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  • Sports: Why People Love Them
  • Benjamin D. Lisle
Delaney, Tim and Tim Madigan. Sports: Why People Love Them! Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2009. Pp. ix+246. Illustrations, bibliography, and index. $34.00 pb., $59.95 cb.

Sports: Why People Love Them! is both a misleading and instructive title. The title is misleading in that this book is less about the “why” of people’s attraction to sports than the “who,” “what,” and “when” of it. The authors describe a great deal about sport—various strains of history, different sporting practices, the ethical universe of sport—without regularly interpreting these descriptions or tethering them to a central purpose. The title is instructive for its punctuative enthusiasm, as the authors unapologetically play the role of the advocate throughout, celebrating sports as social and cultural practices. The book seems intended for an unsophisticated undergraduate audience, given the broad coverage (combining historical, sociological, and philosophical examinations of sport), the loose and episodic structure, and the casual tone. Photographs are sprinkled throughout, though they are more window dressing than objects of interpretation.

The authors state their intentions in the Preface, asking, “Just what is sport and why does it so fascinate us?” (p. viii). They formulate a definition of sport in the introductory chapter (p. 7). Their second prefatory question—and the promise of the book’s title—is addressed in the final chapter, “Why We Love Sports.” Between these introductory and concluding chapters, the authors wander around the sports landscape, contemporary and historical. Chapter two provides a partial history of sport, from ancient Africa, Greece, and Rome, to pre-industrialization European sport, to baseball and football in the United States, and finally to “twenty-first century” extreme sports. Chapter three examines sports as expressions of national or local cultures and subcultures, using Hawaiian surfing as the primary example. Chapter four considers how sport acts as a socializing agent, particularly through the genre of sports films. Chapter five examines the culture of youth sport, asking who should play and briefly exploring its historical roots in England and the United States. Chapter six discusses sport in high school, the image and status of athletes, and the development and role of the NCAA. Chapter seven looks at sports fandom as a practice and shaper of community. Chapter eight considers sportsmanship and sport as a civilizing process.

The final chapter attempts to tackle the fundamental question; it also reflects some of the book’s characteristic problems. Why do people love sports? They answer: “We love winners; we love excitement; we love the camaraderie of being together with fellow fans; we love a heated rivalry; and most of all, we love a good game” (p. 231). The argument is, essentially, that people love sports because sports give them pleasure and “diversion from the everyday stress of life” (p. 209). To support this conclusion, the authors recount a series [End Page 299] of “feel good” stories which illustrate why they love sports: for example, Fresno State’s underdog run to the College World Series title in 2008 and the story of James McElwain, a high-school student with autism, who performed briefly but remarkably in a 2006 basketball game. From there, rather than using these stories (and the rest of the book’s content) to theorize the popularity of sport, the authors meander into discussions of sport and autism, sport for the physically impaired, the physical benefits of being healthy, and media coverage—and in doing so, express one of the book’s central flaws. The organization is steered by association rather than argumentation. The chapter seems to forget its purpose— to explain why people love sport—to report on a few more sports-related topics.

This associative organization reflects the book’s pervasive informality, also suggested by the titular exclamation point (and the abundance of exclamation points throughout the text). A casual tone and conversational style could potentially make a book more accessible to a broader audience, but the casual tone here is matched to casual logic, casual organization, and casual execution. After going to the trouble of defining sport, the authors do not revisit their definition when classifying cultural practices later in the book...


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pp. 299-300
Launched on MUSE
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