Segrave, J.  (2000)  'Sport as Escape', in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 24 (1): 61 -- 77.

[This is an unusual article in that it attempts to discuss some of the pleasures and pitfalls of commitment to sport, both as a player and spectator. The sources used are slightly unusual -- novels, poems and films. We could clearly debate the pros and cons in terms of conventional methodological criteria -- but the area of escape and fantasy is notoriously difficult to research using conventional methods. The use of very insightful extensive literary quotation makes it hard to summarise this article, so you will have to go and read the actual writing about sport for yourselves -- it is gripping material].

Sport appeals because it provides an escape from everyday life,  'a sort of symbolic refuge... that... allows us to forget the woes and turmoil of our daily existence' (61). There is a parallel here with watching movies or visiting Disneyland, including  'familiar themes and plots, type characters, heroic and comic action, and the seemingly endless supply of new and unpredictable variations' (61).

Different sports can offer different versions of fantasies. Baseball  'is a pastoral sport, a sentimental mirror of older America', while football is  'more sensational, heroic, and urbane... characterised by mechanisation and impersonality' (61-- 62). There are also local meanings in different regions of the USA. Tennis also varies from the  'Victorian civility and charm' of Wimbledon to the  'incarnation of postmodern pastiche, a spectacle' of the US Open  (62).

Before exploring the notion of escape further, Segrave admits that his own analysis is  'masculinist', with typical male pleasures such as the  'Jungian quest' [male heroics for Beezer]  (62). Women seem more interested in  'encounter rather than escape' (62). He also points out that it is too simple just a separate sport and life as separate categories. Nonetheless, sport possesses certain characteristics that make it particularly suitable as an arena for escape:

1. Sport is played in a specific space set off from everyday life, structured more rationally and simply. The specific design of sporting arenas helps us  'repeat the paradigmatic work of the gods' (citing Eliade, 63). The spaces for sport are culturally significant,  'celebrated as repositories of history, folklore and sentiment' (64)  [compare this with Ritzer and Stillman]. Sporting arenas are often also hosts for politicians or evangelists, reinforcing the notion of  'cathedrals of sport', embodiments of culture.

2. Sporting time is not the same as normal time. Sometimes time is controlled, as in the time out --  'a fleeting glance of immortality, a moment of ecstasy' (64). Sometimes time stands still and ordinary events are forgotten. The opening moment of the game can be 'intoxicating', as a hockey star confirms  (65). Time flows in support of the sporting narrative, and the end of the period of time provides both closure and urgency. The final seconds of the game can be highly significant  [supported by a poetic account of taking a penalty in the last minutes of the game, 65]. Sport offers many examples of  'the power of the moment', a decisive intervention such as a final home run  (66).  'Sport can give universal significance to a myriad of seemingly inconsequential actions, including those of our own' (66).

3. Sport offers an unusual 'possibility of community', to set against the isolation and solitude of so much of normal life. Sports fans feel they belong and can rest from excessive individualism.  [a play is cited about the significance of former team members growing old and living and only for their reunions -- 67]. Sports spectators easily form identity groups. Sports spectating offers a sacred moment of unity  'behind' all the 'boundaries that separate us' (68). Rituals at the Olympics, for example are genuinely moving. [A novel by Hawthorne is cited, 68, which has the hero overcoming loneliness and isolation by leaping into a political procession --  'But... {for Segrave}... he might just have well sought the company of a sports crowd']. Social interaction on the sporting field is ordered and regulated, it is  'both lucid and luminous' (69), even ethically. Sport offers the perfect example of how freedom follows from obedience to the rules  [not the first hint of Durkheim]. Sport also offers the ideal  'medium for achievement', permitting all sorts of fantasies about perfection and control in harmony with the Universe -- [some literary quotes are cited which seemed to describe something quite close to the idea of  'flow', perfect mastery but without particularly trying].

4. Sport offers a 'sense of purpose and meaning'  (71), especially compared to the aimlessness and alienation of normal life, with its absence of clear criteria of success. Many sportsmen find respect and confidence and only in the sport  [supported by some quotes, 72, including  'life is just a place where we spend time between games'].

5. Sport offers us a chance to escape ourselves and our need to be respectable and restrained. It offers carnival possibilities. This is also the source of the danger in that the particular identity offered by sport can come to dominate the lives of sports people  [my example here would be OJ Simpson, whose real life proved to be so different from the idealized one]. Sports people can appear pathetic in attempting to prolong their sporting identity as a  'false self' in the new circumstances.

The problem is that escape into the world of sport can also be 'seductive and addictive, and so infantilising and alienating' (74). This is the theme of  'sport as regression', offering a permanent adolescence, an extended dependence on others  [a bit like being a university student these days?]. This needs to be set against the genuine exhilaration and well being that can result from participation. The problem is that sporting pleasures often follow from  'an identification with the simple and natural... and not through a mastery of an increasingly complex and urbanised existence' (75). This is acute for those who immerse themselves in sport and attempt to live there -- to do so is to  'embrace immaturity' (75).

Sport is 'an illusion, an agreed-upon-fiction' (75)  [an  'imaginary resolution'?]. Sport can conceal the complexities of everyday life, unlike art. Sport offers  'an inversion' of every day life rather than a break with it  [more hints of the usual approach to popular culture].  'Perhaps the greatest challenge... is to learn how to escape from the world of sport as escape' (76). [Compare this with the pessimism of, say, Rojek, on the impossibility of escape through leisure].

[The disussion also seems to parallel debates about virtual leisure as offering a special space, time, role for the self etc. So what, if anything, is special about sport here?]

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