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Reviewed by:
  • Learning Culture through Sports: Perspectives on Society and Organized Sports
  • Allan Downey
Prettyman, Sandra Spickard and Brian Lampman, eds. Learning Culture through Sports: Perspectives on Society and Organized Sports. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2011. Pp. 299. Notes, contributors, and index.

Learning Culture through Sportsis a sociological study of sport that brings together over twenty leading multi-disciplinary critics of various aspects of athletics and society to achieve one over-arching goal, to provide a critical examination of sport. The central objective of this book is best summarized in the opening lines of Sanford S. Williams’ “Sports and Economics”; “Sports represent a window into the soul of the culture of its participants. Show me a popular sporting event, and I will show you fanaticism and a microcosm of the culture of that society” (p. 193). This collection, edited by Sandra Spickard Prettyman and Brian Lampman, provides a snapshot of Western culture through sports. As Prettyman reflects in her introduction, the collection challenges readers to (re)consider the relationship between sport and society, the individual and institutions, and the influence of sport in their cultural contexts.

Divided into five parts, the essays are thematically organized covering a diverse array of topics such as youth, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, media and big business, and international perspectives. While a variety of specific sports are covered such as lacrosse, basketball, track and field, and basketball, it is not the sports themselves with which this collection is concerned. Rather, the papers examine these issues through the lens of sports. The sections are well balanced in coverage, and there is enough similarity between the essays so as to create an implied dialogue between them based solely on their similarities. For example in Part II: Gender, Sexuality, and SportJackson Katz’s analyzes the sport metaphors used in presidential politics in “The Frontrunner Failed to Land a Knockout Punch”; Mary G. McDonald and Cheria Thomas focus on the portrayal of women athletes at the intersections of racism and sexism in sport and wider culture in “The Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team Talks Back”; and Brandon Sternod’s examination of homophobia in sports in “Come Out and Play,” all present varied case studies on similar topics of discussion. Collectively they make compelling arguments and important observations on the restrictions, limitations, and power of sport, sexuality, and gender.

There really is something for everyone in this collection. It provides a great deal of variety in which each author contributes a mix of perspectives, approaches, and case studies throughout. For example in her study of youth identities in relation to sport, Prettyman uses both social class and gender analyses to explore the developing identities of “Jocks” through the case study of an American middle school. Rylee A. Dionigi’s thought-provoking international study “Older Athletes” examines the “resistance and conformity to dominant cultural ideals” (p. 261) by older athletes employing a post-structural analysis. Overall, the majority of the collection is limited to the United States but does include contributions examining sport in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

While each author contributes a different case study, by design, they represent three larger interdisciplinary approaches: the historical, comparative, and critical. The latter [End Page 523]two are well represented, however the lack of an equal number of historical analyses reduces the effectiveness of the collection’s proposed reach. Acknowledging that this collection is a sociological study of sport, for the purposes of this journal’s audience, the editors’ goal of obtaining a balance between the three approaches falls short. Despite solid historical contributions from C. Richard King, “Asian Americans in Unexpected Places,” and Ellen J. Staurowsky’s “Title IX Literacy,” the cultural history of sports remains largely unexamined within the collection.

Another limitation of the collection as a whole is that in their pursuit of variety and quantity, the editors have sacrificed any in-depth investigation of a particular issue. While the contributions serve as provocative introductions, several of the essays are under fifteen pages including notes and hardly do justice for their particular study. It is difficult not to feel as if some of the contributions were premature in their publishing...