Sport, stratification, and ideology

Rather than simply being a frivolous way to pass one’s spare time, sport has many “uses” in society. One common use throughout history involves sport’s ability to stratify people by separating and creating distinctions between them. For example, sport is most commonly structured into sex segregated teams, leagues, and competitions. While such a structure is often justified as a means to promote female participation, in some ways, it exists for men’s protection by preventing the possibility that men will be bested by a woman. This allows male superiority to exist unchallenged.

Somewhat similarly, a relatively unchallenged belief in white physical supremacy existed in the past. As Carrington (2010) describes, the core ideas that whites were intellectually, aesthetically, and physically superior became dominant components of racial ideology as classical racial science cohered during the 19th century. Sport, usually practiced in segregated settings, became a key component of “proving” white superiority. However, as black athletes, such as heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson, defeated white athletes in competition, beliefs about innate superiority were challenged. As Carrington writes, “if that central aspect of racial ideology [physical superiority] proved to be false, then where did that leave the theory of white supremacy itself, founded as it was, in part, upon the ‘facts’ of physical preeminence?” (p. 75). In response to such a question, Carrington suggests the success of people of African ancestry in sport became a “problem” to be investigated and the racial troupe of “the black athlete” emerged. However, the point I wish to make here is that it was through integrated competition that dominant racial ideology was challenged. If more sport leagues and events were to integrate with respect to sex, how might this lead people to rethink aspects of dominant gender ideology?


  • Carrington, B. (2010). Race, sport and politics: The sporting black diaspora. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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