Sport Sociology Loses Two Pioneers of the Discipline

Sport Sociology Loses Two Pioneers of the Discipline

Recently the Sport Sociology community lost two key figures: Eric Dunning and George Sage. Eric Dunning died early in the morning of February 10, 2019 while George Sage passed away on February 11, 2019.

Eric Dunning (1935-2019)

Eric Dunning, Professor Emeritus at the University of Leicester, UK was selected as an Honorary Member of ISSA in 2012 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Sociology of Sport, long career of service to the International Sociology of Sport Association (ISSA), and his distinguished international academic career.

Dunning studied at the University of Leicester, UK where he earned his Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees. As a Masters student, Eric approached his supervisor, Norbert Elias, to ask if it would be a good idea to undertake his dissertation on the sociological study of football.  Having read, in the original German, Elias’s Civilizing Process, Eric decided to undertake his thesis drawing on Elias’s work. Thus began the long and productive collaboration between one of the most important sociologists of the 20thcentury and his student, Eric Dunning, who helped to create the sub-discipline of the sociology of sport.

His scholarly work is exemplified by a commitment to the reorientation of sociological analysis advocated by Norbert Elias, that stresses the part played by power in developing social structures.  Among his scholarly publications are:

  • The Sociology of Sport: A Selection of Readings,1971
  • Barbarians, Gentlemen and Players, 1979
  • Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process, 1986
  • The Sports Process, a Comparative and Developmental Approach, 1993
  • Handbook of Sports Studies, 2000
  • And translations into English of much of Elias’s work.

Eric served as an Executive Board member of ISSA and an Associate Editor on the International Review for the Sociology of Sport (IRSS). During his career he actively mentored countless students and colleagues. An obituary that appeared in the Guardian and written by Ivan Waddington can be found here:

A brief reflection on Dunning’s significance in relationship to figuration sociology written by Stephen Mennell can be found at:


George H. Sage (1929-2019)

George Sage, Professor Emeritus of Kinesiology and Sociology at the University of Northern Colorado (USA) helped to create the Sociology of Sport. He was a founding member of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) and later served as president of NASSS. Additionally, he was a Fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology and a Fellow in the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education.

A multi-sport athlete, Sage played college basketball and baseball at Colorado State College, now the University of Northern Colorado. He took part in three College World Series as a pitcher for the Bears. After earning an undergraduate degree, he began a stint teaching high school physical education and subsequently earned his master’s degree. George went on to pursue his EdD at UCLA and during that time apprenticed under legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. He then worked as a college basketball coach including at his alma mater (1963-1969) where he compiled a 95-36 record before leaving coaching in 1969 to devote more time to teaching and research. He earned the 1978 UNC Distinguished Scholar Award and in 1987 earned the UNC Lucile Harrison Outstanding Teaching Award.  He is also a member of the UNC Athletic Hall of Fame.

Author of over 50 articles, George Sage also authored, co-authored or edited 21 books. Among the most impactful of these works is the one he co-authored with D. Stanley Eitzen, the Sociology of North American Sport. Now in its 11thedition, the book is a rare enduring foundational text in the field.

During his distinguished career George worked as a visiting professor at numerous universities internationally and served as a valuable mentor to countless students and colleagues. More details about his life can be found in his obituary: