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Social Status: Do we take it too seriously?

February 13, 2009

Many sociologists study people’s social position relative to others as a predictor of their behavior. Someone’s social position or location is often referred to as “status” in sociology. Generally speaking, there are two types of status: achieved and ascribed. Achieved status occurs when we do something to warrant the status. This can be based on demonstrated talent or abilities, such as a baseball player hitting a world record number of home runs. We don’t have to do anything to acquire an ascribed status—society simply assigns us that position. Examples of ascribed status could be “old man.”

Let’s apply the idea of status to Michael Phelps. Phelps won eight swimming medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Recently, a photograph of him supposedly smoking a pipe often used to consume marijuana was published on the Internet. Kellogg’s® has since declined to renew his contract. Phelps has also been suspended from the USA Swimming Organization for 3 months. The New York Times quoted a released statement from the USA Swimming organization that said: “We decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and hero.”

Discussion Questions:
1) Sports figures have been a traditional source of inspiration for America’s youth. What values and norms do organized sports convey for young people? How important a role do you think this plays in the American assimilation process?

2) Can you discuss behavior issues of other sports stars? Are such controversies uncommon among athletes today? Do you think this might offer insights into whether sports figures reflect the real or ideal cultural aspects of America?

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4 comments

  1. Organized sports teach hard work, team work, and discipline. Some say they establish a peer hierarchy due to winers, losers, best players,and bench warmers. As adults while many people like to sugarcoat it, this is how the world typically works. You win a contract, you lose your job or you get a big bonus as the companies best performer (all-star.) I think organized sports are a good source of assimilation for children. It is also important to keep these events in prespective. Just because your an all-star or bench warmer in a game, it does not reflect on how successful you will be in life.

    Today’s sports stars are “not rolemodels” to quote Charles Barkley. Like Gladiators in the Roman times, they are allowed to get away with anything as long as they win. Children do look up to them, but just like everyone else sport stars are not perfect and continually fail at being good role models. While some individuals live up to the billing, in general no one should behave as most of these stars do.


  2. I feel that society takes social status way too seriously. We hold sports stars and actresses, and all the other big names at such a higher level than we do us normal people. Michael Phelps, like you mentioned, was caught smoking pot. Yea, he was wrong. It was a stupid thing to do. But he’s caught doing that and he’s blasted all over the internet, the news, magazines…etc. You find the average joe sitting outside smoking pot, yes he’s reprimanded by being taken to jail, but you don’t see him all over the cover of “STAR” magazine. I think social status is taken way too seriously and has caused a downfall in our society. I feel like even though all of these superstars are put all over the media for doing something wrong, they still are not given the right and proper punishment they deserve, all because they are the “superstars” of America, and that is because our society hold them up way too high


  3. Controversies like Michael Phelps are unfortunatly highly common today. I feel that the sport itself represents the ideal cultural aspect of America while the player,fallen or not, represents real aspects of America.


  4. Society looks on peoples social status’ way to strongly in the world today. The well known people get way more attention than other people. You will hear a story about some celebrity’s immediate family member on the news, but you hardly hear anything about the men and women that are dying for our country. I do think that Michael Phelps made a mistake by smoking pot but I, also, think that the whole story was blown way out of proportion. Yes, Phelps did win eight gold medals at the Olympics and he is an awesome swimmer. I belive Phelps was wrong for what he did, but I don’t think that the story should have been all over news, internet, etc like it was.

    I agree with scbekah on “You find the average joe sitting outside smoking pot, yes he’s reprimanded by being taken to jail, but you don’t see him all over the cover of “STAR” magazine.” Celebrities are given way to many breaks over the average American citizen. I think that celebrities should be treated like everyone else in America. They should be punished like everyone else.



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