THE TRUTH ABOUT SPORT

Doping scandals, exorbitant salaries, 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). In it, author Joel Nathan Rosen, assistant professor of sociology at Moravian, makes the case that there's almost nobody who doesn't have some issue with the state of sport in America today.

"Sport offends us," says Joel Nathan. "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 Joel Nathan, "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. Joel Nathan, who noticed this trend while working in sports radio, says that something important is being lost in all the negative chatter. "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, Joel Nathan traces the roots of America’s uneasiness with competition, and explores today’s debates about sportsmanship, aggression and other sports-oriented topics.