Sociology of North American SportAuthors: George H. Sage, and D. Stanley Eitzen
Publisher: Oxford University Press – 446 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

Sport (often termed ‘sports’) may be looked at sometimes by some people as a trivial pastime or activity separate from the ‘real world’ but that is certainly not true in today’s world, the authors write at the outset of this book in the Preface. They contend that sport is not only a ‘microcosm’ of society but that it can play an important role in “culturally changing society.” They state: “Sport has a profound influence on the social life of large numbers of people of all ages.”

Indeed, sports in North America provides not only entertainment for hundreds of millions of people, but has a fairly large impact on the nation’s economy, and certainly on some entities and some people. It is big business for the owners of teams, the media, and other organizations involved in revenue generation and distribution. Outstanding players receive huge salaries and bonuses in multi-year contracts that total tens, and even hundreds of millions of dollars.

And certainly, the wins and losses of big-name stars in sports arenas capture the hearts of many fans, especially the young among us who want to emulate them. This is true not only in North America but around the world.

Sports however, is very seldom looked at from a sociological perspective. This book does that. The authors point out to us that “sport is a social activity worthy of serious inquiry.” It is as important a subject for sociological study as are: family, politics, and religion, for example.

George Sage and D. Stanley Eitzen write that the three purposes of their writing this book are:

  1. To analyze sport sociologically, and in so doing, to demythologize it
  2. To impress on readers in sociology – as well as in sports management, physical education, kinesiology, and related fields in social science, fitness, and health sciences – the importance of including the sociology of sport as a legitimate subfield in each of these disciplines.
  3. To make readers aware of the positive and negative consequences of the way sport is organized in North America.

To achieve these purposes, they developed their original ideas to achieve these objectives, and expanded them into the reality of this book. It has 15 chapters organized around five Parts as shown below, to give you an overview:

  • Part I. Toward An Understanding of Sport
    • The Sociological Analysis of Sport in North American Society
    • Social and Cultural Transformations and the Rise of Sport in North America
    • Sport and North American Culture and Values
    • Social Problems and North American Sport: Violence, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders, and Gambling
  • Part II. Sport and Structured Inequality in Society
    • Sport, Social Stratification, and Social Mobility
    • Racial-Ethnic Minorities and Sport
    • Gender in North American Sport: Continuity and Change
  • Part III. From Organized Sport to Corporate Sport: Youth to College Sport
    • Youth and Sport
    • Interscholastic Sport
    • Intercollegiate Sport
  • Part IV. Sport and Social Institutions
    • Sport and the Economy
    • Sport and the Mass Media
    • Sport and Politics
    • Sport and Religion
  • Part V. Sport and Social Change
    • Contemporary Trends and the Future of Sport in North America

Sage and Eitzen provide many interesting statistics about the lucrative economics of sport. In chapter 1, The Sociological Analysis of Sport in North American Society, they point out, among other data:

  • According to Forbes Magazine, the New York Yankees were worth $1.5 billion in 2014
  • In the spring of 2014 Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera signed a contract that will pay him $292 million over ten years, making him the highest paid player in baseball.
  • In 2013, the University of Texas has an athletic budget totaling $169 million
  • Famed golfer Phil Mickelson was won $70 million in prize money in his career, and in 2014 he has $44 million in endorsement contracts from several companies
  • Of 35 games in the 2013-14 college football bowl series, five paid out more than $17 million.
  • Duke’s men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski received $9.7 million in 2014.

The authors point out that sociology of sport as an organized field of study is less than 50 years old. It began at about the same time as sport history, sport psychology, and sport philosophy were emerging as what they call “systematic academic disciplines with a sport focus.

Many current sport sociologists were involved in sports or were athletes in their grade schools, high schools, or in college. While enrolled in college courses in traditional disciplines such as psychology or sociology, they found ways to integrate the subjects they were studying with their interest in sports. Sport sociology has grown rapidly as an organized field of study. There are presently about 1,200 faculty members in various institutions teaching courses in sport sociology.

This is an excellent, insightful, pioneering work in the field of sport sociology, with a focus on North America.



George H. Sage is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Kinesiology at the University of Northern Colorado.
Stanley Eitzen is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Colorado State University.