7 Questions with Jay Coakley, author of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies”

Jay Coakley, professor emeritus of sociology and executive director of the Center for Critical Sport Studies at UCCS, writes, researches and teaches on the sociology of sport.

Most recently, Coakley released a revised edition of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies,” an issues-oriented approach to the study of sports in society and a discussion of current sports-related controversies. The volume was published in 2020 by McGraw-Hill Education.

Coakley answered seven questions on the new edition, which raises critical questions exploring the relationships between sports, culture, and society – and explores sports-related controversies on issues of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, social class, violence and more.

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

This is an introduction to the sociology of sport. It deals with the social organization of sports and the social dynamics that exist in and around sports. It uses research to identify and explain the relationships between sports, culture and society.

Chapters are organized around critical questions about current issues and controversies related to gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, social class, deviance, violence, youth sports, the impact of sport participation in people’s lives and the place of sports in the family, schools, the economy, media, politics and government and religious belief systems.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

I first thought of writing a sociology of sport textbook in 1971 after teaching an undergraduate seminar on sports in society inspired by my experience as a college athlete my support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, the 1968 African American boycott of the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games and the actions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they raised their fists on the winners’ podium during the games.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

The students in the seminar brainstormed the 12 issues they wanted to consider in the seminar and those issues inspired the chapter titles for the first edition of the book that was published in 1968. The chapters were revised or discontinued and new chapters were added to the book as I regularly taught courses on sports in society at UCCS and as issues and controversies in sports changed over the years. The textbook is now in its 13th edition and each edition contains significant changes that reflect current findings from research worldwide.

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

The thing that has motivated me the most is asking critical questions about taken for granted assumptions about sports – assumptions that are qualified or unsupported by research evidence. This has enabled me to more accurately identify the conditions under which sports can become more accessible and age-appropriate, humane and healthy, and player-centered and democratic. This has been my goal over the last 50 years of teaching, doing research and revising the book.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

I write at a home office. I’ve never been successful writing in my university office due to the many interactions while I’m there. This also allowed me to take time with Nancy, my wife, and two kids. I’d write until 1 a.m., or if I had an early night, I’d get up at 4 a.m. and write until breakfast. I didn’t have a routine as much as I was committed to the project. Some of my best writing occurred in the early morning.

6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book?

“…Sports are social constructions. This means that we play a role in making them what they are today and what they will be in the future. We can play this role actively by envisioning what we’d like sports to be and then working to make them so, or we can play it passively by doing nothing and allowing others to shape sports as they want them to be.

...The influence of sports on people’s lives cannot be captured in a single statement about building character, bringing people together, creating responsible citizens, promoting conformity, or fostering warfare. The connection between sports and socialization is complex and can be explained only by studying sports in the contexts in which people give them meaning and make them a part of their lives.”

7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered? 

New questions arise daily as changes occur in connection with sports and as new research and books are published. At this time, I am on the lookout for research and everyday examples related to esports and how they are being integrated into student activities and athletic departments in high schools and colleges, the eligibility status of intersex individuals and transsexuals in sports, social justice issues, athlete activism, athletes’ rights, the impact of sport mega-events, such as the Olympic Games and soccer World Cups, on people with few resources in host cities and the impact of COVID-19 on sports and athletes.

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.