How Do We Decide The Sports We Play?

November 5, 2011

Political Theory


What decides what sports we play when were young? How do we know what sports we are truly best suited to play?  Does our culture upbringing affect what sports we are allowed to play? By examining the differences between inner city kids and suburban kids we see a clear difference. In wealthier towns, sports like lacrosse, golf and hockey dominate their region. While in urban cities, we see a tendency of young athletes playing more basketball and football. Is this just a coincidence or are the sports kids play affected by their culture rather than their athletic ability?

Think about what golf, lacrosse and hockey all have in common. They all require a large initial investment, to play the sport. In addition to this, you need a course or specialized field to play on. Golf requires a lot of land and time to build and maintain a functional course. To play hockey you need an indoor facility, one that can preserve an ice rink all year round.Lacrosse, requires a field which is not as demanding, but the gear required to play the sport is expensive. In a city like Detroit for example, it’s rare to see any hockey rinks, golf course or lacrosse fields.  Are basketball and football just the preferred sports of kids growing up in Detroit? Or are these children subjected to a smaller range of sports to chose from?

An Inner-City Basketball Court in Jersey City

John Rawls, an influential philosopher, proposed many theories on fairness and inequality. Rawls proposed that the origin of new inequalities is brought on from: 1. contingent factors of birth 2. luck. These can be applied directly to the situation. Rawls would believe that there is a clear inequality in sports. Rawls may believe that, certain kids would be placed at an automatic disadvantage based on the environment they are born into or the natural talent they are born with. In the case of inner city born children, Rawls would say that they were born with unequal opportunity to make it in professional sports, due to the fact that they have a narrower range of sports they can pick from to play which may not correlate with their natural aptitude. While kids who were raised in the suburb have less limitations  when it comes to the sports they can play. How would Rawls combat this? He would propose that we create institutions that will help determine which sports kids are best suited for or have the chance in succeeding in most.

A Racial Breakdown of The Four Major U.S Sports

It seems as is if Rawls would be correct, the picture above shows that in each professional sport there is clear racial segregation. Especially in baseball. The issue has been brought up over the past few years by Major League Baseball. Over the past 50 years, baseball has seen fewer black players make it to the major league ranks. The 2010-2011 total saw one of the lowest percentages of black players in decades. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has attributed two causes to the problem. First, baseball is an expensive sport to play. Much like lacrosse the equipment is expensive. Gloves, Bats, Cleats and batting gloves all drive up the price to play the sport. While the fantasy of baseball is fathers passing down their glove to their son, the truth is, gloves fall apart and bats lose their effectiveness. The other problem is more troubling for the sport. Baseball players on average make more money than any other professional athlete, acquiring guaranteed contracts that cannot be taken away under any circumstance. However, unless you are a top prospect, chances are you will be playing in small, quiet cities traveling on long bus rides for very little money until you are 25. Alternative sports like basketball and football offer the chance for kids to gain national fame at the age of 18 at the college ranks, and can be playing professional and making millions by the time they are 19 and 20 respectively. The MLB has launched the program RBI, which stands for Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities. The program is baseballs effort to try and combat what may be an inevitable future where all the top athletes choose the glamour sports. The program brings different events and well known players to these cities in order to increase participation and interest in the sport among inner city youth, while teaching good sportsmanship and the value of our education.

To my new commenters, do you believe that there is inequality in sports based off of cultural separation? If so, do you believe this inequality is inevitable or can it be reversed?  How would you go about changing it? Would Rawls support this RBI program? What do you believe Rawls would do to change this inequality? What would you do to limit the inequality in sports?

Thanks to media such as ESPN, this inequality had been reduced. Kids are exposed to a wide number of sports from a young age. Perhaps kids just want to play what they think they’re good at, or what their friends play. The reasons will always be shrouded in a little mystery, but the issue will remain a hot button topic as long as our professional leagues continue to remain segregated and in consent competition for the best athletes.

UPDATE:  An edit was made on December 12th, to contain more relevance to political science and to strengthen the argument at hand.

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5 Comments on “How Do We Decide The Sports We Play?”

  1. zschmitt17 Says:

    I agree with you that both culture and wealth play big roles in determining what sports kids play. When I was younger I played summer league baseball from the time is was 3 or 4 til my sophmore year in high school. My dad loved that sport and it was an fun thing that my parents could do with me. Then during elementary school at recess I would either play basketball or football with my friends because that is what the school provides. I never was a big fan of soccer, I never watched it and only played until 4th grade (rural community). But everyone loved football, I can turn the tv on to ESPN right now and 90% of the stories will be about football. That is because Americans love football, its our thing, soccer is more European. In high school, my school did not have a tennis team or lacrosse team because it is a small rural school, not much money in the area for those teams. I did play golf though, but compared to other kids I had no chance. I simply didn’t have the money to buy the best clubs or go golfing a lot in the summer. That is where money comes in, if you live in a wealthy area or go to a big school, then you can play lacrosse or golf because you are more likely to be financially stable and afford them. You could still play basketball and football but put less attention into them because of other sports. But for many young kids in financially low places they view one sport as their way out, so they put all of their attention on basketball or football (sports that are relatively cheap to play and don’t need a lot of space to play it) in order for a better life.

  2. ayablan Says:

    This is a very interesting article and can definitely provoke a great deal of debate. This idea was always in the back of my mind, but after reading this article, it is evident that culture truly is the deciding factor as to what sports children play. While there are many other factors that can talked about as well, culture is clearly the dominant one.
    I was very fortunate as I grew up in a well-to-do community. My school had a solid lacrosse program and I lived near a couple of golf courses. This article made me realize how lucky I was for the opportunity to play these sports. How can a kid in Detroit possibly have the same athletic opportunities as a kid living in the suburbs if there is no access to a hockey rink or golf course? How can you expect an inner city kid to play baseball, hockey, lacrosse, or golf when a set of golf clubs is over $1000 and hockey and lacrosse pads are hundreds of dollars as well? This is truly the exact reason why culture plays the largest role in what sports we play. It is easy to play football because all you need is an open space and a football. There is a similar situation with basketball because you just need a flat surface, a ball and a hoop. I have a particularly interesting experience that goes along with this article. I live in a suburb outside of New York City and I often take the train into the city. While I am driving to the train station, I see kids playing lacrosse and I actually pass a golf course as well. However, once I am on the train, as I get closer to the city, the neighborhoods become a little bit more run-down. I no longer see lacrosse fields and golf courses, but I see a caged cement area where kids are playing basketball or football. This shows that they clearly do not have the same opportunities as suburban kids.
    One more thing that I would like to say is that I think that this is awful that culture depicts what sports we play. I would like to applaud Bud Selig for his efforts to erase this atrocity. He is working hard to provide baseball to inner city kids and I hope his actions do not go unnoticed. A great idea is for someone to donate a golf course that can be used for inner city kids. Instead of throwing out old golf clubs and golf apparel, they can donate it and then these inner city kids can use them. I know we are probably a long way away from this, but it is merely just a thought.
    In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this article and I believe that it is evident that culture plays an extremely important role in deciding what sports children play. Although it does not seem too likely in the near future, I hope that this trend changes and that all children have equal opportunities to play whatever sport they desire.

  3. kaitlinlapka Says:

    I think it’s obvious that culture and soci-economic levels have a large input into what sports kids play. Along with that are the other obvious factors: family member affliations, body build for a certain type of sport, and what is considered cool by the individual. I don’t think there is any denying that certain regions and cultures in America put emphasis on specific sports. In inner city areas like Detroit, basketball is obviously seen as cool and what everyone is doing. Look at examples from the NBA where guys have come out of urban childhoods and succeeded. Also, it’s accessible. Local courts in parking lots, parks, and backyards create the environment in which to play. In wealthier areas where families attend country clubs, there is more emphasis on life sports. While adults play tennis and golf for leisure, they give their kids access to those sports as well. Then there must be all the exceptions where kids have the opportunity to play whatever sport they want. They could choose at young age to play soccer because that’s what their parents signed them up for to get them out of the house, or what their best friend was doing. Or maybe they played baseball because their dad did, as did his dad and so on. However, I think that there are many factors overall, and culture, hometown /region, and social and economic trait play a large part. There is obviously no denying this if you look at the example of the MLB launching RBI either. Interesting post, but I don’t agree on how it can spark much debate.

  4. maxmoray Says:

    Interesting post, I really do in fact see a connection between the demographics and the sports between choose to play. For me personally, growing up in Los Angeles only added an appreciation to basketball, as i have grown up with stars such as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Likewise, the warm climate lended me an opportunity to choose any sport I wanted to play. In areas such as the midwest, it is evident the weather has a major impact on what sports young American’s are playing. It has been noted that the state of Ohio ranks 4th with the amount of NFL players on current rosters. In addition, it has been mentioned a substantially lower number of athletes from Ohio play professionally in the MLB, NBA or MLS. It is obvious that states such as Florida, Texas and California, continuous produce the highest percentage of top athletes in the major sports and likewise have the highest competitive levels on the high school and college levels.
    It has also been noted, males 25-34 increase their TV consumption of sports events. This makes sense as men in this age group want to watch professional athletes in their prime, which typically are of this age. Conversely, college athletes who are still young and immature, own a younger fan base as we watch them develop into the talents they hope to become.

  5. rmwells3 Says:

    I’ve always discussed this question and thought it to be quite straight forward, but then again I might be narrow minded. It truly is a cultural upbringing that decides what sport one plays. Demographics and athletic talent might have part to do with it, but definitely not the way culture does. My family raised me to love both soccer and basketball and that is exactly what sports I loved to play. Although my high school didn’t have a football team and I love watching Michigan football (I might just be the biggest football fan you’ve ever met) it never occurred to me to play football. My Dad being the Brit that he is had always pushed a soccer ball in front of me or taken me to New York Knicks basketball games. As a result, I felt more satisfaction and gratification emulating the players I always watched and doing what they did on the court or the field exactly the way they did it. Not to say that i don’t think football has its rewards, it just never rewarded me the same way soccer and basketball would. My Dad would be tremendously proud of me when I succeeded in soccer more than anything else. The fact that he could be proud of me motivated me to play more and to strive for me. In fact, by the end of my short soccer career, I had the chance to play college soccer as it had become my passion and my goal to do so. Who knows maybe I was the next Tom Brady, but because of the culture that surrounded me I guess I will never know.

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