A provocative, must-read investigation that both appreciates the importance of—and punctures the hype around—big-time contemporary American athletics
In an increasingly secular, fragmented, and distracted culture, nothing brings Americans together quite like sports. On Sundays in September, more families worship at the altar of the NFL than at any church. This appeal, which cuts across all demographic and ideological lines, makes sports perhaps the last unifying mass ritual of our era, with huge numbers of people all focused on the same thing at the same moment. That timeless, live quality—impervious to DVR, evoking ancient religious rites—makes sports very powerful, and very lucrative. And the media spectacle around them is only getting bigger, brighter, and noisier—from hot take journalism formats to the creeping infestation of advertising to social media celebrity schemes.
More importantly, sports are sold as an oasis of community to a nation deeply divided: They are escapist, apolitical, the only tie that binds. In fact, precisely because they appear allegedly “above politics,” sports are able to smuggle potent messages about inequality, patriotism, labor, and race to massive audiences. And as the wider culture works through shifting gender roles and masculine power, those anxieties are also found in the experiences of female sports journalists, athletes, and fans, and through the coverage of violence by and against male bodies. Sports, rather than being the one thing everyone can agree on, perfectly encapsulate the roiling tensions of modern American life.
Michael Serazio maps and critiques the cultural production of today’s lucrative, ubiquitous sports landscape. Through dozens of in-depth interviews with leaders in sports media and journalism, as well as in the business and marketing of sports, The Power of Sports goes behind the scenes and tells a story of technological disruption, commercial greed, economic disparity, military hawkishness, and ideals of manhood. In the end, despite what our myths of escapism suggest, Serazio holds up a mirror to sports and reveals the lived realities of the nation staring back at us.
"In direct and engaging style, Serazio approaches the media spectacle of contemporary sports with the knowing ambivalence of the critical-but-sentimental fan, combining sharp critique and warm personal reflection. With liveliness and insight, and some smart jokes, he explores the many ways in which the sports-media nexus exercises power over identities, imaginations, politics and consumer behavior. Rooted in the American culture that first nurtured sports as a staple of modern commerce, The Power of Sports is a literary shot that will be heard around the world by readers curious to understand how sports came to be both secular religion and temple of Mammon." ~David Rowe, author of Global Media Sport: Flows, Forms and Futures
"Sharp writing, clear arguments, and impressive scope. Well worth a look." ~Brett Hutchins, author of Sport Beyond Television
"This is a powerful, intellectual, and vital contribution to our understanding of sports and sports culture. Michael Serazio walks the line between the scholarly and the popular with uncommon dexterity" ~Dave Zirin, Sports Editor, The Nation
"Serazio digs the ball out of the dirt and fires it right on the money in this brilliant, entertaining and important analysis of the games we love that rarely love us back. A terrific book for fans and non-fans." ~Robert Lipsyte, author of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland
"This is a benchmark work: a lasting and influential volume that deals with major issues cast by the sociocultural shadow of sports with a savvy and comprehensive accessibility that could change the game as we know it." ~Lawrence Wenner, author of Sport, Beer, and Gender: Promotional Culture and Contemporary Social Life