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“Sport offends us. In spite of the fact that competitive sports take up more and more of our consciousness these days, we like it less.”
Bethlehem, Pa., July 23, 2007—Doping scandals, exorbitant salaries, point shaving, bad behavior . . . if you've noticed that these days, conversations about professional sports seem to have little to do with competition or athletic performance, you'll want to read The Erosion of the American Sporting Ethos: Shifting Attitudes Toward Competition (McFarland & Company, 2007). Author Joel Nathan Rosen, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Moravian College, makes the case that there's almost no one who doesn't have some issue with the state of sport in America today.
“Sport offends us,” says Rosen. “In spite of the fact that competitive sports take up more and more of our consciousness these days, we like it less.” Different social factions have different issues with organized sporting events, he says: “If you poll people, those on the political right are offended by sport because it’s unpatriotic, and because athletes likely to become celebrities don’t behave in suitable ways.” From a left-wing perspective, he adds, sport is disliked because it raises self-esteem issues and contradicts the egalitarian notion that everyone is a champion. “The only thing all sides seem to agree on," says Rosen, “is that there's something very wrong here.”
“While sport in America has always had its critics, broad cultural shifts that took place in the post-cold war era hardened public attitudes towards it in significant ways. Today, there seems to be more talk about what's wrong with sport than about sporting events themselves,” says Rosen, who noticed this trend while working in sports radio. “Almost never do we have discussions about dynamics of exhilaration. We don’t hear a lot about extraordinary talent without it being enveloped in some kind of controversy,” he says.
In his new book, Rosen traces the roots of America’s uneasiness with competition, and explores today’s debates about sportsmanship, aggression and other sports-oriented topics. He provides a comprehensive analysis of the nature of competition in contemporary American sport. Against the backdrop of athletic competition, this work traces American sport from its traditional place in American culture to the influence of the 1960s counterculture and the resulting rise of a post-Cold War ethos that continues to reinterpret competitiveness as a relic of a misbegotten past and an anathema to American life.