Athleticism, in particular is personified by characters such as Tom Buchanan, who through his successes as a great football player, shows the reader exactly what it means to be a member of the upper class. From the beginning, Tom is established as a powerfully built ex-football player from a highly socially respected family. His football career, however, serves to establish Buchanan’s overwhelmingly brutish nature. For one, Buchanan’s attitudes on class are laced with racism, masculinity, and sexism and he often comes across as paranoid. “The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be -- will be utterly submerged... It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things,” he states in the first Chapter In addition, he puts far too much emphasis on the importance of physical strength often referring to other men as puny. Unfortunately however, his narrow outlook on life also renders him a simpleton. Nick describes him as a person who would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.” Furthermore, Buchanan never once tries to live up to the high moral standards he demands of others. Throughout the novel, the reader realizes that Buchanan, in addition to his stupidity, is also rather trigger happy. He feels the need to exert the same sort of control he had on the football field, in everyday life. For example, as Buccanan continues to dwell on the idea that Gatsby and Daisy are having an affair, he eventually demands a confrontation. Since Buchanan is a representative of the upper class, the reader is soon led to believe that all members of the upper class are much like him-- hollow and besides their seemingly limitless wealth, devoid of any deeper meaning.
At the same time, Jordan Baker is another character, whose career as a golfer personifies her commitment to the upper class way of life. The fact that Baker is pursuing a sport as a woman in the 1920s is particularly suspicious (since women during this era were shunned from committing themselves to anything other housework), in addition to the fact that that particular activity is golf, a sport commonly associated with the arrogance of the upper class. The reader soon realizes that Baker is so full of wealth and as a result, has so much free time, that she finds it necessary to busy herself with hobbies, such as golf, just out of sheer boredom. Her attitude as a person however is clearly representative of the “new women” of the 1920s-- sarcastic, head strong, witty, masculine, and independent. From the very beginning, Daisy jokes, “In fact, I think I’ll arrange a marriage,” about Jordan and Tom’s soon to be romance. This largely serves to establish Baker, much like Bucchanan, as an entirely hollow individual, since she is simply an object of desire for people such as Tom-- her romances are brief as they never develop into anything more than just sex.
Throughout The Great Gatsby, it is made clear to the reader that sports in the 1920s became popular not only because they were a source of enjoyment and amusement amongst the athletes who participated in them, but also because they were a symbol of America’s growing patriot spirit and a definition of class, race, and heritage.