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Sports Sociology’s Still Untapped Potential



Following up onZirin’s (2008)challenge that sports sociologists “get off the bench,” andKaren and Washington’s (2001) plea to make sports sociology more central to analyses of social power, this article empirically reviews and assesses the sociology of sports from 1977–2008. Using a sample of 441 articles selected from the three major sports sociology journals during that period, we conclude that sports sociology exhibits a strong and increasing bias toward micro-level analyses of (for example) how the content of sports frames and constructs the social world. A smaller and shrinking body of work examines more macro-oriented issues such as the economics and politics of sports, and there seem to be few attempts to meaningfully synthesize these micro and macro orientations. We think this partiality toward micro-oriented frameworks is rooted in factors unique to sports sociology while also reflecting larger trends within sociology as a whole. As advocates of popularly accessible public sociology, we respectfully suggest that sports sociologists try harder to weave macro analyses into their work, not necessarily replacing micro-level approaches, but complementing them. We believe that sports sociology is well-positioned to become a standard bearer for public sociology, but only if it pays more attention to the way organized sports intertwines with the organizational, political, and economic forces that perpetuate and exacerbate social inequality.