My apologies for being super tardy with keeping the blog updated – the Spring semester simply got the best of me, yikes. But I survived year one on the tenure-track – yay. And now summer is here with time for research, writing, and yes – getting that blog updated.
I want to start with some reflections on my COMM 4000/5000 “Sports Communication” class from Spring 2017.
Sports are an integral part of everyday life in the United States. Americans frequently dedicate their time, energy, and money to recreational sports leagues, yoga classes, and athletic gyms. Furthermore, collegiate and professional sports such as NCAA athletics or the NFL, movies, video games and sports betting as well as fantasy leagues comprise multi-billion dollar industries in the “sports‐media-complex.” The course took as its premise that the experience of participating in and/or watching sports is more than “just a game”: sport not only reflects broader social structures but also actively (re)produces cultural values, for example, about hegemonic masculinities. By the end of the semester students gained a critical understanding that sports are not only sought out for healthy life-styles and stress-relief, but that sport is, and always has been, a political institution. While it may promote athletic beauty or temporarily divert us from our problems, it just as often mobilizes power, disciplines bodies, and reifies structures of oppression, for example, the persistent racism Jackie Robinson faced. Throughout the semester we paid attention to issues of diversity, resistance, and social justice as they have and continue to play out in the world of sport. How we communicate about sport, how sport is communicated to us, and what is communicated by sport each represent critical opportunities to evaluate, critique, and improve our society.
Part of what made this course special for me and my students was our ability to listen to and learn from a variety of guest speakers throughout the semester. Dr. Kate Ranachan from the University of Minnesota talked to us about questions of athletic labor and post-colonialism, specifically in the context of Brazilian soccer; Dr. Michael L. Butterworth guided students through a discussion on race and baseball. Especially memorable was a virtual visit from Kye Allums, the first openly trans man to play NCAA Division I basketball for George Washington University. Kye provided a candid account of the barriers sex-segregated sports present to transgender athletes and encouraged students to get involved on their own campus to fight discriminatory bathroom laws. Finally, Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports editor and host of the Edge of Sports podcast, engaged us in a lively discussion on the impact of Muhammad Ali’s legacy for contemporary social justice activism by athletes such as Colin Kaepernick – who many believe still remains unsigned precisely because of his outspoken support for #BlackLivesMatter.
We covered a lot of topics and theoretical ground over the course of the semester, including why sex sells, but not women’s sports; the erotic gaze in the NFL draft; the impact of streaming deals on traditional sports broadcasting models; and the NFL’s concussion crisis to name a few.
Students’ critical engagements with the political nature of sports really came to light with their final video projects. You can see some of their videos engaging, for example, pay inequality in U.S. Women’s soccer, the role race plays in the coverage of Ray Rice and Ben Roethlisberger, or why Serena Williams deserves the title of Greatest Athlete of All Times below. Enjoy!
If you’d like to take a look at all of the video projects and want to know more about Communication and Sports, you are welcome to check out more projects and posts on our COMM 4000 Tumblr.