On the Sociology of Sport by Letisha Brown

The study of sport within sociology opens up new avenues for investigating several
things within the social world. Through sport scholarship, there is room for critical
examinations of sexuality, race, gender, class, age, health and more. For instance, Dr.
Ben Carrington’s Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora, offers a
detailed look into the creation of one of the most longstanding tropes of blackness—the
black athlete. Drawing upon scholars such as Fanon, and Hall, Carrington’s work offers
new insight to the ways in which the field of sport has been used to create, as well as
maintain conceptions of racial identity. Carrington’s work is an asset not only to sports
literature, but also within the context of cultural, diaspora and post/colonial studies as

The study of sport also offers new ways to think about representation, specifically
as it pertains to masculine and feminine identities. The realm of sport is one stage in
which western ideals of the masculine and feminine are (re)produced. The history of the
Olympic Games for instance offers up several examples of the ways ideas of sex/gender
in western culture has been rendered within the context of heteronormativity. Early forms of “gender verification” within the games called for female athletes to undergo a visual examination given by a panel of gynecologists as a means of verifying that only “true” women were involved in the competition (Vannini & Fornssler, 2011). Though there had been incidences of men infiltrating female competitions, such practices became a spring board for determining means of sex/gender not only within sport but within the context of society at larger. To put it another way, the measuring stick of femininity and masculinity during these practices was based upon physical characteristics as the “true markers” of sex/gender.

It is important to look at the history of sport with a critical eye in order to fully examine
the ways in which such practices have been (re)produced within the context of the post/
colonial. Out of these naked parades grew, not only the “gender verification” of today—
chromosomal testing, etc.—but also drug testing within sport. Both drug and sex/gender
testing exist as a means of weeding out athletes who were “unnatural.” Studying sport
within the context of sociology offers scholars and researchers the ability to critically
examine contemporary notions of race, sex/gender, class, age and more.

There are a multitude of questions that still exist within sports sociology; questions that
can be answered via various theoretical frames. For those interested in studies of culture,
media studies, the body and embodiment, health, politics, and more the sociology of sport can offer you an entry point into your deepest area of interest. Jump into discourse.


Carrington, B. (2010). Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora. London: Sage.

Vannini, A. & Fornssler, B. (2011). “Girl, Interrupted: Interpreting Semenya’s Body, Gender Verification Testing, and Public Discourse.” Cultural Studies and Critical Methodologies, 11 (3) 243-257.

Letisha Brown is PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. She is the 2011 winner of the Barbara A. Brown Outstanding Student Paper Award awarded by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. She received this honor for her paper, “The Spectacle of Blackness: Race, Representation and the Black Female Athlete.”


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