Sunday, February 6, 2011


In ‘Sport as Ritual: Interpretations from Durkheim to Goffman’ Birrell discusses the ways sport reinforces both moral and social order. She examines Durkheim’s symbolic system of ritual, in which the third element, ‘the symbol’, is considered a ‘crucial element in the system.’ Birrell writes, “the symbol is a ‘collective representation’ because it serves as a concrete reminder of the values of the community to which all individuals must subscribe and through which they maintain their community identity.” Birrell then considers Goffman, explaining how this ‘symbol’ need not be some abstract ‘thing’ or object. According to Goffman, ‘the concrete symbol within which societal values are encoded may very well take human form.” Political figures, religious leaders, celebrities and of course, professional athletes are the kinds of individuals who could be considered ‘symbolic’ within society.
Birrell highlights the four ‘essential’ qualities an athlete must possess in order to be valued and/or prized: courage, gameness, integrity and composure. While I agree with Birrell that these four elements are essential for an athlete to be ‘loved or to be considered ‘great,’ there are so many other non-sport related factors that play a part in how we regard an athlete.  We live in a society in which we not only demand of professional athletes to possess courage, gameness, integrity and composure- we demand them to be heterosexual, attractive, articulate, humble, charitable and a number of other characteristics (think David Beckham, Tom Brady, Roger Federer). We judge athletes on so much more than the way they play a particular sport which makes me wonder: what really matters more? Skill or character? 
When the news of Tiger Woods’ infidelity was made public, he became the poster boy of shame and disgrace. Fans stopped ‘worshiping’ him, he was advised to take a break from professional golf and the entire sports world was quite devastated by the whole thing. As an athlete, he possessed the four essential qualities Birrell describes yet he was still frowned down upon. The personal choices he made had absolutely nothing to do with his ability to play good golf, yet it was these choices that made everyone reconsider his title of great athlete. Birrell’s article really made me wonder about what is important in the world of professional sports. I'm curious to know what you all think about this? When it really comes down to it, do we care more about an athlete's skill or the fact that he is a 'nice guy'? 

No comments:

Post a Comment