I completed my Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of California, San Diego in 2015. Below is an overly academic description (when in Rome …) of my dissertation on immigrant integration and youth sports. Want to read all 247 pages? Here you go.
In my dissertation, Fútbol Americano: Immigration, Social Capital, and Youth Soccer in Southern California, I take up the question of immigrant assimilation in a unique way, using youth soccer as a lens to investigate the topic. I examine the role that the sport has played in the assimilation of immigrants, focusing particularly on its potential to develop social capital between immigrants and non-immigrants.
Over 18 months of fieldwork with three youth soccer clubs in San Diego, dozens of interviews with experts, and archival research into the history of youth soccer in the United States, I find that the sport does little to bring together immigrants and non- immigrants. Although Latinos, the largest immigrant group in Southern California, play soccer in significant numbers, they play it mostly separately from the affluent suburbanites who are the other main group involved with the sport.
The history of soccer, long seen as an un-American sport until it became the sport of youth in the growing suburbs in the post-World War II period, helps to explain this finding. As soccer has been taken up by increasingly affluent suburbanites looking for a sport to serve as a means of distinction, it has enabled them to perform their social status. The world of suburban soccer today remains one of affluence, and many involved with this world have much to gain from it retaining this status. Although young male Latino players, the children of largely working-class Latino immigrants who have arrived in such large numbers since 1965, are often among the most talented youth players, they are often underrepresented on top-level youth soccer teams.
Sports have often been presented as a panacea to social problems, including immigrant assimilation. Political scientist Robert Putnam has suggested that sports can foster connections between diverse people who might not otherwise interact. But Putnam’s idea that sports can foster the development of social capital between diverse people assumes everyone comes to the field on equal footing. As my dissertation shows, the playing field is far from equal, and in the end youth soccer does more to reinforce the continued segregation of immigrants than it does to foster their assimilation.