflicting messages about female athletes; positive portrayals of sportswomen are combined with subtly negative suggestions that trivialize or undercut the women’s efforts. Such trivialization is a way of denying power to women. The authors conclude by asserting that sport and leisure educators have an ethical obligation to redress the imbalance of power in the sporting world.

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The Relationship between Children’s Legitimacy Judgments and Their Moral Reasoning, Aggression Tendencies, and Sport Involvement

Brenda Jo Bredemeier, Maureen R. Weiss, David L. Shields, and Bruce A.B. Cooper

The purpose of this study was to investigate (a) the relationship between children’s judgments regarding the legitimacy of potentially injurious sport acts for adults and for children, (b) the relationships between children’s legitimacy judgments and their moral reasoning, aggression tendencies, and sport involvement, and (c) the relative ability of the latter three variables to predict legitimacy judgments. Analyses were based on 78 girls and boys in grades 4 through 7 who participated in a moral interview, completed aggression ten dency and sport involvement questionnaires, and evaluated the legitimacy of potentially injurious sport acts depicted in a series of slides. Analyses revealed that children accepted more acts as legitimate for adults than for children. Boys’ legitimacy judgments were significantly related to their moral reasoning, aggression tendencies, and involvement in high-contact sports, but girls’ legitimacy judgments were correlated only with their life aggression tendencies. Children’s aggression tendencies were found to be the best predictors of their legitimacy judgments.