It may come as a surprise to those who are still dismissing sport as mere fun and games, but the way Americans play is receiving more and more thoughtful, scholarly consideration. There is proof in a hefty pudding called Sport and Society: An Anthology (Little, Brown, $10 in hard cover, $4.95 in paperback), edited by sociologists John T. Talamini and Charles H. Page. In nearly 500 closely packed pages, the two have assembled an impressive collection of pieces in which sport is considered not as a triviality but as a major cultural phenomenon—what Page calls "a constituent part of mass society." Some of the essays are more readable and persuasive than others, but taken as a whole they provide evidence that sport is at least getting serious scrutiny.
The contributors are a varied lot. They range from Thorstein Veblen and Lewis Mumford to Jim Brosnan and Jerry Kramer (with stops between that include five articles from the pages of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED). In their different ways all the authors are concerned with how the games we play, and the way we play and watch them, reflect the society ours has become.
The collection pursues many themes, the dominant one that distinction between work and play has become blurred: "Work has already lost many of its traditional characteristics and so has play. Play has been increasingly transformed into organized sports, and sports, in turn, increasingly resemble work in the arduous practice and preparation they require, in the intense involvement of coaches and athletes in the spirit of work, and in their actual economic productivity. In a final paradox, only those sports which began as work, that is, hunting and fishing, are now dominated by the spirit of play."
Corroborative evidence is offered in essays on, among other things, hyperorganized high school sport and its overemphasis on winning; the work patterns of jockeys, boxers and baseball players; the economics of sport's relationship with the mass media; the seeming decline of "sport as recreation."
What it boils down to is that with more time to play, we transfer our work habits to our play and thus risk making a joyless business of it. We too often forget the essence of sport as Roger Bannister described it: "The sportsman is consciously or unconsciously seeking the deep satisfaction, the sense of personal dignity, which comes when body and mind are fully coordinated and they have achieved mastery over themselves."
The clock cannot be turned back. Sport as business is here to stay, and a nation of fans is not complaining. But it is wise to keep things in perspective, and Sport and Society does so most effectively.