Sports Culture

In New Book, Sociologist Malec Says Sports Provides a Unifying Force in Caribbean Society

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

While a great deal of Americans' sense of community is invested in athletics, said Assoc. Prof. Michael Malec (Sociology), it may be even more so in the Caribbean.

St. Croix, for example, found in horse racing an unlikely but much-needed antidote to the effects of a natural disaster, Malec explained, while the immense popularity of cricket among West Indians has its roots in their quest for identity and independence.

Malec has done considerable research on the history and tradition of sports in the Caribbean and its increasing value to that region. Most recently, he served as editor and contributor for Social Roles of Sport in Caribbean Societies , which examines the political, social, racial, economic and cultural effects sports like cricket and horse racing have had on Caribbean peoples.

Assoc. Prof. Michael Malec (Sociology).
(Photo by Mark Morelli)

The book represents an intersection of Malec's interests in the sociological aspects of sports and the life and culture of the Caribbean. He hopes it will give readers a glimpse of Caribbean society and affirm part of the heritage of Boston's Caribbean community.

"It has been a neglected field, but those who know even a little of the structure and fabric of Caribbean societies know that sports are an integral part of their rich and diverse cultures," said Malec.

Malec notes that some scholars say sport acts as a cohesive force, binding people together and providing a sense of unity. While this may not always be true, Malec said horse racing helped repair St. Croix's social fabric and maintain its cohesiveness following the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

"Sport can serve as a positive force after disaster if it becomes a place where communities can come together," said Malec. "It provides a glue to hold society together."

Cricket, the most popular sport in the Caribbean, came to the West Indies with British colonizers, though it has taken on a different meaning, according to Malec.

"The West Indians originally adopted the British game as a means of establishing a positive self-image and, in part, they came to excel at it because it provided one of the few means available to them to defeat their masters," explained Malec. "To them, it represented taking something quintessentially British and showing what the blacks could do if only given a chance."

The latest Caribbean sports imports are American basketball and baseball, televised via satellite, which are sparking interest among young males, but also creating unrealistic aspirations.

"They dream of making it to America, which for most is their only ticket out of extreme poverty," Malec said. "It's basically the same dream inner-city children in the US have, but ultimately, I'm not so sure that this is the best message we can send."

The book includes two chapters written by former BC doctoral students who studied under Malec.

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