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Any Given Sunday - a Sociological Analysis

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This paper explores the movie “Any Given Sunday” and attempts to discuss the movie in detail by focusing on character examples of the personal functions of sport such as feelings of belongingness and social identification, the socially acceptable outlet for hostile and aggressive feelings, and the role sport plays as a cultural element to bring meaning to life. Additional attention will be given to aspects of extra-sport character behavior and a determination of whether or not such behaviors support sport stereotypes and/or deviant characteristics. Through internet research, library study, and the use of periodical articles found in the ProQuest databases, I intend to apply the functionalist model of society to show that the fictional football team “The Miami Sharks” highlighted in the movie supports stability and equilibrium in the community of Miami based on common interests and convictions. The world of professional sports, especially professional football, is a world that most will only see on the television or through movies. “Any Given Sunday,” by Oliver Stone, is one such movie. It highlights a portion of a season for the fictional team The Miami Sharks with the interpersonal struggles on and off the field experienced by the characters related to the team. This paper explores the movie “Any Given Sunday” and attempts to discuss the movie in detail by focusing on the socially acceptable outlet for hostile and aggressive feelings, masculinity and gender roles, religion in sport, race in sports, character examples of the personal functions of sport such as feelings of belongingness and social identification, and the role sport plays as a cultural element to bring meaning to life. Additional attention will be given to aspects of extra-sport character behavior and a determination of whether or not such behaviors support sport stereotypes and/or deviant characteristics. I intend to apply the functionalist model of society to show that “The Miami Sharks” highlighted in the movie supports stability and equilibrium in the community of Miami based on common interests and convictions. The movie begins with scenes from a game between the Sharks and the Minnesota Americans. Violent images of men attempting to dominate one another fill the screen. Players are struggling to physically best one another through the use of physical contact as well as verbal taunting. At the end of one of these exchanges, Jack “Cap” Rooney, lays hostage to anger and pain on the grass. Several interactions take place both on the sidelines as well as on the field extolling the need for violent behavior to protect the quarterback from further injury. Cap tells his right tackle, “Madman,” to “hold him, rip out his eyes, but don’t let him mess with me!” Madman replies with adoration, “Cap, I’ll keep him off you even if I gotta bite off his thumb.” Those images of ripping a man’s eyes out or biting off his thumb would be considered completely out of place in almost any situation, but on the football field that type of reference to violence and aggression is common. Aggression and sport have gone together as long as sports have been around, be it the players themselves, the parents, coaches, or spectators, aggression and sport just seem to be an inseparable part of each other. Athletes do have to be aggressive to a point, so that the team can form a strategy to win. There is also a limit to aggression when it turns into violence. People might say that it's not aggression or violence, it's just adrenaline pumping. Adrenaline isn't even similar to violence. Adrenaline may resemble aggression, but certainly nothing that would be truly harmful to anyone else. The term violence is defined as physical assault based on total disregard for the well being of self and others, or the intent to injure another person, according to Webster’s. Intimidation usually does not cause physical harm, but often is designed to produce psychological consequences, enabling one person to physically over power or dominate another. Other's might argue that it's skill, and not in the least way violent. Although we really can't give a straight and to the point answer to the question “Is aggression an Instinct?” We can say that in man, as in other animals, there exists a physiological mechanism when stimulated it raises both subjective feelings of anger and leads to physical changes, which relate to fighting. This is easily set off, and like other emotional responses, it is very stereotyped, and instinctive. Just like one aggressive person is like a very angry person; they resemble one another at the psychological level, (Toch, H. 1992. p. 180). High levels of aggression and attempts at intimidation generate a tremendous amount of action. This might be a factor to why contact sports are so popular. Consequently, the popularity of contact sports leads many to view them as a socially acceptable outlet for hostile and aggressive feelings. Sports are not the only area where men use physical force to achieve their goals, by any means. “Specifically, they are more likely to use brawn and physical force, particularly in the sample of movies. On television, about one in ten men (11%), compared to 7 percent of the women, uses physical force. In the movies, on the other hand, more than half of the men (53%), compared to 19 percent of the women, use physical force. Moreover, in the movies men (38%) use physical force to achieve their goals” (Signorelli, N. 1997, p. 18). On the very next play, quarterback Jack “Cap” Rooney gets hit hard by three defenders and ends up lying motionless on the grass. He cannot move and is having difficulty breathing. When the medical staff, Dr. Mandrake and Dr. Powers, reaches him he is in excruciating pain. Dr. Mandrake runs him through a battery of on the field tests, “Straighten your legs. Wiggle your toes. Alright, Cap, they cut to commercial. You can get up now.” When Cap states that he cannot move, Mandrake dryly retorts “Do I gotta get you a stretcher now? You that old?” Cap shakes it off and is pulled up by two trainers, “Dammit! I’m walkin’ outta here!” This is a direct example of our society’s view of masculinity. Football is the peak masculine sport in the U.S. It is a sport where the definition of excellence is premised on strength, where there is a readiness to injure an opponent and where men have a considerable advantage over women. All of these features are heavily promoted by the mass media. The amount of pain a player can inflict and withstand is valued as a measure of 'manliness.’ It is this process which makes football a vehicle for masculine identification. The qualities of a good football player, which include physical strength, the capacity to be violent and the ability to play in pain reflect and reinforce a culturally valued form of masculinity. Cap is determined to maintain his pride even though he is obviously hurt quite badly. He will continue to “play hurt” for the betterment of the team as long as his body will hold out. This type of behavior is rooted in worldly asceticism, “the idea that suffering and the endurance of pain has a spiritual purpose, that goodness is linked with self-denial and a disdain for self-indulgence, and that spiritual redemption is achieved only through self-control and self-discipline,” (Coakley, J. 2009. p. 522). Though Cap may not be looking for spiritual redemption, these qualities define a base upon which much of the culture’s idea of masculinity is built. This can readily lead to deviant overconformity, “supranormal ideas, traits, and actions that indicate and uncritical acceptance of norms and a failure to recognize any limits to following norms,” (Coakley, J. 2009. p. 159). Coaches at all levels promote deviant overconformity to one extent or another because it makes players easier to control and causes them to put the needs of the team above their own. Even the great Vince Lombardi extolled the virtue of the byproducts of deviant overconformity when he said, “…Any man’s finest hour – his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” Overconformity has permeated contact sports and that deviance is now interwoven into the fabric of that sub-culture. In the world of sports deviance is viewed differently on the playing field than if it were seen in the streets of a city or small town. In Jay J. Coakley’s Sport in Society, Coakley states, “actions accepted in sports may be deviant in other spheres of society, and actions accepted in society may be deviant in sports” (p. 154). Athletes are allowed and even encouraged to behave in ways that are prohibited or defined as criminal in other settings. “For example, athletes do in contact sports would be classified as felony assault if it occurred on the streets” (Coakley, J. 2009. p. 154). To better understand this, most sociologists like to use the Constructionist Approach rather than the Absolutist approach. Coakley illustrates that the Constructionist Approach states: “deviance occurs when ideas, traits, and actions fall outside the socially determined boundaries that people in a social world generally use to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable in a society or social world,” (p. 158-159). When one uses this approach they see that most behaviors fall into a normal range of acceptability in connection with any particular norm. Coakley also states “Deviance occurs when behaviors fall outside this range of what is acceptable on either side of a normally accepted range of behavior”. With this in mind it can be seen in Coakley’s work that deviance can come from underconformity, which basically is a behavior that goes against accepted rules or set behaviors by a lack of knowledge for that rule (negative deviance); or by overconformity which basically is a behavior that follows accepted rules so close that it interferes with the well being of that person and those around him or her (positive deviance). With these ideas or guide lines for studying deviance in sports, sociologists are now able to understand what deviance actually is in sports and how it affects those people both directly and indirectly related to sports. In today’s society a person can turn on the television and see athletic games viewed worldwide. In these games deviant acts are seen all the time, but deviance on the playing field is viewed as part of the American way. For example, football players and soccer players are expected to be physically rough on the field because their sports are considered high contact sports. Another example is baseball teams who use the spitball or corked bats to gain a small advantage over their opposing team. These are prime examples of positive deviance, but this is not what society is worried about. Society is worried about the deviance that is being committed by athletes off the field which gains large media coverage such as, deviance in the form of athletes being arrested for bar fighting, sexual assaults, driving while under the influence, using or dealing street drugs, and being involved in criminal acts. In today’s society we see more and more athletes pushing the limits when it comes to deviance off the field. Many athletes believe that since they are celebrities to the American public that certain rules do not apply to them. As a society, we want the athletes that we elevate to stardom to support the same ideals that we, in general, do. It is an example of Functionalist Perspective as we all wish to identify with the achievements on a member of the group and see their success as our own. “Functionalists also typically assume that most members of a society share a consensus regarding their core beliefs and values,” (Hughes, M., 2002). Therefore, they believe that the athlete must have the same beliefs and values that they do. As a result, when a professional athlete fails to live up to the values that have been placed upon him by society, we lurch violently from them being heroes to being an instant villain (Wilson, M. 2009). After the 2nd string quarterback Cherubini leaves the game injured, the camera cuts to the owner’s box and to Christina Pagniacci, the Team President. She is desperately trying to figure out how to bolster her team and, thus, their season. Christina is an anomaly in professional football since the culture of American sport perpetuates ideologies which systematically oppress women. This movie highlights the gender-based biases against women in elevated positions amongst management and ownership amongst professional sports teams. Christina grew up learning the game and watching her father lead the team with Tony D’Amato, the head coach. However, she continues to meet resistance from people due to her gender. The issue of gender, and gender equality in particular, has been at the center of public consciousness and debate for much of the 20th century. The increasing recognition of the importance of addressing gender in any attempt to make sense of the world in which we live has been reflected in the numerous books on the subject that have appeared, both in the academic and public spheres, in recent years. Alongside the traditional factors of class and race, gender is now widely accepted as one of the master statuses that define our place in society. Whether we are male or female, masculine or feminine, shapes every facet of our lives, from the jobs we occupy, our positions within our communities, how we dress and behave in social situations, and even our individual attitudes and beliefs. Many men feel that they are superior in the realm of sport simply because they are men. In a study done by Michael Messner, it was shown that most of the men in the study felt superior to women in sports, even in sports where they have never had experience. In fact some would play left handed with a patch over their eye, “just to make it fair” (p. 161-162). The gender gap is very clear in the movie when Christina comes into the locker room after a win to congratulate quarterback Willie Beaman on the team’s victory. The mood in the locker room is exuberant and jaunty. Men are in various states of undress with some being completely nude when she walks in. Though she is nonplussed by the indecency of most of the men, the mood in the locker room quickly shifts when she comes in. She walks up to Beaman, who is wearing only a jockstrap, and tells him he looked great out there. She knows the language, the needed comments, and the culture. Christina is obviously well versed in the world of professional football and has very specific ideas on what the “road ahead” looks like for the team. However, Tony D’Amato views things very differently. And, though he does not specifically mention her gender, he continually makes reference to how her father used to run things. The tension between D’Amato and Pagniacci is thinly veiled until the final game of the season when she bursts into the locker room at half time and starts barking orders to D’Amato about what quarterback would start the second half. He grabs her by the arm, leads her to another room, and begins to scream at her. His frustration and attempts at a dominant gender position culminate with him throwing a chair. It is at this point that the new starting quarterback, Willie Beaman, comes in the room and informs Ms. Pagniacci “I’m sorry ma’am, but coach already told me I was playing.” Though this defused the situation, it served to only bolster D’Amato’s dominance in the situation and the relationship. Christina Pagniacci is played by a very beautiful woman in the movie. However, all the scenes of desirable femininity show cheerleaders, prostitutes, and women that are more enamored with the fame of the football players than anything else. And in a study conducted in 1996, Nancy Signorelli found that while the number of positive female role-models in various media had increased significantly, there remained an overwhelming emphasis upon physical appearance and romantic relationships as the defining characteristics of women (p. 15). These depictions not only reflect the gender stereotypes of the creators and distributors of these messages but send a very clear message to their audience on what it means to be male or female; studies have found, for example, that those who watch a lot of television are more likely to adhere to traditional and stereotyped gender views than those who do not (Signorelli, N. 1997, p. 32). However, again, we cannot discount the role played by the individual in this; another study conducted at the same time as Signorelli’s found that most children are actually very much aware of the stereotypic nature of the messages they receive in the media and many, though not all, choose to either accept, reject or reinterpret those messages based on their own individual values and desires (Lake, S. 1997). Furthermore, the increasing number of movies, books and televisions shows depicting non-traditional forms of, or blurred-distinctions between, masculine and feminine roles, testifies to the capacity of individual producers, creators and artists to challenge and redefine our notions of gender (Brandt, 2000. p. 267). So, though the movie highlighted a talented and capable female in a typically male dominated position, it still put her “in her place” when it came to crucial time sensitive decisions regarding the team. I found it surprising to see the religious overtones in the movie. After showing the players and the coach engaging in a tremendous amount of negative deviance (drug use, alcohol abuse, womanizing, and extreme amounts of foul language), they had a Catholic Priest speak with the team and then lead them in a team prayer. Both religion and sports are major elements of culture in America. Religion is generally seen as a substantial guiding force in people’s lives, while sport is viewed as a less important recreational pursuit. While you would never expect to see “In Shaq We Trust” on a coin, or hear “Griese Bless America” being sung at a patriotic event, many Americans treat religion and sports with similar reverence. As a significant component of human society, sport has been the cause of violence between groups of people, just as religion has also had the same effect. In modern times, many people point to the Israel/Palestinian conflict or the violence in Northern Ireland as a situation of substantial religious violence. News reports also tell us about riots following sports events. Conversely, sports and religion share the ability to unify a group of people. Just as religions can unite individuals of different races who originate from nations all over the world, so to can sports bring a diverse group of people together. Sports can unite people, provide them with strong feelings of group unity, and provide them with an identity to rally behind. Fans of sports teams come from different socioeconomic groups, live in geographically separated areas, and work in varied blue-collar and white-collar occupations (Coakley, J. 2009. Pg. 519-521). Religion has numerous historical connections to sport, such as in ancient Greece, where athletic competition was a key element of major religious events. Each Greek city state paid homage to a patron god, and Greek athletes called upon this god in the fierce physical contests of the day. The original Olympic games, which were held in ancient Greece, were filled with references to Greek religion. The games themselves were named for Mount Olympus, the mountain home of the Greek gods. This connection between ancient Greek religion and sport lives on in the modern world; Nike, the name used by an American sports equipment manufacturer, is one of the names used by Athena, the Greek goddess of victory. Even today, sport and religion are much intertwined. Religion and sports are compared easily by conflict theorists (those who believe that the elements of a society work against one another in pursuit of supremacy). Religion and sports can both be used similarly by the economically and socially powerful to suppress the working public. Many of the world’s religions teach renunciation of material goods, denial of personal physical pleasures, and intense focus on morality and spiritual salvation. The conflict theorists’ evaluation of religion indicates that its primary purpose is to make the public content with their decreased level of material possessions and more submissive to the authority of powerful leaders (Coakley, J. p. 517). Sport, when viewed from this same perspective, has a very similar effect. Being spectators of large sporting events takes the public’s minds off of the drudgery that marks their day-to-day lives. Sports also shows them the importance of following rules, and like religion, sport makes the common person more likely to accept the judgments of people with power and influence (Coakley, J. p. 519). Religion and sport are a pair that will not soon be separated. One of the touchiest subjects covered by the movie what that of race relations in sport. Jamie Foxx’s character, Willie Beaman, does not treat the matter with kid gloves. He attacks it with a full frontal assault during his TV interview with commentator Jack Rose. He said that the coach in Houston, “The coach didn’t dig the idea of a black QB. He didn’t think our brains were bigger than the tip of his d*ck.” He then went on to talk statistics, “70% of the players in this league are black. How many black coaches are there? Not enough. How many black owners are there? None.” Though this is a fictional interview in a movie, it strikes a chord amongst many people of all races. Racial disparity is still prevalent in the NFL. However, great strides have been made to rectify these monumental differences. By “In 1998 65% of all professional football players were black,” (Siegel, D., ch.4 , t. 1). By 2008, 8 of the top 10 highest paid players in the NFL were black, (Tunstall, S). So, participation has been a playing field leveled. With the addition of Serena and Venus Williams as part owners of the Miami Dolphins (Street and Smith, 2009), people of color are being represented in the rank and file of ownership amongst the NFL. However, the majority of coaches (26 of 32) and all owners are still white, so the NFL has room to improve. In the initial game of the movie after the second string quarterback, Tyler Cherubini, gets injured, 3rd string quarterback Willie Beaman gets put in to play. He is very much an individual on the team and not part of the whole. His fellow team mates have no trust or confidence in him as he is basically an outsider. Beaman is completely overwhelmed by the entire event and vomits in the huddle. This does nothing to bolster the confidence of his team mates. His team mates doubt his ability and his dedication to the team. Due to this, his lineman block for him but not up to their best ability, allowing him to get pummeled by the defense repeatedly. Beaman wants to be considered as a vital and viable member of the team. His desire to be part of the team supports a functionalist perspective. "Functionalism is a form of structural theory based on the assumption that all social worlds are organized around shared values and need to be preserved or tweaked here and there to improve efficiency and social integration" (Coakley, J., 2009, p. 567). Team concept supports functionalism due to the singular focus, the shared value of the players – the team. Why? According to Hunt,” because the object of attachment acquires meanings and significance beyond that of simple involvement or importance” (p. 439). People are looking to be a part of something far beyond themselves. A brief search of Google will return more than 24 million entries for “part of something bigger.” Wanting to be part of a bigger organism and what it supports, namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions, allows for greater solidarity and social cohesion, (Coakley, J. 2009). Being an accepted member of a successful professional sport enterprise is a way to find that. Studies show that “strong identification with a specific sports team provides a buffer from feelings of depression and alienation, and at the same time, fosters feelings of belongingness and self worth. In effect, sports team identification replaces more traditional family and community-based attachments to the larger social structure” (Branscombe, N. 1991. p. 115). Beaman works hard to gain the confidence of his fellow players. It is only after he shows that he is more interested in the success of the team than he is in his own success and individual triumph that the other players begin to sacrifice themselves to make Beaman, and the team, more successful. Once he has become part of the “family” of the team, they begin to follow his leadership and rejoice with him in victory. Also, Luther “Shark” Lavay, the middle linebacker laments the pending end of his career because foot ball is “all [he’s] ever known. I don’t know how to do anything else.” With that, he talks about how he’ll lose the connection to the team that has benefitted him so much. He refers to them as a family. He bases his identity first on being a Shark, then on anything else. The functionalist model of society applies to “Any Given Sunday” in that “The Miami Sharks” highlighted in the movie support stability and equilibrium in the community of Miami based on common interests and convictions. Because of this, Christina Pagniacci throughout the film makes mention of trying to get a new stadium for her team. She works with the Mayor of Miami in trying to convince him of the benefit to the community. She knows that the city draws large revenues off the Sharks’ games and is now trying to leverage that to get a stadium. The team does a lot for the community, to include a $250,000 check to the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program – a program that supports anti-drug education for school aged children – that was presented to Mayor Tyrone Smalls. To which Mayor Smalls responded, “The city of Miami would like to thank Christina Pagniacci, you are a great Miamian! You have done as much as anyone to eliminate drugs and crime from our city streets and your Sharks have provided wonderful role models for our inner-city youth to look up to.” In this case, the city has provided for the team – a fan base which equates to revenue. And, the team has given the city many intangibles – role models, identity with the team, and financial support for programs. Christina is having a difficult time convincing the Mayor that the new stadium is a priority, so she looks at other options. She is able to strike an initial deal with a developer in Los Angeles that would allow her a great deal of control over revenues. Though she mentioned that her father viewed one of the key players in the deal as a “thief in a tuxedo,” she continued to explore the deal. She is pleased with what she finds because that will allow her to leverage the Mayor to allow her to keep the team in Miami, in a new stadium of course. The new stadium would bring about immense change in the city – thereby violating the status quo and not supporting a functionalist perspective. But, it would allow the team to stay in Miami. Which would ensure, “that all social worlds are organized around shared values and need to be preserved or tweaked here and there to improve efficiency and social integration" (Coakley, J., 2009, p. 567). What is good for Miami is good for the Sharks and vice versa. In conclusion, the movie “Any Given Sunday” shows a variety of sociologically concerning issues from socially acceptable outlet for hostile and aggressive feelings, masculinity and gender roles, religion in sport, race in sports, character examples of the personal functions of sport such as feelings of belongingness to social identification, and the role sport plays as a cultural element to bring meaning to life. Additionally it supports the functionalist model of society by showing that “The Miami Sharks” highlighted in the movie support stability and equilibrium in the community of Miami based on common interests and convictions.

References :
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Branscombe, N. (1991). “The Positive Social and Self Concept Consequences of Sports Team Identification.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Vol. 15, No. 2, 115-127 (1991)
Coakley, J (2009). Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Hughes, M. (2002). Sociology: The Core. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. Retrieved November 22, 2009 from: highered.mcgraw-
Lake, S., Snell and Associates. (1997). “Reflections of Girls in the Media: National Survey of Kids on Television and Gender Roles. Summary of Survey Findings” [Electronic Version]. Retrieved November 23, 2009 from
Lindsey, L. L., & Christy, S. (1997). Gender Roles: a Sociological Perspective (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Lobmeyer, H. (1992), “Commercialism as a Dominant Factor in the American Sports Scene: Sources, Developments, Perspectives,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 27, No. 4, 309-326 (1992)
Messner, M (1992). Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity. Boston: Beacon Press.
Shank, M. D., Beasley, F. M. (1998, December). Fan or fanatic: Refining a measure of sports involvement. Journal of Sport Behavior, 21(4), 435-444. Retrieved November 8, 2009 from ProQuest on the World Wide Web: VName=PQD
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Toch, H. (1992). Violent Men; an Inquiry into the Psychology of Violence. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
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