Animal rights is the concept that all or some animals are entitled to possess their own lives, and that animals are deserving of moral rights to protect their autonomy and well being. The animal rights view rejects the concept that animals are merely capital goods or property intended for the benefit of humans. (46) The concept is often confused with animal welfare, which is the philosophy that takes cruelty towards animals and animal suffering into account, but that does not necessarily assign specific moral rights to them.
The animal rights philosophy does not necessarily maintain that human and non-human animals are equal. For example, animal rights advocates do not call for voting rights for chickens. (47) Some also would make a distinction between sentient or self-aware animals and lower life forms, with the belief that only animals with self-awareness should be afforded the right to possess their own lives and bodies, without regard to how they are valued by humans. Others would extend this right to all animals, even those without developed nervous systems or consciousness. (48) They maintain that any human or human institutions that commoditizes animals for food, entertainment, clothing, scientific testing, or for any other purpose, infringes upon their fundamental rights to possess themselves and to pursue their own ends, which, therefore, is unethical.
Of course, this argument assumes that a particular species or individual animal is capable of “having ends” which it is capable of “pursuing” in any meaningful manner. Few people would deny that other great apes are highly cognitive animals who can reflect on their own condition and goals and can become frustrated when their freedoms are severely curtailed. In contrast, many other animals, like jelly fish, have only extremely simple nervous systems, and are little more than simple automata, capable only of simple reflexes but incapable of formulating any “ends to their actions” or “plans to pursue” them, and equally unable to notice whether they are in captivity or free. (49) By the criteria that Biologists use, jelly fish are undeniably animals, while from an “animal rights” perspective, it is questionable whether they should not rather be considered “vegetables”. Clearly, merely being alive is not enough to be accorded “rights”, as no one has yet seriously proposed that plants should be accorded rights (even though some plants are clearly worthy of protection, but that is another matter). (50) There is as yet no consensus with regards to which qualities make a living organism an “animal in the animal rights sense”.
(46) A hundred years ago, when sport was confined largely to games played in the backyard or on the farm, one could hardly have imagined the attention that it has come to receive in the twentieth century. Today, the importance of sport in society is clearly demonstrated by the fact that even the CBS news can be preempted for the final of a tennis match. A survey conducted in the late 1980s revealed that fully 81 percent of all adults follow some organized sport, mostly on television. And the phenomenon of weekend “sports widows”—women abandoned by their husbands for weekend sports on television—is entering its third generation.
Sport is defined sociologically as competitive physical activity that is performed under established rules. Like all social institutions, sport serves numerous functions. First, it provides society with a vast array of leisure-time activities for all segments of the population. (47) Although it is an overstatement to say that modern society is a leisure society, there has been a significant increase in the amount of nonwork time that most people have available. Furthermore, recreational activity has become increasingly necessary in a society in which the vast majority of jobs provide little or no physical activity. Second, sport provides an outlet for energies that, if not diverted, could cause serious strain on the social order. (48) For both fan and participant, sport permits the expression of emotions (such as anger and frustration) in ways that are acceptable to, even encouraged by, society. Finally, sport provides society with role models. Athletes at all levels, but especially famous athletes, provide examples of conduct and employment of skills that others can emulate.
Although sports promote many positive aspects of a society, conflict theorists are quick to point out that they also reflect society’s inequalities. Like most other social institutions, sports are characterized by inequalities of class, race and gender. For example, certain sports—such as boxing, which is often associated with urban poverty—are distinctly lower class in origin and participation. (49) In general, members of the lower and working classes have tended to participate in sports like baseball and basketball: games that require little more than a field, a ball, and some players.
Although sport is sometimes considered exempt from racial inequality, sociological evidence has shown this not to be the case. (50) Although it is true that nonwhites in American society have enjoyed greater opportunities for high incomes in professional sports than in other occupations, it is also true that virtually all managers and owners of sports team are white. There are few nonwhite sportscasters, administrators, umpires, or referees. Furthermore, nonwhites are all but absent (even as players) from all professional sports except baseball, basketball, boxing and football.