In this paper we provide a critique of the work of Left intellectuals who have seen in sport a location where efforts to overcome capitalism might successfully be mounted. As an alternative to this perspective, we examine the content of sport, exploring the reasons for its influence and attractiveness. We conclude that sport is an activity which is important and positive in its own right. In particular sport, we believe, dramatizes aspects of human existence, referred to by the philosopher David Best, as “life issues.” Two of the most important themes which emerge in sport concern the nature of justice and the necessity for human cooperation. Because sport participants must rely exclusively on their own and their teammates' skill, motivation, and intelligence, competitive outcomes are determined exclusively on a meritocratic basis.
Sport, we think, therefore represents an oasis of justice in society. Sport also dramatizes the fact that cooperation is the basis of human endeavor. It demonstrates how conflict can be handled without destroying social interaction, and how individuals can master skills cooperatively. Sport, in short, is neither an opiate nor an activity in which an explicit contestation for political power occurs. Rather, it is a location where important issues of justice, interdependence, cooperation, conflict and accomplishment are articulated.
In this connection, we note that the incentives present in professional sport's compensation systems encourage individual and not collective achievement. Because that is so, we voice our concern that those systems may put at risk precisely the qualities which make sport attractive.