Six years ago, I wrote that the Pittsburgh Steelers had become “America’s Team,” a title once claimed, perhaps legitimately, by the Dallas Cowboys.
Now Ben Blatt at The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective concludes that it’s still the Cowboys:
…based on their huge fan base and ability to remain the most popular team coast-to-coast, I think the Dallas Cowboys have earned the right to use the nickname ‘America’s Team’.
To get data, Blatt posed as an advertiser and euchred Facebook into giving him some data from 155 million Facebook users, about half of the US population. Blatt counted the “likes” for each NFL team:
It’s Superbowls X, XIII, and XXX all over again – Steelers vs. Cowboys. And the Cowboys have a slight edge. But does that make them “America’s Team”? It should be easy to get more likes when you play to a metro area like Dallas that has twice as many people as Pittsburgh. If the question is about “America’s Team,” we’re not interested in local support. Just the opposite: if you want to know who America’s team is, you should find out how many fans it has outside its local area.
Unfortunately, Blatt doesn’t provide that information. So for a rough estimate, I took the number of Facebook likes and subtracted the metro area population. Most teams came out on the negative side. The Patriots, for example, had 2.5 million likes. but they are in a media market of over 4 million people. The Cowboys too wound up in the red 3.7 million likes in a metro area of 5.4 million people.
Likes outnumbered population for only five teams. The clear winner was the Steelers.
I know, I know. We can expect nothing more from the Daily Mail. And yet I can’t help but point out this scintillating article on what tennis player Roger Federer wore at the Australian Open. An article on what a man was wearing, you might ask? Indeed. What might prompt such an abnormality? Well, you see, Federer was wearing just the slightest bit of pink.
This daring choice earned Federer 374 words in the Mail Online and six photographs highlighting his apparently newsworthy fashion choice.
Now this isn’t a big deal, but it is a particularly striking example of the little ways in which rules around gender are enforced. Federer took a risk by wearing even a little bit of pink; the Daily Mail goes to great lengths to point this out. He also gets away with it, in the sense that the article doesn’t castigate or attempt to humiliate him for doing so.
Federer, however, is near the top of a hierarchy of men. Research shows that men who otherwise embody high-status characteristics — which includes being light-skinned, ostensibly straight, attractive, athletic, and wealthy — can break gender rules with fewer consequences (see also, the fashion choices of Andre 3000 and Kanye). A less high-status man might read this article and take note: Federer can get away with this, kinda, but I should steer clear…. and they’re probably right.
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.
I’ve recently been reading a lot about the sociology of sport and I found myself inspired by feminist resistance to exclusion from long distance running. The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896. It was open to men only and was won by a Greek named Spyridon Louis. Women weren’t to be counted out entirely, however. A woman named Melpomene snuck onto the marathon route. She finished an hour and a half behind Louis, but beat plenty of men who ran slower or dropped out.
Women snuck onto marathon courses from that point forward. Resistance to their participation was strong and, I believe, reflects men’s often unconscious fear that women might in fact be their equals. Why else would they so vociferously object to women’s participation? If women are, indeed, so weak and inferior, what’s to fear from their running alongside men?
Illustrating what seems to be a degree of panic above and beyond an imperative to follow the rules, the two photos below show the response to Syracuse University Katherine Switzer’s running the man-only Boston marathon in 1967 (Switzer registered for the marathon using her initials). After two miles, race officials realized one of their runners was a girl. Their response? To physically remove her from the race. Luckily, some of her male Syracuse teammates body blocked their grab:
Why not let her run? The race was man-only, so her stats, whatever they may be, were invalid. Why take her out of the race by force? For the same reason that women were excluded to begin with: their actual potential is not obviously inferior to men’s. The only sex that is threatened by co-ed sports is the sex whose superiority is assumed.
Women were included in competitive marathoning from 1972 forward. The first Olympic women’s marathon was run in 1984. Not so very long ago.
You might be surprised to learn that at its inception in the mid-1800s cheerleading was an all-male sport. Characterized by gymnastics, stunts, and crowd leadership, cheerleading was considered equivalent in prestige to an American flagship of masculinity, football. As the editors of Nation saw it in 1911:
…the reputation of having been a valiant “cheer-leader” is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.*
Indeed, cheerleading helped launch the political careers of three U.S. Presidents. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were cheerleaders. Actor Jimmy Stewart was head cheerleader at Princeton. Republican leader Tom DeLay was a noted cheerleader at the University of Mississippi.
Women were mostly excluded from cheerleading until the 1930s. An early opportunity to join squads appeared when large numbers of men were deployed to fight World War I, leaving open spots that women were happy to fill.
When the men returned from war there was an effort to push women back out of cheerleading (some schools even banned female cheerleaders). The battle over whether women should be cheerleaders would go on for several decades. Argued one opponent in 1938:
[Women cheerleaders] frequently became too masculine for their own good… we find the development of loud, raucous voices… and the consequent development of slang and profanity by their necessary association with [male] squad members…**
Cheerleading was too masculine for women! Ultimately the effort to preserve cheer as an man-only activity was unsuccessful. With a second mass deployment of men during World War II, women cheerleaders were here to stay.
The presence of women changed how people thought about cheering. Because women were stereotyped as cute instead of “valiant,” the reputation of cheerleaders changed. Instead of a pursuit that “ranks hardly second” to quarterbacking, cheerleading’s association with women led to its trivialization. By the 1950s, the ideal cheerleader was no longer a strong athlete with leadership skills, it was someone with “manners, cheerfulness, and good disposition.” In response, boys pretty much bowed out of cheerleading altogether. By the 1960s, men and megaphones had been mostly replaced by perky co-eds and pom-poms:
Cheerleading in the sixties consisted of cutesy chants, big smiles and revealing uniforms. There were no gymnastic tumbling runs. No complicated stunting. Never any injuries. About the most athletic thing sixties cheerleaders did was a cartwheel followed by the splits.***
Cheerleading was transformed.
Of course, it’s not this way anymore. Cultural changes in gender norms continued to affect cheerleading. Now cheerleaders, still mostly women, pride themselves in being both athletic and spirited, a blending of masculine and feminine traits that is now considered ideal for women.
Recently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked many American football fans with an act that might not seem particularly controversial: they continued playing until the game officially ended.
In the final seconds of their game against the New York Giants, the Bucs were behind and almost certain to lose, but not absolutely and inevitably defeated. With the score at 41-34, if the Bucs could get the ball before the clock ran out and manage a touchdown and a successful conversion, they could tie the game or even win outright, depending on the type of conversion.
When the Giants snapped the ball, Tampa’s players rushed forward:
The Bucs broke a taken-for-granted norm in football: they rushed a quarterback who was taking a knee. When a team has possession of the ball in the last moments of a game, the quarterback can run out the clock by holding onto the ball and touching a knee to the ground. When it’s obvious a quarterback is going to do so, the opposing team is expected to acknowledge that the game is effectively over and let the quarterback quickly take a knee without interference.
The Bucs didn’t. They continued playing serious defense. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was knocked backward by his teammates as they tried to protect him from the unexpected rush:
Tampa’s players, and in particular coach Greg Schiano, were widely accused of poor sportsmanship. The Giants’ coach yelled at Schiano on the field and Manning called it a “cheap shot”. Giants’ player Justin Tuck said the Bucs should have refused their coach’s order to carry out what he called a “classless” play.
But NFL officials confirmed that what they did was entirely within the rules of the game. Teams generally take a hands-off approach to a quarterback who is clearly planning to take a knee, but they aren’t actually required to stand around and let him do it unopposed.
And as NPR reported, if we look back a few decades, taking a knee was itself seen as a bit classless. In the 1978 “Miracle at the Meadowlands” game between the Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants lost when they fumbled the ball at the last minute. Taking a knee would have ensured a win, but their coach ordered another play because he, like many coaches at the time, saw taking a knee as unsporting, an unworthy way to guarantee victory.
That loss changed the status of taking a knee. No one could believe a team had all but given away a victory. Giants fans were enraged. The coach was summarily fired and never worked in football again.
For coaches, the take-away message was clear. Running a play carried the risk of a last-minute interception and humiliating defeat, possibly followed by the abrupt end of your career. Taking a knee was a sure thing. It quickly became standard procedure. Teams developed formations for use specifically when they plan to take a knee (thus also signaling their intent to the other team). The stigma that remained around taking a knee disappeared; it has been redefined as an acceptable and even expected move. But for it to work — that is, for it to allow a quick end to the game while minimizing the possibility of risk to players (and especially the quarterback) — the opposing team has to play their role in the script and acquiesce to running out the clock.
Tampa’s coach challenged current norms by treating taking a knee as an outcome for the other team to successfully accomplish, not an opposition-less move that requires only a signal of intent. The Bucs’ violation of this norm has been widely condemned. Football fans viewed it as putting players in danger of injury from the unexpected defensive move with very little chance of actually changing the outcome of the game — a likelihood of success low enough that fans I spoke to questioned Schiano’s motives, suggesting he knew he couldn’t win and was actively intending to hurt the other team.
What counts as a “classy” play or a “cheap shot”? Schiano defended his choice by saying he asks his team to play hard for every second of the game, an attitude that might normally be praised. We romanticize the idea of never giving up, of playing as hard as you can against all odds. But because taking a knee has been accepted as reasonable, expected behavior, failure to follow its taken-for-granted script is widely perceived not as a daring move by the defense, but as an unsporting disregard for the spirit of the game.
The NFL referees have been on strike. In their place the league has hired replacements in order to keep the season underway. Word on the street is that the replacements are doing a distinctly terrible job. Writes Ed at Gin and Tacos:
Since professional and amateur football have different rules — in some cases very different — the results have been predictably disastrous. From their failure to do basic things like spot the ball and operate the game clock to major rules of which they appear to be totally ignorant, they have proven thus far that there is nothing they can’t botch.
Ed wonders if NFL fans are internalizing the economic lesson in this debacle:
In a surplus labor market you can always find someone willing to do a job for less, but they’re probably not going to do it well. Even the type of person who blames the work stoppage on the union… can’t deny that the end result is the replacement of trained, experienced professionals with a clown car load of knuckleheads who act like they’ve never seen a football before.
He concludes, suggestively: “maybe all human capital is not interchangeable …and maybe there are some noticeable downsides to a market in which whoever will work for the least gets the job.”
The NFL, being entertainment and all, isn’t the best example, but when we apply the same logic to occupations like school teachers and air traffic controllers, we should sit up and notice. Maybe at this moment, when something so beloved is at stake, it’ll raise America’s consciousness just a little bit. Ed, for what it’s worth, isn’t optimistic.
Race as biology has largely been discredited, yet beliefs about one race being biologically superior to another still seem to pervade one social arena: sports. Claims that different races have genetic advantages to play particular sports persists both because individual athletic ability obviously has some basis in biology (even though that does not mean it is racial biology at play) and athletics appears to be one social arena where racial minorities succeed over whites in certain sports.
For example, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ 2011 Racial and Gender Report Card on The National Football League (http://www.tidesport.org), over 2/3rds of players in the NFL are African American — far higher than the proportion of Blacks in the general population of the United States. This report also shows that all other racial groups are under-represented in the NFL relative to their proportion in the general population, including Asians who make up only 2% of the players in the league.
These statistics compel many to assume that racial biology plays a large part in athletic success. However, the 60 Minutes investigation Football Island debunks this assumption during a trip to the place where most of the Asian players in the NFL come from: American Samoa. This small island is a U.S. Territory in the Pacific and has a population small enough to seat comfortably in most professional football stadiums. Yet the average Samoan child “is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America.”
60 Minutes finds Samoans succeed at football only in small part because of their size and strength. Rather, their success grows mostly out of a “warrior culture” that instills a strong work ethic in young men. Also, on the island the daily chores that are a necessary part of survival provide a lifetime of athletic conditioning. In short, many of the Asian players in the NFL are successful because of their nurturing, and not their nature.
Samoans are also driven to succeed at football because they come from a place plagued by poverty and often their only chance at a better life is through athletics (that, or follow another Samoan tradition and join the Armed Forces). In the video, the most famous Samoan player, Troy Palamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, explains “football is a ‘meal ticket.’ Just like any marginalized ethnic group, you know, if you don’t make it to the NFL, what do you have to go back to?”
Jason Eastman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Coastal Carolina University who researches how culture and identity influence social inequalities.
Autumn B. sent in another over-the-top example of the objectification of female athletes. The commercial is for RoadID, a company that sells “identification gear.” Autumn saw it while watching the Tour de France; she found this shortened version online, which she says actually features less objectification than the original did.
The main focus of the ad is a slow investigation of various aspects of cyclist Jenny Fletcher’s body. The camera travels slowly up her leg, then shows her full profile before zooming in on her breasts as she zips up her shirt:
Jenny Fletcher has no dialogue. She exists as a body to be broken down into eroticized parts for the consumption of the viewer. As Autumn put it, it’s frustrating that, a fan of the “the male-centric Tour de France,” that “when they do FINALLY feature a female cyclist, it is as a sexual object.”