Sport and Emotions

Mary E Duquin. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.

Sport is movement, belief and desire, bound together in a multisensual event whose epicenter is emotion. From ecstasy to agony, whether participating or spectating, emotions underlie our motives for play, our most vivid and memorable experiences, and often our reasons for leaving the arena. Sport is a teacher and shaper of value in emotional life. Sport experiences can enrich emotional development by cultivating capacities for care, self-worth, strength of will, good judgement, compassion, understanding, love and friendship. Sport experiences can also undermine interpersonal relations and self-worth by contributing to feelings of fear, resentment, envy, malice, self-pity, despair, insensitivity and alienation. These examples illustrate the importance of emotions in understanding the impact of sport and leisure on individuals and social relations. Yet, emotion is a relatively new area of research in sociology, and few sport scholars have focused specifically or primarily on emotions (Elias and Dunning, 1986; Ferguson, 1981; Maguire, 1991; Rail, 1990, 1992; Snyder, 1990). Research on identity formation, social expression and self-realization have, however, yielded rich sources of insight into emotions in sport and leisure.

Emotions are significant in the construction of athletic identities, as well as in the formation of culture, class, gender, race, sexual and moral identities. Sport often plays a key role in how we learn to experience our physical and emotional selves, how we come to define pleasure, and what emotions we learn to express (Rojek, 1985). Much of modern sport involves learning to control emotions, of disciplining the self and managing emotional lives. The extensive research on the normalization of pain and

injury in sport reflects this emphasis on repressing and managing emotions. Emotions also figure prominently in our inventions of new sport forms, in our resistance to dominant sport forms, in our reasons for leaving sport and in our changing identities as a result of our withdrawal.

Research on sport spectating is primarily about the pleasures of being a fan, expression of community, social bonding and nostalgia. The emotional experiences of sport spectating are sometimes compared to the sacred emotions of religious rituals that give meaning to personal and cultural life. Media and communication studies of sport spectating have investigated the personal pleasures of looking: voyeurism and narcissism. These studies have probed the effects of mass mediated sport on the emotional experience of spectating. The study of emotions in culture-making institutions like sport and leisure raises a host of interesting questions about how individuals learn to define emotion, experience emotion, feel emotion and share emotion in contemporary life (Denzin, 1990).

Emotions: Expression and Identity Formation

A significant number of studies on emotions in sport have focused on identity formation: on the emotional socialization experienced in sport, the emotional work required in constructing athletic identities, and the effects of sport on reproducing social identities of culture, gender, class, race, sexuality and subculture. Research in this area poses some of the following questions. How do emotions, expressed in sport and leisure, contribute to individual and group identity formation and the expression and presentation of the self? How does the socialization of emotions in sport contribute to the reproduction of structures of stratification and hierarchy in culture? How do sport and leisure contribute to the production, experience and meaning of cultural emotional forms?


The study of emotion is central to the figurational sociology of Elias (1978, 1987) and his followers (Dunning et al., 1988; Dunning and Rojek, 1992; Dunning and Sheard, 1979; Maguire, 1993). According to Elias, since the Middle Ages there has been a long-term trend toward control over affect and the restraint of emotion in society. With the pacification of everyday life, mimetic forms of behavior, where intense emotions are expressed in controlled ways, have come to characterize modern forms of sport and leisure. Figurationalists contend that the pleasurable controlled decontrolling of emotions, the quest for battle excitement, or the quest for exciting significance, underlies much of sport and leisure practice. While the figurational perspective has provided insight into the emergence of modern sport and the relationship of sport to emotion, Maguire (1991) notes that research has tended to focus on sports that confirm the theory’s model of sport, ‘That is, sports where a high degree of “battle excitement” is recurrently generated and where the emphasis of identity formation is on intense forms of manliness’ (p. 29). Maguire (1991) suggests that the figurational research agenda be expanded to explore in more detail the identity formation qualities of sport, to investigate the self-expressive and emotional self-management aspects of sport and to address contemporary concerns with techniques of bodily discipline. Hargreaves (1994), too, suggests that the figurational perspective needs to address gender relations in greater detail and to consider the links between violence encouraged in male sport and violence against women. Studies focused on the relationship between violence in sport and contemporary power relations may further illuminate the concept of the civilizing process. On a theoretical level, differences exist between researchers, like Hargreaves, whose work is motivated by a ‘passionate objectivity’ and those figurationalists who strive for emotional ‘detachment’ in the production of theory and research (Dunning and Rojek, 1992: 162-6).

For nations and cultures, emotions and emotional displays are used as expressive markers of meaning, values and identity (Nauright and Chandler, 1996; Tomlinson, 1992; Werbner, 1996). On a cultural level, emotions in sport can be used to generate national fervor or to express political ideology (Hoberman, 1988). For example, in Soviet muscular socialism sport came ‘closest to religious ritual in serving to provide … cohesion, solidarity, integration, discipline, and emotional euphoria’ (Riordan, 1987: 376). Emotions also reflect different cultural values, as in Curry and Weiss’s study (1989) of Austrian and US athletes. In this study, competition, as an emotional motivator for sport involvement, was more likely to characterize US athletes than Austrian athletes. Labeling emotional displays can be a significant process in constructing a culture’s identity. Giulianotti’s (1995) study of conflicting state, media and fan interpretations of the expressive behaviors of Scottish fans at football matches is a good example of how the meaning of a group’s emotional display can be contested, thus affecting control over a group’s identity formation.


Emotions play a key role in constructing sport subculture identities (Gallmeier, 1987; Stevenson, 1991). Different sports evoke and idealize identifying forms of emotional expression. Sport subcultures offer different emotional experiences in terms of building community, establishing individual identity and demonstrating emotional control. For example, feelings of social bonding may be incidental or essential to group identity. Donnelly and Young (1988) found camaraderie, friendship and generosity to be important emotions for display among rugby players, while Klein (1986) found bodybuilders to be emotional loners, who abandon social bonding and rarely emote freely. Displaying appropriate emotional characteristics communicates important meanings not only to the larger culture but to members within the subculture itself. In describing the rescue of a novice rock climber who froze on a climb, Donnelly and Young report:

The individual burst into tears upon reaching safety, but neither Donnelly nor the third member of the team could bring themselves to comfort him. By freezing, losing composure, he had jeopardized the safety of the party, and in the harsh and somewhat unfeeling social world of climbers he could not be forgiven. The incident was never discussed, the individual never climbed again, and the resulting awkward interaction led him to drop out of the circle of friends. (1988: 228-9)

This description of rock climbers may be contrasted with the subculture of women’s ice hockey. In most team sports, a significant part of subcultural identity formation is the emotional bonding that develops among athletes. In her study of ice hockey players Theberge (1995) noted the importance of shared emotion in the process of building a community. She observed that, ‘Following games that were particularly physical or … exciting, the dressing room was a loud and raucous place where players shared stories … about their on-ice challenges and accomplishments … these occasions are defining moments in the construction of community … Team membership … offers a context in which women hockey players collectively affirm their skills, commitment, and passion for their sport’ (1995: 400-1).

Rail’s (1990, 1992) classic phenomenological study of physical contact in women’s basketball aptly demonstrates the myriad emotions athletes experience in establishing their identities in sport subcultures. Rail describes physical contacts as embodied emotions that may be orientated toward either communication or alienation. In the following passage she discusses the emotional difference between playful and violent contacts in basketball.

Feelings of control, as well as feelings of desire, hope, daring, physicality, toughness, powerful-ness, strongness, cleverness, skillfulness, effectiveness, superiority, pride, bravery, and assertiveness are central to the organization of playful contacts … In violent contact … the self attempts to regain what has been lost or threatened, the emotional feelings of loss, shame, frustration, helplessness, anxiety, fear, anger, rage, hostility and hatred are central to the organization of violent contact … the player’s emotions may flood over her, overwhelming her in a ‘blind rage’ or she may act ‘cold-bloodedly.’ In either case, the player is drawn into the violent contact and becomes part of it. Violence radiates through the bodies of both the player and her victim. (1990: 276-7)

This insightful study is one of the few ethnographic projects that has examined women’s emotional experience and understanding of physical aggression in sport. Additional research is needed to investigate how violent emotional experiences in sport might affect the ongoing construction of self and social identity.

The ability of athletes to manage their emotions is crucial in adopting sport identities. In an interesting study of the gymnastic subculture, Snyder (1990) found that athletes were expected to regulate feelings of nervousness, control fears of injury and pain, and manage feelings of frustration and disappointment. He noted that, while ‘subcultural norms do not preclude individual variations in the display of emotions, … some gymnasts “flood out” and lose control of their emotions and composure … other gymnasts, perhaps the most competent, maintain their composure and emotional control … These “ice maidens” are generally admired for their poise, composure, and dignity in a tense situation’ (p. 266). The artful (and gendered) expectation in women’s gymnastics is to make power, strength and speed look graceful, smooth and elegant. Emotion management plays a crucial role in affecting an ‘appropriately feminine’ presentation of the self to judges and audience.

The suppression of emotions related to pain and injury is a common expectation in most athletic subcultures (Curry, 1986; Nixon, 1994b). Whether giving or taking pain, athletes learn to desensitize themselves to the pain or violence of their sport. When learning to inflict pain on others is part of the sport socialization process, is rewarded and is connected to identity formation, some athletes eventually learn to take pleasure in pain-giving. One effect of the normalization of sado-ascetic sport practices and the suppression of empathetic emotions related to pain, is that athletes may become emotionally callused and thus morally compromised. While aggression and suppression of feelings are traditionally related to hegemonic masculinity, emotional management of feelings of pain, fear and injury is often as characteristic of women’s sports today as men’s sports (Nixon, 1994a, 1996a, 1996b; Young, 1991, 1993; Young et al., 1994). Modern sport practices and ideology exploit athletes’ feelings of loyalty, need-achievement and self-identity. Overconformity to a sport ethic that requires self-sacrifice, risk-taking, rejecting limits, ignoring pain and playing hurt results in normalizing injuries in sport and valorizing a self-destructive athlete model (Curry and Strauss, 1994; Duquin, 1994; Hughes and Coakley, 1991). Research into the relationship between sport practice and the emotions of care, empathy and sensitivity shows that overconformity to the sport ethic and unreflective, automatic obedience to authority is detrimental to the physical, emotional and moral well-being of athletes (Duquin, 1984, 1993; Duquin and Schroeder-Braun, 1996).

Althletes may resist dominant cultural ideologies or highlight alternate values by defining or redefining the relationships between physical activity, emotion and meaning (Birrell and Richter, 1987; Gotfrit, 1991; Midol and Broyer, 1995). In her compelling ethnography of a skateboarding subculture, Beal (1995) found that skateboarders actively resisted high-pressured, competitive, controlled and inflexible sport environments. These athletes valued cooperation, friendship, self-esteem, flexibility, creativity and freedom of expression. Skateboarding was primarily about finding fun places to skate. Similarly, alternate sports and alternate sport groups may arise in response to marginalized or countercultural values. Midol (1993) described how the French, in the 1970s, developed the fun movement around the concept of the whiz,

… that is, speed, fluidity, entertainment, freedom linked to the imaginary notion of ‘kick’ which stands for new sensations, a sense of harmony, of risk, a taste for the extreme … whether it be on snow, water, concrete or in the air, fun space is a ‘sport’—by which is meant a space situated midway between myth and reality … (p. 23)

Alternate sports may thus be a search for the expression of emotions not permitted or too rarely experienced in traditional sport and leisure forms.

Structuring and Restructuring Self-identities

Memory work (Haug, 1987; Messner, 1996; Sironen, 1994; Viejola, 1994), life-mode biography (Ottesen, 1994) and deep hermeneutic procedures (Nagbol, 1994) are particularly powerful methods for investigating the importance of emotions in forming self-identity and for examining the relationship between agency and social structure. In a particularly poignant example of memory work, Tiihonen (1994) relates how being asthmatic and an athlete affected the construction of his multiple and changing self-identities. His illness created an anxious corporeality while various social contexts, home, school, community, sport teams and the army, shaped his experiences and emotional responses that affected his self-images. He relates how the emotional experiences he had in sport contributed to his learning about class, power, authority, social bonding, gender relations and sexuality.

Changing from a boy into a man is not the easiest task in Finnish culture. Suicides, the dangers of life, fear of the unknown, the pressure to succeed, and the fear of failure are all too well known … The club I belonged to was a bourgeois club. Later, when I joined the town’s working-class club, I noticed the difference … the boys did not act superior towards each other; they were straight forward and cold when they felt like it … I learned that you should not be feminine, sentimental, over-friendly … I cannot remember that masculinity was defined at all, other than through denial—through what a man should not be. By rules, hidden fears and the insolent language of the gang—‘homo,’ ‘wanker’—we became men. (pp. 54-5) … Because of asthma, I had to consider the relationship to myself and my identity … The prolonged coughing attacks and constricted breathing made me depressed and caused me to question the meaning and sense of sport. A good game, a successful performance, and the feeling of belonging prompted me to try again … the team spirit, the things done together and the appreciation of others … attracted me. (p. 56) … The disciplined body is the basis for the use of power, and especially so in the army. This … body finds it difficult to express and receive emotion, which is continually repressed by hazing … I could not take the military exercises, the only aim of which seemed to be to humiliate … Such exercises were carried out in a way that my asthma could not bear; we went at full pace with no pause for breath. (p. 58) … For the most part I have enjoyed those situations … when I have done something for someone with my body, as in a football game, or by being united with other players and in front of the spectators … Imagine the feeling when, as an object under … thousands of pairs of eyes, you manage a good ball trick, a tackle, a pass, a goal. Even more important is the support you get from your own team, which, following a goal, exhibits strong physical emotions. Isn’t that something in a culture which shies away from touching? (p. 58)

Memory is tied to emotion; feelings make events significant. In memory work, replaying past emotions reveals the forces and everyday events that helped to shape self-identity. In yet another moving piece of memory work, Viejola (1994) describes developing her self-identity through a series of face rituals played both in and out of sport. She recalls learning female codes of behavior and remembers the different emotional patterns of females and males in learning about friendship, dispute, love and team play.

You extended yourself to win, and to outstrip, I extended myself to tie, and to get closer. Your wills were directed against each other; ours adjoined … Your relationships mostly began from the moment you hit the same sport, where there was something to play … Your friendships happened. Mine existed, very close, all the time, even when the other was absent … The form of energy in my social space is empathy, sympathy, feeling of closeness; or as their opposite hate, bitterness, and exclusion. The energy of your social space is force, counterforce and collision. (pp. 32-9)

She goes on to describe the mixed team play of a floorball game where emotions were felt and expressed differently.

When I fail in something during the game, I get embarrassed and feel sorry for my team. You let off steam by hitting the walls or the floor with your stick, or you play foul if the ball is otherwise robbed from you. You and your friends don’t especially mind breaking the rules, hitting ankles, pushing … but I get mad because in my mind these tricks violate the equality of the players … The game moves our emotions … Your emotions are as ‘true’ as mine, as ‘real’ in the situation they are felt in. But we interpret situations differently, and, consequently, feel different feelings. We put our souls into the game with equal passion, but we only project ourselves into our own emotions. We are not able to enter into each other’s projections, each other’s emotions. (pp. 36-8)

Memory work reveals how emotions are socialized in sport and how individuals can become active agents in constructing their emotional lives. One major advantage of such methodology is that personal memory work exposes the complex interaction of various social statuses (for example, class, gender, sexuality) in the emotional patterning of individual lives.

For many athletes self-identities must be restructured after leaving sport. The circumstances under which one leaves sport affects one’s emotional responses to withdrawal. Career-ending injuries or sudden, unexpected reasons for discontinuing sport involvement can result in depression, a sense of loss and an anxious search for a new self-identity (Astle, 1986). Kleiber and Brock (1992) call this event a disruption in one’s life narrative that can affect life satisfaction for many years. Emotions surrounding leaving sport voluntarily after a successful experience can lead to feelings of rebirth as well as feelings of excitement in being able to explore other options now that one’s sport career is over (Curtis and Ennis, 1988; Johns et al., 1990). However, leaving sport as a result of burnout can be an emotionally draining process. Modern training procedures are often overcontrolled and dehumanizing, resulting in athletes feeling trapped, stifled and out of control. The continual pressure for higher performance standards leads to severe chronic physical and emotional stress (Hoberman, 1992; Koukouris, 1994; Swain, 1991). For dedicated athletes who have little time to develop themselves in areas outside of sport, self-identity can be very narrowly and precariously defined. As Coakley (1992) explains, for these athletes

… sport involvement became analogous to being on a tightrope … they knew they couldn’t shift their focus to anything else without losing their balance … and they knew there would be no net to catch them … they started to feel insecure. Their insecurity affected their performance. And their inability to meet performance standards led them to withdraw socially and emotionally from those around them … they had little to fall back on … no viable alternative identities for interacting with other people in meaningful ways. (p. 276)

Those who choose to leave sport have often been pejoratively characterized in sport research as ‘drop outs.’ However, in the case of high-pressured, sometimes abusive sport practices, athletes who decide to leave sport may be seeking a healthier emotional environment than is available in their present sport setting (Duquin, 1995).

Gender and Sexuality

Research on women’s experience of emotion in sport has centered on two somewhat contradictory realities in relation to gender identity. While sport and exercise often empower women, recent research has demonstrated how the sport/fitness movement has re-territorialized women’s bodies, instilling feelings of shame, constant self-surveillance and anxiety about meeting new standards of femininity (Bolin, 1992; Bordo, 1989; Featherstone, 1991). The fitness industry focuses women’s energy on disciplinary practices in an attempt to achieve ‘the look’ of a fit and desirable woman. Duncan (1994) observes that, ‘For many women, the experience of shame that comes from not living up to beauty disguised as health encourages confession in a way that reinforces the authority of the panoptic gaze … the equation between feeling good and looking good works in reverse. Look becomes a sign of feel, so if you look good you must therefore feel good …’ (p. 57). This toned, tightened, no-fat feminine ideal distorts women’s body image, causing anxiety, a fear of fat and in many cases a self-loathing that leads to serious eating disorders. Markula’s (1995) revealing study of aerobicizing women notes that, ‘the very part of our bodies that identify us as females: the rounded bellies, the larger hips, the thighs, the softer underarms … are also the ones we hate the most and fight the hardest to diminish. Logically then, we hate looking like women’ (p. 435).

At the same time, women’s participation in sport has challenged the idealized passivity and weakness of hegemonic femininity. Sport and physical activities have long been powerfully sensual and emotional experiences for women. Hargreaves (1994: 92) documents this historic reality in her reference to a nineteenth-century woman’s euphoric description of the pleasures of cycling:

Hers is all the joy of motion, not to be underestimated, and the long days in the open air; all the joy of adventure and change. Hers is the delightful sense of independence and power … And, above all, cycling day after day, and all day long will speedily reduce or elevate her to that perfect state of physical well-being, to that healthy animal condition, which in itself is one of the greatest pleasures in life. (Greville, 1894: 264)

Research shows that women are likely to have emotional experiences in sport that not only strengthen their bonds with other women, but increase their feelings of self-worth, power and control (Birrell and Cole, 1994; Blinde et al., 1994; McDermott, 1996; Theberge, 1987). These positive experiences provide a basis for reshaping gender identity and expression both in individual women and in the culture at large.

Sexual identity and homophobia are critical areas in the study of emotional experience in sport (Blinde, 1990; Burroughs et al., 1995; Griffin, 1993; Lenskyi, 1991). Harassment and discrimination are part of the emotional reality of many athletes’ lives in traditional sport. Lesbians in sport may experience fear, isolation, alienation, persecution and stigmatization as a result of heterosexist assumptions and homophobic sport environments. Likewise, those who reproduce homophobic fears and prejudice in sport are diminished in their ethical capacities for care, understanding, compassion, courage, tolerance, love and self-worth (Oakley, 1992).

Women have long derived pleasure from the homosocial and sensual interaction that sport affords (Hargreaves, 1994; Patzkill, 1990). The physical nature of sport lends itself to expanding erotic and hedonistic sensibilities. For lesbian athletes sport can be a site for emotional support and emotional grounding. Kaskisaari (1994) describes sport as a place to express lesbian identity:

if you have a team which not only accepts relationships between women but takes them for granted. You then have a woman-activated women’s team … in the sense that women become active in women’s company, by the touch of a woman, and by making love with a woman; woman-activated in the sense that a woman is actively drawn to relationships with women. (1994: 18)

However, she goes on to discuss the negative emotional impact sport can also have on lesbian athletes.

Although sport was felt to be a secure place to which one could escape the demands of femininity, it later proved to be a very heterosexist area controlled by male interests. Sport required that the women sacrifice their gender and sexuality. Feelings associated with femininity—emotional support, the need for warmth and gentleness, feelings of powerlessness and weakness—were denied. (1994: 19)

For lesbian athletes, confirming and positive emotional experiences in sport depend a great deal on the degree to which the sport experience is women-identified, free of homophobia and heterosexist assumptions, and openly welcoming of sexual diversity.

Within the past ten years a wealth of critical scholarship has shown how sport contributes to the construction of male identities and the reproduction of a gender hierarchy (Connell, 1990; Corrigan, 1991; Laitinen and Tiihonen, 1990; McLaren, 1991; Messner, 1992; Trujillo, 1995). The emotional consequences of sport participation on male identity and male bonding are complex. Messner (1992) describes many of the emotional benefits of sport for males.

… Vast numbers of boys and men … have found sport to be a major context in which they experience fun, where they relax and build friendships with others, where they can push their bodies toward excellence, where they may learn to cooperate toward a shared goal, and where they may get a sense of identification and community in an otherwise privatized and alienating society. (1992: 171)

At the same time, feminist and critical scholars have documented the emotional and physical costs of male sport involvement that often reproduces a hegemonic form of masculine identity characterized by violence, male dominance, ritualized aggression, homophobia, misogyny and emotional callousness (Curry, 1991; Messner and Sabo, 1990; Sabo and Panepinto, 1990; Whitson, 1990). While many sport practices continue to reproduce dominating forms of masculinity, recent scholarship has emphasized the importance of identifying other masculinities in sport as well as noting the importance of culture, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality as they affect the range and quality of emotional and expressive experiences that males may have in sport (Bissinger, 1990; Coakley and White, 1992; Foley, 1990; Maguire, 1986; Tomlinson, 1992). For example, Klein’s (1995) study of Mexican and Anglo baseball players revealed a continuum of masculinity with Mexican players more capable than their North American team mates of exhibiting tender emotions, showing vulnerability and hurt, and displaying physical affection. Majors’s (1990) description of the strong, proud, ‘cool pose’ expressive of black athletes, Connell’s (1990) study of the emotional discipline of an Iron Man champion and Wacquant’s (1992) study of the social construction of an emotionally protected and secure space for boxers in a Chicago gym all testify to the complex interaction of masculine identity formation and emotional experience in sport.

The open expression of sexual identity in traditionally heterosexist male sport is rare for gay men. To avoid suffering many gay men pass as straight, and in their position as outsider and observer, they develop what Pronger (1990) calls an ironic sensibility. Yet, the physical nature and social bonding aspects of sport can be a source of erotic pleasure for gay athletes. Pronger (1990) expresses the emotional experience of participating in the Gay Games when he writes:

In gay athletic culture, the athlete is someone with whom one shares an erotic world and a way of being in it. At the Gay Games, immersed in that shared world for a week, most of us couldn’t stop smiling. The erotic desirability of that truly gay pleasure is an integral part of the gay sports experience. (1990: 270)

Messner (1996) has also discussed the important role sport plays in shaping sexual identity and erotic desire. He concluded that systems of oppression and domination are intrinsically connected with the ways we come to shape our sexual desires and pleasures. He posed the following important questions regarding erotic desire:

How do institutional power relationships shape, mediate, repress, sublimate, and desublimate desire? How do individuals and groups respond in ways that reproduce, subtly change, or overtly challenge oppressive conventions? How do people (for instance, athletes and spectators) actively take up the construction of their own sexual identities and communities? And how do these sexual identities, relations, and practices intersect with other kinds of differences and inequalities within a socially structured matrix of domination? (1996: 230)

These questions point to the importance of sport in directing homosocial desire. The highly physical nature of sport makes it a likely site for the expression of erotic energy. While traditional sport may officially promote heterosexism, opportunities for alternate forms of erotic pleasure are often realized in sport.

Sport Spectating and Nostalgia

Sport fans experience a broad spectrum of emotions, both personal and communal, when watching sport. Researchers studying emotions in sport spectating have been primarily interested in describing the motives of sport fans, the pleasures of spectating, and the effects of sport fandom and sport nostalgia. According to Real and Mechikoff (1992), ‘The nature of the interpretive community in which the sport fan places himself or herself and the degree of psychological identification with the athletes contributes to dimensions of both breadth and depth in fan mythic identification’ (p. 324). For many fans, spectating is enjoyable because of the excitement, suspense, aggression and drama involved in sporting contests (Bryant et al., 1994; DeNeui and Sachau, 1996). When fans identify closely with teams they tend to feel deep emotions both positive and negative. Fans experience anxiety, frustration, anger, hostility, sadness and depression when their team does poorly and elation, ecstasy, enjoyment, self-fulfillment, self-esteem and social prestige when their team does well (Wenner, 1990; Zhang et al., 1996). As Trujillo and Krizek (1994) explain, ‘Despite … problems with sport, true fans seem to have an emotional attachment … powerful senses of identity, community, continuity, narrativity, therapy, spirituality, and self-discovery’ (p. 321).

The enjoyment of spectating and the pleasures of looking have also been studied in reference to mass-mediated sport (Gantz and Wenner, 1995; Trujillo, 1995). Using media theory, Duncan and Brummett (1989) demonstrated how three sources of spectating pleasure—fetishism, voyeurism and narcissism—characterized the televised sport spectacle of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Through the discourses, technologies and practices of television, athletes were made into fetish objects and viewers offered the pleasures of voyeurism, and narcissistic identification with athletes. The power of mass-mediated sport to affect emotions and cultural meanings is supported by Real and Mechikoff when they write that, ‘mass mediated sport today is capable of providing for the deep fan crucial expressive, liminal, cathartic, ideational mechanisms and experiences for the representation, celebration and interpretation of contemporary social life …’ (1992: 337). These representations are not, however, always the preferred or dominant readings of the sport spectacle (Lalvani, 1994). For example, in a media study of NFL football, Duncan and Brummett (1993) found that some women spectators made ‘subversive attacks upon the televised football spectacle for the oppositional powers and pleasures associated with it … By remarking on the awkwardness, arrogance, and stupidity of the football players, the women symbolically reduced the game to an absurd, comical spectacle, an event unworthy of great seriousness’ (pp. 68-9). By their ‘ironic detachment’ from the game these women refused a patriarchal reading of the text and instead derived pleasure by comically undercutting the football spectacle. The refusal to respond with ‘appropriate’ emotional affect to the practices of culture-making institutions is a form of radical empowerment.

Research in the sociology of nostalgia (a remembrance of the past) focuses on both private and public sport nostalgia (Howell, 1991; Mosher, 1991). Emotional themes related to private sport nostalgia include remembering affiliative bonds, heroic efforts, overcoming obstacles, self-discovery, pain and failure (Healey, 1991). People derive pleasure from recounting sport narratives that have helped them define who they are and the values they hold. According to Snyder (1991):

Nostalgia is defined in terms of the remembrance of the past that is imbued with positive feelings such as pleasure, joy, satisfaction, and goodness. (p. 228) … Private sport nostalgia is linked to the benchmarks of people’s sport involvement and identity at different times in their life cycle; these emotions are generally positive reflections on the past, yet there is also the feeling of pathos and yearning for the past … collective sport nostalgia extends the concepts of the ‘sacred’ and ‘collective representations’ … and seems to be related to social conditions of change and unrest. (p. 237)

Public sport nostalgia, as represented for example in sports Halls of Fame, is conservative in that these museums preserve and affirm dominant or official values of a culture while indirectly rejecting alternative values (Snyder, 1991). Slowikowski (1991), in discussing the emotional and symbolic effects of the Olympic flame ceremony, suggested that, ‘In the postmodern era people feel unmoored, uncentered, in a world viewed as spiraling blindly toward oblivion … Perhaps, postmodern practices such as the flame tradition are efforts to keep reviving, through reference to old situations, that which is deadened by technology and instrumentalization’ (p. 247). The undermining of a sense of community and solidarity in the modern era, the greater visibility of diversity in values, and the challenge by minorities and women to traditional patterns of authority may all be reasons for the growth in sport nostalgia.

Future Research

Given the relatively new status of emotions as a research topic in the sociology of sport and leisure, scholars have raised and begun to answer a number of interesting questions. Our understanding of the importance of emotions in sport and leisure, however, could benefit from a research agenda focused specifically on emotions.

Memory work and life-mode biographies provide a rich and evocative source for understanding how agency and social structure interact in sport and leisure to affect emotional life and identity formation. Denzin (1990) envisions the study of emotions as primarily interpretive, biographical and phenomenological.

I envision our project as being one that interrogates human experience from the inside … We must inquire into what kind of gendered emotional being this late postmodern period is creating. We should be doing work on the structures of emotional experience, on the forms of emotional feeling and intersubjectivity, on the violent emotions, on temporality and emotionality, on moments of epiphany and shattering emotionality, … on the cultural constraints on emotionality, on the diseases of emotionality that our late postmodern period valorizes, defines, treats, and cures. (1990: 108-9)

Research should also continue in the area of historical change in emotional life as a result of modernity. However, new research needs to explore changes in emotional expression in many different cultures and political systems over time. In some cultures emotions are primarily viewed as self-expressions, while in other cultures emotions are better understood as public performances that convey information about social situations or relations (Gordon, 1990; Harré, 1986). Research should take into account different groups with varying power and status positions in society. How do emotional experiences and expectations for emotional control or expression in sport and leisure differ within social hierarchies such as race, gender, class, sexuality, age and ability (Hochschild, 1990; Kunesh et al., 1992)? Researchers also need to demonstrate how long-term trends toward pacification, commercialization, privatization and individualization affect emotional expression in contemporary sport, leisure and cultural relations (Maguire, 1991; McDonald, 1996; Rojek, 1985).

More research is needed on the emotional effects of the disciplinary technologies of the body that are part of sport and fitness practices today. How is shame manipulated to increase discipline and self-surveillance (Scheff, 1990)? How do disciplinary practices empower us, increasing our feelings of freedom, achievement and self-development? What, also, are the dangers of emotional repression, obedience and discipline in modern sport? As Heikkala (1993) observes:

Achievement and progress through discipline are the certainties of our everyday lives and discourses and, as such, are difficult to question. In the context of sport, the deep ethical question is the value of the unquestionable subjection to the rationale of competing. Self-discipline in sport is a prerequisite for achievement … But this should not obscure the possibility that practices blindly followed and not fully reflected on are the beginnings of fascism. Not historical fascism, but fascism that ‘causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us’ (Foucault, 1985: xiii) giving the feeling of power through obedience. (1993: 411)

How do disciplinary technologies teach athletes to manage their emotions in sport? How do sport and leisure dampen and heighten emotional response? Which emotions are likely to be dampened, which heightened? What emotional experiences in sport and leisure are likely to elicit deviant behaviors, resistance behaviors, or obedient/passive behaviors (Alder and Alder, 1988; Bloom and Smith, 1996; Thoits, 1990). How has resistance to modern technologies of the body altered the structure, practice and emotional experience of sport and leisure including the development of new sport and leisure forms (Rinehart, 1996)?

Finally, we need more research on the emotional socialization that takes place in sport and the effects this socialization has on constructing moral identities (Duquin, 1984; Duquin and Schroeder-Braun, 1996; Shields and Bredemeier, 1996; Shields et al., 1995). Sport structures and ideologies influence the moral climate of sport, the quality of the coach-athlete relationship and the moral consciousness of athletes (Bykhovskaya, 1991; Cruz et al., 1995; Lee and Cockman, 1995; Pilz, 1995). We need research on the links between emotional expression in sport and moral behavior. How do sport and leisure ideologically represent emotions like empathy, compassion and care? How do athletes come to define the moral requirements of a sport? How can the ethic of care be incorporated into sport practice? Are there long-term emotional and moral effects of sport participation? Some important research has been done on the relationship of sport to violence prevention and conflict resolution (Branta et al., 1996; Hellison et al., 1996; Taylor, 1996). Yet, more research is needed on how emotions experienced in sport and leisure contribute to the moral identities of self and community.

How we approach our research on emotions in sport and leisure is also important. Trujillo and Krizek (1994) believe that

… all researchers … should pay closer attention to the emotions of the people we study as well as to the emotions we experience as researchers … Our feelings and emotions as people influence how we approach our subjects and how we interpret our data. By failing to pay attention to feelings and emotions we lose an opportunity to understand our subjects and ourselves in richer ways. (p. 322)

Dispassionate research does not necessarily privilege the rational or scientific but rather privileges our right to obscure our own motivations, emotions and values that characterize our life and work.