Many of the earliest accounts of ancient civilizations involve references to sports.
“Games of throwing and catching, or contests in running, jumping and fighting, are likely to be as old as humanity,” according to the online compendium HistoryWorld. “But surviving traces of competitive sports are first found among the relics of settled communities.”
The article goes on to describe wall paintings in an Egyptian tomb that date from around 1850 B.C. The paintings depict images of wrestling. Several centuries later, the ancient Greeks introduced many sports that are played to this day: running, disc and javelin throwing, high jumping, and boxing, among others. The predecessor to today’s Olympic Summer Games were established at Olympia, Greece in 776 B.C. and are held every four years.
A ThoughtCo. article noted, “The early history of sports often involved the preparation and training for war or hunting. Hence there were sports games that involved the throwing of spears, stakes and rocks, and of course lots of play-fighting.”
Sports sociology has sought to understand sport as a social phenomenon by examining it through six theories: functionalist theory, which views sports as bringing stability to society; conflict theory, which views sports as a mechanism to maintain control over a population; interactionist theory, which emphasizes sports culture as adding cohesion to society; critical theory, which sees sports as defining power relations; feminist theories, which view sports as reinforcing gender roles; and figurational theory, which stresses the interdependence of humans.
Ask a high school football or soccer coach today, though, and you’re more likely to hear how sports teach teamwork, leadership, discipline and sportsmanship.
Overview of Sports in the United States
The earliest sports in the United States, after those played by Native Americans, would have been brought by European settlers in the 17th century, according to the History of Sports blog. Those games — soccer, rugby and cricket — respectively evolved into American soccer, football and baseball. Baseball took an early lead in the United States with the formation of the National League in 1876. Today, professional sports in the United States accounts for around $70 billion in annual revenue. By viewership, football is the most popular sport in the states, followed by basketball, baseball and soccer.
Professional sports is big business. In 2017, Americans spent $56 billion on sporting events, according to CNBC. A breakdown of American expenditures on sports, according to CNBC, includes sporting events ($56 billion), athletic equipment ($33 billion), gym membership fees ($19 billion), sports-themed video games ($8 billion), race entry fees ($5 billion) and fantasy sports leagues ($2 billion).
Societal Benefits of Sports
Possibly the most positive role sports play in our society is through public education. In a Public School Review post, Grace Chen outlined 10 benefits of high school sports. Beyond obvious ones like fitness and teamwork development, Chen said playing sports teaches time management, connects students with mentors and helps athletes develop healthy social relationships.
Numerous studies have also noted the key role sports play in preventing students from dropping out of high school. A study by the University of Kansas found that “athletes had higher percentages of days of school attended, graduation rates […] and lower dropout rates than non-athletes.”
In a blog post for the science magazine Nautilus, Jim Davies highlighted five reasons sports remain a key element of American society.
Playing sports prepares us for dealing physically with the world, he said. Many animals play as a way to safely learn how to hunt or avoid being hunted. Watching sports activates the same areas in our brains as when we’re physically playing. Modern brain imaging has allowed scientists to see how watching a football game, for example, activates the motor areas of our brains, meaning we get many of the same pleasures from watching as we do from playing. Team sports exemplify interpersonal conflict, he notes. By tying oneself to one side of a conflict, viewers experience joy and sorrow depending on whether their team wins or loses. Humans are also naturally drawn to examples of physical excellence and superhuman prowess. Finally, sports can be beautiful, he said.
“Lots of people like sports for aesthetic reasons,” he said. “This is more obvious in sports that are judged, such as figure skating and gymnastics. There’s no single answer to why people like sports, just as there is no single reason why people are religious. The attractions of both appear to be a complex combination of different psychological motivations.”
Sports has helped shape civilization and continues to be important in society. The St. Thomas University Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Sports Administration prepares students to be business leaders within the professional sports field. The online courses are taught by STU faculty and can be completed in as few as 10 months. The comprehensive curriculum teaches advanced business concepts and sports-related topics like contracts, collective bargaining and risk management.
From the early days of Major League Baseball to the roaring crowds at professional basketball games today, sports have always been a key outlet for recreation and celebration in the United States. With an MBA in sports administration from STU, you can be a part of that unfolding story.
Learn more about the STU online MBA with a concentration in Sports Administration.
HistoryWorld: History of Sports and Games
SJSU: Sport in America
ThoughtCo.: The History of Sports, From Ancient Times to Modern Day
History of Sports: Sports in the USA
CNBC: Americans Spend $56 Billion on Sporting Events
Nautilus: 5 Reasons Why Humans Can’t Do Without Sports
Public School Review: 10 Reasons Why High School Sports Benefit Students