Slide 1:In analyzing Sport we must first define it. Sport is an institutionalized, structured, and sanctioned
competitive activity beyond the realm of play that involves physical exertion and the use of relatively
complex athletic skills.
Slide 2:In the module we are reviewing today the focus will be culture and sport. In particular we will
focus on the unique culture that is a part of various sports. In conducting this analysis the emphasis will
be on culture within sport on a global scale. By the end of the module students will have a better
understanding of sport as a subdiscipline within Sociology. They will know and understand the
definition of culture and its components. In identifying the elements of subcultures we will analyze
sports on a global scale and cross-culturally. Thus students will learn and be more culturally aware of
the sports played across the world. Our analysis of other countries sports and their corresponding
subcultures will prompt us to think critically about the strengths ad weaknesses of all ways of life and
teach us how to analyze other cultures while practicing cultural relativism.
Slide 3: To begin lets define culture- Culture is simply a society’s way of life. It consists of all the shared
products of human society. Culture refers to the values, beliefs, behavior; and material objects that
together form a peoples way of life. Sport has a tremendous impact on culture and vice versa, it is a
reciprocal relationship. Culture provides people with a “script” for what is acceptable behavior, and
puts order into our lives. Sport will vary from culture to culture and even within culture as subcultures.
We will be discussing some examples later in the module of how a society’s culture impacts sport and
how most sports have their own subcultures.
Slide 4: Norms are a component of culture. They are the expectations or rules of behavior that develop
out of a groups values. Norms are the ways in which people are expected to behave. To better
understand norms we can analyze the sport of tennis. Examples of norms that are expected to be
followed within the sport of tennis would include the following: Players and spectators should not walk
behind players who are in the middle of a point; players should not purposely make noises or say things
to try to distract their opponent in the middle of a serve or point. Players should not knowingly foot
fault while serving; and at many private clubs and at the Wimbledon there are styles of dress that
typically require mostly white attire. The norms within tennis are pretty consistent cross-culturally, but
we would see different styles of tennis and court preference in different regions of the world. For
example in Spain the preferred court surface is clay where players tend to be baseliners and stay back
while in the US the preferred surface has tended to be hardcourts which produces more serve and
Slide 5: Now lets take a moment to look cross-culturally at a sport to better understand how a society’s
culture impacts sport. Baseball, known as America’s past time, is a sport that is more than a century old.
It has enjoyed great popularity as a sport in the US, but it may surprise some to learn that it is also a
popular sport around much of the globe. We will explore the impact of culture on sport by looking at
baseball and some of the differences within the sport when played in Japan versus the US and Latin
America. First lets take a look at Baseball within Japan. Japanese cultural values stress respect, unity,
and harmony. When we look at baseball within Japan and how it is played we will see that these
cultural values are reflected within baseball.
Slide 6: For example in Japan Team spirit is exemplified by star players who sacrifice bunt for the good of
the team. While that may not sound that different from the US. There is much greater respect given to
umpires, as both Players and coaches bow to umpires. Additionally fans do not throw debris on the
field. A great difference between Japan and North and South America is that players do not fight (even
if hit by a pitch) because it shows a weakness of character. This is in stark contrast to American baseball
where we regularly see coaches barking in the face of umpires (questioning calls) and players rush the
mound when hit by a retaliation or brush back pitch…sometimes escalating to full team brawls. There
are other nuances that you would recognize if watching a baseball game rather than in America include
the serving of Octopus on a stick instead of the tradtional ballpark frank (or hotdog) and before you
judge that you should think about what a hotdog is made out of. Balloons are pounded together to
make noise, and Japan’s seventh inning stretch doesn’t include singing “take me out the ballgame” but
rather the releasing of the balloons which sounds like a bunch of bottle rockets being let off
simultaneously with the balloons precipitously falling back down to the seats and field.
Slide 7: Latin American Baseball in many ways parallels American Baseball. But many fans have
criticized the MLB for being too slow. In fact the average MLB game was 2 hours and 51 minutes in
2009! The lengthening of games is attributed to longer breaks between half-innings for television
commercials (a reflection of our emphasis on capitalism and obsession with materialism), increased
offense, more pitching changes, and a slower pace of play with pitchers taking more time between each
delivery, and batters stepping out of the box more frequently. On the other hand baseball in Latin
America reflects its Machismo culture. Thus it has been described as fast, furious, and challenging. It is
less mercurial and better reflects the Machismo culture that is more prevelent in South America than in
Slide 8: The norms of a society represent an expression of its values. Values are socially shared
standards about what is good and desirable. Our analysis of baseball has revealed that different cultures
often emphasize different values. The US has great emphasis on capitalism (which in part explains the
great length to their games) but also emphasizes individual accomplishment. On the other hand Japan
emphasizes sacrifices for the sake of the team. This is also reflected in the differences in our school
systems. In the US we give students individual tests and grades, we have contests like spelling bee’s,
and game play like dodge ball, all of which emphasizes individual accomplishment. On the other hand in
Japan students often work in groups and receive group grades. This transcends into the workplace
where entire groups or teams will be promoted together which emphasizes cooperation and unity. On
the other hand the US would often promote an individual which can emphasize competition and at its
worst create a work environment that is non-cooperative. These same values bleed over into the area
of sport as well.
Slide 9: Now lets take a look at traditions and superstitions within sport. In zulu football (what in
America we would call soccer) the participants and many of the viewers don’t believe that you make
your own luck in sports. Instead, every bounce, every injury, and every goal isnt random or luck and is
instead caused by supernatural forces. In fact they believe that professionals can affect the
supernatural forces. The teams will hire an Inyanga which is similar to what Americans would consider a
witch doctor or diviner.
Slide 10: The night before a match the players will “camp” together around a fire. They will all sleep
there together, naked, and they are given umunti and other medicines by the inyanga. These pictures
demonstrate the making of the umunti. It has a foam like consistency and in the picture at the top you
can see the women placing it upon their heads. Incisions are made on the soccer players knees, elbows,
and joints. In the morning they are made to vomit. They must all go together on the same bus to the
match, and they must enter the playing grounds together. Other duties of the Inyanga include
determining if a player is bewitched and bewitching other players. The inyanga will even help his clients
harm his opponents using sorcery.
Slide 11: Almost every team has an Inyanga as they view it as necessary to win. How deeply rooted the
belief and custom is is reflected in the fact that even when players are Christians they still follow the
ritual and believe in it. The use of the Inyanga is a reflection of the fact that Sorcery is a regular part of
traditional Zulu culture, much as religion is a regular part of Western culture. An initial review of Zulu
culture may leave the average American thinking things like “crazy, absurd, or even disturbing.”
However the reality is that we have many strange superstitions and traditions within sports that other
cultures might view the same way.
Slide 12: For Example in baseball it is common for players and fans to turn their hat inside out (or
occasionally folding it just so atop your head) from the seventh inning on when your team is losing. It is
referred to as a “rally cap” and it is believed to bring good luck to the losing team and help them make a
comeback. Here is a presentation of a MLB commercial discussing the home-team rally cap.
Slide 13: In hockey spectators throw dead fish and Octupi in a hockey game when a hat trick is scored.
Slide 14: Similarly there is an unwritten rule to not talk to a pitcher that is throwing a perfect game (for
fear of breaking it up). In many sports players will not shave or will always wear the same attire (no
matter how dirty) come playoff time or during a winning streak for the sake of good luck. A very
common superstition that is carried out in sports in the US is the order an athlete puts his or her
uniform on. They tend to do it the exact same way every time. For example Wayne Gretzky, widely
seen as the greatest player in NHL history, put his pads on in the exact same order every time. Left shin
pad, left stocking, right shin pad, right stocking. Then pants, left skate, right skate, shoulder pads, elbow
pads, first the left, then the right; and finally, the jersey, with the right side tucked into his pants. He
also had to put baby powder on his hockey stick before every game. Other famous American athletes
have had similar superstitions.
Slide 15: Here we will take care of some of the more odd superstitions in sport. Brian Urlacher, one of
the NFL’s most feared linebackers, chows down on a pair of chocolate chip cookies before every game.
Never more than two, never less. Speaking of Two, Dwight Howard has the opposite concern. Instead of
taking in before the game, he wants to let things out…and by that I mean that he has told the media that
he has to deficate just before the start of every game. Many players are known for throwing up before
every game is played as well.
Slide 16: Taking it to another level is Lyoto Machida. He is one of the best fighters the UFC has ever
seen. As of 2011 he had lost two fights and has been one of the better MMA fighters of the modern
era. However, he also drinks his own urine. He was taught to do it by his father/trainer Yoshido Machida,
who also drinks his own. Apparently, they think that the human body's expulsion of waste and toxins
possesses some sort of natural medicinal qualities.
Slide17: An analysis of our own culture within sports quickly reveals that we should not be so quick to
judge other cultures. Everyone has a tendency to regard our own ways as right and to use them as a
standard for judging others. When we think and act this way we are being ethnocentric. So when we
judged the zulu’s practice of using an inyanga as weird or unusual we are being ethnocentric. We can
counter our tendency of being ethnocentric by practicing cultural relativism. This is when we look at
how the elements of a culture fit together, without judging those elements as superior or inferior to our
own way of life.
Slide 18: Sometimes to better understand social behavior within sport we not only have to look at an
entire society’s culture in general but also the subcultures within it. In general we could say that most
sports have their own subcultures, but each region of the world has its own unique subcultures as well.
A subculture is a culture within a culture, a group that has developed its own distinctive set of beliefs,
values, and norms.
Slide 19: The products of culture may be either material or nonmaterial.
Material culture- consists of all man-made objects (e.g. houses, clothing, cars, books, etc).
Nonmaterial culture- consists of more abstract concepts 9e.g. beliefs, technology, values, norms,
Slide 20: To better understand the subcultures within sport we will look at the material and nonmaterial
culture within the sport of Buzkashi. The object of the game is for a member of two competing teams to
pick up the carcass of a decapitated calf or goat from the ground, carry it around a flag, and return it to a
circle in front of the judges.
Buzkashi -A favorite Afghan pastime reflects the values of the country: strength, courage, and
Thus the material culture in Buzkashi would include the calf or goat that is used, the horses, and attire
that the men wear, while the nonmaterial culture would reflect some of the views and behaviors within
the sport. While the rider’s intent is peaceful, the lives of the players are put aside for the sake of the
game. It is known as a dangerous game, one in which the welfare of the riders and the spectators is
often ignored. For the owners of the horses, possessing buzkashi champions is a matter of prestige and
for the winning riders the glory comes before money.
Now lets take a moment to review what we have learned about culture and subcultures and sport.