A whole new ball game

Journal of Sport and Social Issues
February 24, 1995

It is not so long ago that sport was neglected by historians and sociologists alike: not any more. Both sports history and sports sociology can claim to be sub-disciplines with a growing number of adherents in Britain. Richard Cox counted more than 8,000 items on sports history alone published in Britain by the end of the 1980s, most of it since 1970, and it is the same throughout the western world. Problems have been identified, intellectual argument has been promoted and workers in the field have drawn from ideas and methods in the mainstreams of social history, social theory and sociology. Scholars from different disciplines but in the same institution have even come together to explore their shared interest in sport's place in societies past and present, such as the Warwick Centre for the Study of Sport in Society, which has so far joined researchers from law, politics, physical education, social history and sociology.

One by-product of this growth in intellectual interest is the increase in numbers of specialist journals devoted to the history and sociology of sport. The Journal of Sport and Social Issues is an interesting example of the genre. Its origins lie in the Centre for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University where it was the house journal in the 1980s, appearing twice a year. In 1993, it moved from two to three issues by which time, although remaining the official journal of the centre, it was being edited out of the sports and fitness management programme of the University of San Francisco and having talks with Sage Publications, one of the giants in world social science publishing. The outcome was a Sage takeover in 1994 and the conversion of the journal into a glossy 100-page quarterly.

Each issue is made up of five sections, of which "Focus" is the most important, providing two or three articles exploring a particular theme. In the issue under review the theme was "Race and sport" and featured the findings of research on the effect of athletic participation on the graduation rate of black males in American colleges, together with a shorter piece on press evaluation of the performance of black and white quarterbacks in the National Football league. Two earlier issues had been devoted to intercollegiate athletics and Magic Johnson, Aids and the United States basketball "Dream Team".

The other sections are: "On issue", a brief editorial; "Trends", research and research notes; "View, commentary and review essays - post-modern challenges to orthodox social science research in the issue under review; and "Notes", a two-page list of recent books. There are no book reviews.

It is an American journal, the main focus of which is inevitably on American sports. A 43-strong editorial board contains only four non-Americans, two Britons and two Canadians. It stems from a centre whose aim was the use of sport as a tool to foster racial and gender understanding and it remains committed to giving space to race, gender and equality issues. Editorially it is ambitious - to "affect the everyday functions of sport" - and it therefore seeks readers not only in universities but among the "sporting and fanship communities". The $90 (plus $6 postage) charge to institutions makes it unlikely that many new subscriptions will be taken out by British college libraries.

For anyone concerned with the problems of contemporary American sport the journal will usually provide something of interest, although there are serious competitors such as the International Journal of Sports Sociology. In the February issue the editor deplored the fact that so many academic journals were a "depository of the competent rather than an articulation of the compelling". This one is probably another, but it is hard to please some of the people all of the time.

Tony Mason is reader in the Centre for Social History, University of Warwick.

Journal of Sport and Social Issues: Volume Eighteen, Number Three

Editor - Lawrence A. Wenner
ISBN - ISSN 0193 7325
Publisher - Sage
Price - $40.00 (indiv.), $90.00 (inst.)
Pages - -

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