The word “sports” has various different meanings, depending on who you ask, but in general, people generally think of it as a competitive activity, played for fun. Sports are usually governed by some sort of traditions or rules, that ensure fair play, and enable consistent adjudication of each winner. It might be argued that all sports are about competition, but the truth is there are many variations and sub-genres within the larger field of sports. Some sports, such as wrestling, are considered an aggressive sport – although that definition has been broadened a little in modern times.
The word “sports” can also be used to refer to games of skill, like archery or chess. But there are also non-physical competitions, including sports that require physical strength, such as weightlifting. Most sports are played between individuals, so when there are multiple contestants, it’s often called a “competition”. A game of competitive swimming is called a “swimming competition”, while a game of baseball involves pitchers and catchers.
Throughout the 20th century, there has been a real movement towards sports equality. This is particularly true in the United States, where in the past generations, most children went to sports high school, where they were required to participate in some form of physical education. The idea behind this was that physical education would encourage people to become healthier and stronger. Modern sports, especially American sports, have had a mixed history with regard to socialization. Some of the pioneers of modern sports – such as baseball and football – actively promote social interaction and community participation.
However, social interaction, as practiced in modern society, is frequently absent from modern sports. In major league baseball, for example, the home plate has only seven players at a time, preventing any possibility of social interaction, and even the throwing of the ball is separate from that of the hitting of the ball. This separation of sports into distinctly separate activities is a relatively new development, especially considering the enormous influence of race and gender in sports. In baseball and other sports, nearly every team has a predominantly male population (although the percentages are beginning to change today), which has created a rather gendered culture within the sport.
Conversely, there is very little difference between football and baseball, despite the wide disparity in playing time and salaries between them. There is little chance for a male athlete to be involved in a domestic violence scenario because the NFL does not allow players to kneel or lock arms during the playing period. Similarly, football and baseball do not have uniforms, and it is difficult to imagine any player of either sex breaking out in a tattoo, unless he or she identifies with a popular team. Sport, by its nature, tends to create a gendered identity, and the game of football is no exception.
It is clear that the concept of sports can vary widely in the twentieth century. For example, American football did not begin as the game it is today, with organized contact football beginning in the mid 1890s. As the first professional sport in this country, with a salary structure comparable to the modern sports leagues, it may have had a different impact on the identity of Americans. On the other hand, American football is widely considered to be the most popular sport in the country. It has shaped many of our sports-faring attitudes towards competition and discipline. As sports become more professional and regulated, Americans have come to perceive sports as a leveler of class and opportunity, while Europeans tend to view sports as a domain for the elite.