Posted by: vanhoff | April 8, 2008

Sports and Socialization in Middle-Class America

     At an early age I was introduced to sports by my father and my community in general. As far back as I can remember sports molded my personality; thus shaping who I was among my peers and community. My family was raised in an affluent neighborhood just outside of Knoxville that regarded sports as the only avenue of recreation for children. Soccer, basketball, and football were deemed as the top sports for young, male children to play. For females, the dutiful soccer moms shuttled them off to cheer camps and pageants of sorts. My father was the instigator for most of my early childhood developments within the realm of sports. He was a passionate about sports, and this passion had followed him throughout his life. Raised in New Jersey, he carried with him into adulthood an attitude that only tough men can play sports. For his very definition of a male would include one who plays sports to better one’s character as a man. As a child and into my teen years, my father raised my family in middle-class America. Our social structure was rigid; defined by wealth and community strength. Predominantly white, our neighborhood lacked the racial and social diversity needed for proper socialization. For this, much of middle-class America has shaped and has defined sports today to meet the needs as a collective unit, and hence has given them structure so desired for sports organization.

            My family insisted that I begin my sports career by playing organized soccer in our neighborhood. I did not care for the game, and lacked any motivation to seek improvement in my ability to play soccer. I remember little to no individual development and that at the age 7, however parents from our team had sought to seek out the stars they felt fit to characterize the team’s success. These young peers of mine were looked upon as stars; winners who carried the team to victory. Ironically, we played “beehive soccer,” and our development in cooperation and physical skills were not emphasized enough to consider ourselves a true team. Soccer was not my strong point. At age 8, I had a growth spurt that now only gave me an edge on height among my peers, and strength as well. My father, a high school basketball player himself, raised a 10-foot goal in our driveway, my love for basketball flourished as it allowed me to express myself in ways I never thought possible. Though I was taught the formal rules of organized basketball, I enjoyed playing one-on-one with my peers, and developing skills that I emulated from Michael Jordan.

            By age 10, I had height advantage over most of my community peers. My father recognized this and immediately started me in a league that consisted of fifteen to twenty teams from all over the Knoxville area. For this was neither an elite league nor a traveling league; it was a public, nonprofit community organization that was diverse in income and racial make-up. I highly enjoyed the diversity, and was quick to make friends from varying social classes. For I have always been taught to keep an open mind; and with my father being raised in New Jersey, he far exceeded the mentality of most, uncultured parents from the outlying areas of Knoxville.

            As I began to play, my skills developed and my height allowed for good defense shot-blocking. I developed not only as a player, but as a team member. I was asked to be apart of the league’s all-star team for several years, however as I grew older so did my peers. They began to develop physically and my size did not become a factor as I grew with the league. Never did frustration set in, but my desires to match and play at there level were never of great importance to me. I found my pleasure to be apart of a team, and yes I did practice but I lacked conviction and motivation.

            When I reached high school, the realization of sports significance within my community caused me to rebel. I found it to be highly competitive, and the enjoyment that I once had for organized sports was lost to a community’s standard of what sports should be; organized, profit driven, and shallow. I mean that in the best of context; for I still enjoy college football and other forms of organized sports, it was the lack of individuality that set me apart from the realm of playing organized sports.

            During my high school career, I did play organized basketball on church leagues; however, I strayed toward individualistic sports. My main sport was skateboarding. Skateboarding allowed me to focus less on team performance and more on individualistic performance. However, coming from a community that deemed skateboarding as a menace, I too felt the confines of my social upbringing. The community was quaint for most of the white, middle-class families. Tucked away from urban America, yet close enough to call themselves metropolitans. Ironically today most well-to-do families are leaving the suburbs and moving closer to the city.

            I was chased by cops, harassed by civilians and high school peers, spit on, and worst of all deemed inappropriate for the community. However, a group of us banded together and sought to exercise our right as skaters by intentionally skating in front of civic buildings. We were a diverse group ranging both in social and racial class. My parents did not mind my expression and passion for skateboarding; however, they did mind the several tickets handed to me by police officers as I skated in public areas.

            When I graduated from high school my emphasis was on school. I did not further my skateboarding skills, but I did play informal pick-up games of basketball. As I grew older, my desires to play decreased and I sought other avenues of expression be it through music or socialization with my college peers. I choose to be a spectator in college, and have enjoyed my decision since. Recently though I have taken an interest in golf, and this has allowed me again to express myself without the constraints of organized sports. I have also turned my attention to racing. Racing is a large part of our social make-up in America, and recently my interests in pursuing a career in marketing/ advertising for teams within NASCAR has sparked my interest. The stock in NASCAR is so large that many teams are seeking experts in this field. Though I may be reinforcing the idea that corporate America sponsors sports, I feel now that this is in my best decision.

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