At the intersection of social justice and the world of professional sports is niche sports.
But what is a niche sport? It’s a particular activity enjoyed by a very small demographic, or “niche” set of people — hence the name. There are niche sports for almost anything you can think of, ranging from table tennis to frisbee golf to bowling.
Niche sports have gradually become more and more popular — with platforms such as Twitch and Discord uniting likeminded audiences to watch and connect.
While all sports provide some degree of escapism, niche sports — and the communities around them — are unique. Because of the low exposure and the accessibility of niche sports, they aren’t as expensive to participate in.
And since fewer people are aware of them, they aren’t inundated with negativity (like trolling from extreme sports fans) and policing in the same way that large-scale, popular sports such as rugby or football are.
It isn’t surprising that niche sports have become places to champion social justice causes because of the unique communities.
According to the United States’ Quidditch Team website, quidditch is a sport “rooted in providing a safe space for people of all backgrounds to come together.” Niche sports have made advocating for and championing social justice the forefront of their activity.
In 2016, the quidditch team at the University of Massachusetts gave back to the community by teaching young children how to play the sport as a way to encourage exercise and bonding with other kids.
Michael Ferro, the president of UMass Quidditch at the time, told Amherst Wire, “[The children] had a great time and we had a blast. It’s awesome we could give back to the community and have a fun time while doing it.”
Charity is a running theme for U.S. Quidditch. When J.K. Rowling began publicly made transphobic tweets in 2020, the U.S. Quidditch league came out in public support of trans and gender-non-conforming people within their community — and worldwide.
In a statement posted on their website in June 2020, the U.S. Quidditch league said, “It is paramount that we continue to uplift and amplify the voices of trans and gender nonconforming people in quidditch.”
Quidditch teams have also advocated for the Black Lives Matter movement and issues pertaining to marginalized communities. The Major League Quidditch website encouraged donations to racial justice organizations all throughout 2020 — and they published posts on social media recognizing Juneteenth and drawing attention to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
But giving back isn’t just limited to quidditch. Many roller derby organizations — another niche sport — stood in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and continue to do so today.
In particular, Providence Roller Derby released a statement acknowledging the role that whiteness had played in their sport — including the fact that “roller derby is an overwhelmingly white sport” — while also providing a list of places for people to donate to anti-racist organizations.
For niche sports like disc golf, social justice movements are important and integral. The Professional Disc Golf Association released a statement on their website acknowledging that their sport was “heavily skewed towards white men” while empathizing its commitment to expanding the game to broader communities, including Black, Indigenous, Brown, and other minorities and underrepresented folks.
Other institutions within disc golf, such as apparel provider Wander Disc Golf, pledged to donate $1 from every purchase to the organization Black Lives Matter.
Social justice causes and niche sports appear to be irrevocably entwined now, perhaps because of the small size of these sports, which makes it easier for them to push for change and advocate for important causes without being on the receiving end of vitriol and hatred, as so often happens in more well-known sports with larger followings.
Even though bigger sports institutions like the National Football League have recently come out in support of LGBTQ+ players, it hasn’t always been supportive of social justice causes.
As the world pivots to greater awareness of the issues and struggles of those within it (such as racism and ableism), niche sports lead the way to set an example of how activities can do good beyond just fun.
This article was first published in The Sports Edition of the Goodnewspaper in August of 2021. You can join thousands of people who receive a monthly Goodnewspaper by becoming a subscriber.