Within sports, inequalities often reflect the larger concerns in society when it comes to gender inequity, homophobia and transphobia, or racial discrimination. Social classes, hierarchical groupings based on wealth, education, income, and overall socioeconomic status, are some of the foundational categories that separate and split people. These social stratums are distinguishable in the sports realm as well.
While those with higher socioeconomic statuses are more likely to get involved with sports, they are the least likely to participate in “prole” sports, which are contact-heavy sports that hone in on teamwork and physical and mental toughness, such as basketball, soccer, football, boxing, and other “rough” sports. In fact, upper classes are more inclined to play no-contact sports, like tennis and golf, as they typically require more equipment and specific facilities to participate.
With prole sports, however, it’s much easier for anyone to play games within their communities and utilize different resources to reenact actual equipment– for example, using two water bottles as goal posts. Public parks tend to make prole sports much more accessible, whereas golf courses and tennis courts are often closed off for members or require payment.
Upper + Upper-Middle Class
When looking at the sports the upper class typically prefers, there can be larger connections made to the different perspectives within each social stratification. Their pastimes often are highly individual and minimize hard manual labor and physical contact. Since more affluent people have the resources they need, they often see sports as recreational activities rather than being motivated to achieve a higher, more elite level of play. Nonetheless, their talents go more noticed, since they have more resources and access to better facilities.
Some popular sports often associated with the upper class include:
The upper-middle class, usually white-collar professionals, earn comfortable incomes to supplement their social experiences with sports. Similar to the upper classes, the upper-middle class usually has the time and ability to partake in sports that are usually too expensive and privatized for lower socioeconomic classes. Unlike the upper class, however, we see a greater emphasis on team-oriented sports, specifically ice hockey and lacrosse. These team sports tend to be more expensive, especially with club teams. Hence, some areas with lower classes don’t offer these sports and are almost exclusive to the upper middle class.
The middle class is the largest socioeconomic group, where a broad range of occupations place many families within the expanding class. Team sports dominate– popular sports, like basketball, football, volleyball, and soccer, are so widespread due to the fact that they’re cheaper and more accommodating of all classes.
Players usually start off in rec leagues and work to qualify for club or interscholastic teams. This is where some players strive to distinguish themselves from competitors to achieve more opportunities to play at higher levels and to maybe make an income from their sport. Values such as determination and grit are most definitely emphasized, which is consistent with middle class lifestyles.
Lower class families often live below the poverty line– members barely meet the minimum wage standards and often struggle from unemployment and financial strain. While kids can enjoy some of the same team sports as the middle class does, play is often unorganized and doesn’t require payment. Games take place in neighborhoods or public fields and usually include a lot of physical contact and mental tenacity.
Sports can act as destressors and forms of escapism. They help develop a sense of community and enable people to stay healthy and social while they’re in poor situations.
This issue doesn’t stop just with what sports people can play. It also deals with access to treatments to prevent and recover from injuries. Reduced rehabilitation hinders recovery and reduces recovery for future– those in lower socioeconomic classes often have a more difficult time affording professionals who enforce recuperative exercises. Not only does this delay injury management, but it can harm day-to-day function in the long term.
Hence, socioeconomic inequalities in professional sports are not as widely discussed as they should be. While there are plenty of stories of people living in poverty climbing their way up to the elite levels, a great majority go unnoticed. They don’t get the opportunities to showcase or develop their talent and potential.
Facilities and “upper class” sports should be made more accessible to everyone. There shouldn’t be limitations to what sports someone can play because of affordability. We shouldn’t have the ability to categorize sports due to the fact that there are only some who can play.
“ACL Recovery Inequality: Socioeconomic Status and Injury Recuperation.” Esurgi, 9 Apr. 2021, myesurgi.com/acl-recovery-inequality-socioeconomic-status-and-injury-recuperation/.
Hall, Taylor. “Social Class and Sports.” The Broken Clipboard, 11 Apr. 2021, brokenclipboard.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/social-class-and-sports-2/.
Johnson, Colin. “The Correlation between Social Class and Sports.” The Aragon Outlook, 13 Feb. 2020, aragonoutlook.org/2020/02/the-correlation-between-social-class-and-sports/.