Marxism and Sports.
In Marxist theory, human society/community consists of two parts: Base and Superstructure. The base structure is the material relation and condition of production – division of labor, property relation, employer/employee, slave/master condition and relation. The relations of the base structure fundamentally determines and influences society’s other ideas and conditions, namely the Superstructure – arts, institutions, state, habits, customs, cultural representations like, law, philosophy, science, sports and etc.
In other words, the existing relation of production of the economic structure legitimates and corresponds to the type of “culture”, practice, and representation of what that particular society has.
OK. all of this is standard knowledge, but what I find interesting is how sports that are celebrated in a given societies (superstructure) are reflected and influenced by their historical material/economic means. Marx would tell you that the type of sports that are played in a given society can precisely reflect its economic/production basis.
For example, what type of sport can we expect the people that were living the village life during the medieval period be keen to? The answer would probably be soccer and its variations.
Indeed, soccer is one of the oldest forms of sports. The Japanese and Chinese were kicking balls around on small fields for as far back as 1000 B.C. Also, during King Edward’s reign of England during the 12th century, soccer was one of the most popular games in the world.
Soccer is the perfect “village” sport because there is very little class structure/division of labor; it’s a homogeneous sport where everybody gets to kick the ball, and all the players on the field more or less possess similar physicality and musculature. Everybody passes the ball, nobody worries about individual stats and glory, and the whole team is played out like a unified organic whole where nobody is above anybody else.
Now let’s look at the game of baseball. Baseball and its variations were invented and played by the Americans in the 1800s when people were living in a more or less capitalist agriculture society.
Baseball is a slightly more individualistic sport than soccer, where the division of labor more obvious and important. Everybody gets to swing the same bat and wear the same type of glove, but the players’ tasks are more specialized. One player specializes in catching, another in pitching, and so on. But the players are still more or less homogeneous in their physical levels and muscular structures.
Finally, in our modern industrialized society, people should play sports that correspond to a factory production.
American football and basketball are these sports. They are highly individualistic, the division of labor is intense, and the games are fast, strong, and physically abusing.
Players’ body types and tasks are heterogeneous. The sizes of point guards and the centers in basketball differ to large degrees. In football, there are players who are big, fat, slow, never touch the ball and barely move. On the other hand, here are people who are fast, lean, and agile and run all over the field. There are other players who only kick the ball, and players that only block. There is one team for offense, and a different team for defense, where coaches, players, and strategies between the two teams are completely different.
The analogy of the production process goes deeper. Players are workers, where different positions have different coaches to supervise them, something like an associate store manager. These position coaches are in turn supervised by the head coach (district or factory manager) who is supervised by a general manager (the CEO) who is controlled by the team owner (the boss or factory owner).
Players in football and basketball are often selfish, narcissistic individuals who are willing to sacrifice the team for individual glory. The games are often exploited, and if it isn’t fast and hard it isn’t worth watching.
It’s not a coincidence, according to marxist theories that there is a correlation between culture and material structures. The culture or the representation of custom in a society such as sports, reflect and legitimate the production/material/economic process and structure.