Tag Archives: sports

Resistance to the “Redskins” Mascot: Racism in Perspective

The Redskins have been in the news lately – on the front page of the Times, for example — and not for their prowess on the gridiron. It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so.  “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide.

President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that if he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.”

Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive, and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it.  I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive.

In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities.  The Cleveland cap is the real thing.  The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.

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The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not intended to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos.  And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.”  This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American.  His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by the American Indian Movement’s Russell Means: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?”

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog; HT to Max.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

The Gender of Trophies: Coaches and Team Moms

Ann K. noticed something funny about the products sold at Novelty Trophies.  The ones available for the adults involved were split into two categories: Coach and Team Mom.

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To be fair, they had a female coach option, but there was nothing for Team Dads.  This is consistent with the norm in society that women are allowed to be masculine (be knowledgeable about sports), but men are not allowed to be feminine (caretake a team). Notice also the artificial gender dimorphism: her tiny body compared to his.

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Just another everyday, mundane, rather boring example of the constant reminders of who men and women are supposed to be.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Male Friendship in the New Guinness Ad: A Thumbs Up

A recent Guinness ad has been getting a lot of kudos and I want to join in the praise.  It involves a set of guys who get together to play a pick-up game of wheelchair basketball and then join each other at a bar to celebrate the game.  Lots of people have mentioned that it’s nice to see (1) a lack of objectification of women as a form of male bonding  and (2) a nice representation of people with disabilities.  Both of those things are great in my book.

But here’s another thing I really liked: their retreat to the bar and their formation once they got there.  They sat in a circle.

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Why is this neat?  Because scholars have found that male and female friendships tend to be different.  Male friendships tend to be more “shoulder-to-shoulder” than “face-to-face.”  Men are more likely to get together and do stuff: they watch football together, go out and play pool, have poker nights, etc.  Women are more likely to spend time just talking, confessing, disclosing, and being supportive of each other’s feelings.

The benefits of friendship are strongly related to self-disclosure.  And so men’s friendships — if they don’t involve actual intimacy — often don’t offer the same boost to physical and well-being as women’s friendships.  The fact that these guys sit down together at a bar, in a circle, in order to engage in some face-to-face time after their shoulder-to-shoulder time… well, that’s really nice to me.

Thanks to Rebecca H. for submitting the commercial!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

On Horse Racing, “Break Downs,” and Our Humanity

Originally posted in 2012; re-posted because tomorrow is the 145th Belmont Stakes, the 3rd and final leg of the Triple Crown in thoroughbred horse racing. This is the dark side of the sport.

In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.

These words, spoken by the equine medical director for the California Racing Board, summarize the truly terrifying absurdity that is horse racing today.  A team of investigative reporters at the New York Times has found that over 1,200 horses die at race tracks every year in the U.S.  Many of them die immediately after a race, euthanized after their bodies literally crumble underneath them.  Their legs break, unable to withstand the forces that the horses exert upon their bodies.  People in the industry call it, euphemistically, a “break down.” It occurs 1 out of every 200 times a horse starts a race.

All of these horses are being ridden by a jockey who is pitched off when the horse falls.  Moving at upwards of 50 miles an hour, and in the midst of many other horses running at top speed, jockeys are often seriously injured and sometimes killed.  Currently there are over 50 permanently disabled jockeys receiving financial assistance from their professional trade association.  Jacky Johnson, for example, was paralyzed from the neck down after his horse, Phire Power, broke its leg during a race.  He will need a respirator for the rest of his life; Phire Power was euthanized on the track.

Why is this happening?

Because we are making it so.

First, race horses are bred in order to run as fast as possible.  Short legs and thick bones slow a horse down, while longer, more delicate legs give them longer strides.  Breeders, then, have an incentive to build horses who are both faster and more fragile.

Second, owners may be putting these horses on the track too young.  Horses typically start getting raced at 2 to 3 years old, very young for an animal with a lifespan of 30 years.  Some argue that the bodies of young horses are not ready to handle the physical demands of racing.  This 2-year-old horse, Teller All Gone, broke its leg during a race; it is about to be euthanized:

The owners dumped his body at a junkyard:

Third, there is the drug problem.  Many trainers illegally give their horses performance-enhancing drugs.  Many of them are experimental and are not yet or cannot be tested for.  These include “chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs.”

Built for speed and not safety, on the track too young, and amped up on steroids and other performance-enhancers, these horses are pushed to their limits.  Just this week Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the horse set to win this year’s Triple Crown, was fined after his horse tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Even more problematic than the doping is the legal practice of giving horses pain-relieving drugs, including cocaine.  These mask the pain signals that would otherwise tell a horse to slow down or be careful on the track and also increase that chances that the track veterinarian will miss an injury when clearing the horse to race. The NYT reports that “[a]s many as 90 percent of horses that break down had pre-existing injuries” and they argue pain-masking drugs “pose the greatest risk to horse and rider.” The Louisiana Racing Commission call it “a recipe for disaster.”

The drugs detailed below are what were given to Coronado Heights in the week before he collapsed and was euthanized on the track:

Horse racing is subject to regulation, but these vary by state and are typically very poorly enforced, bringing us to the fourth reason why we see so much tragedy on race tracks. The punishment for violations is insignificant, sometimes only a warning:

Trainers in New Mexico who overmedicate horses with Flunixin get a free pass on their first violation, a $200 fine on the second and a $400 fine on the third, records show… [the state also] wipes away Flunixin violations every 12 months… To varying degrees, the picture is similar nationwide. Trainers often face little punishment for drug violations, and on the rare occasions when they are suspended, they are allowed to turn their stables over to an assistant.

When it comes down to it, many owners and trainers are willing to risk a horse’s life for the chance at the prize money and the less likely a horse is to win, the less they’re worth to the owner, so the harder they’re willing to push it.

The economic incentive to run horses till they die may seem to apply to the highest stakes racing but, in fact, it’s at the lowest end that we see the most disregard for the safety of horses and their jockeys. In the backyards of those casinos where racetracks are now part of the attraction (often referred to as “racinos”), horses and jockeys are a dime a dozen, and the money gives people a reason to break the rules. Meanwhile, the casino tracks are low profile, so they receive even less regulatory attention.

The use of the phrase “break down” to describe a horse who has snapped its own bones in the process of entertaining and enriching human beings is an indication of how nonchalantly industry figures approach this problem.  It suggests that these animals, and perhaps their jockeys as well, have been thoroughly objectified: cars break down, air conditioners break down, we break down boxes.  The language entirely fails to capture what is happening to these horses.  It may very well, however, describe what has happened to the industry and to the basic humanity of its most culpable beneficiaries.

Death at the Track:

Visit the New York Times to watch “The Rise of the Racinos” and “A Jockey’s Story.”

Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp are professors of sociology. You can follow Gwen on Twitter and Lisa on Twitter and Facebook.  They have also written about the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses.

Who is the Highest Paid Employee of Your State?

Hint from Dmitriy T.C.: he probably wears shorts to work.

Here’s the infographic, sent in also by sociologist Michael Kimmel, revealing the highest paid employee in each state.  Yellow, orange, and green states are all ones in which the most money goes to an athletic coach.  More details at DeadSpin.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Problematics of the Fake Harlem Shake

Cross-posted at Racialicious.1The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s.  Here is what it looks like:

In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.  For example:

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet, and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being white-washed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon. Personally, I’ve been “video bombing” anyone I see incorrectly referring to the new version as the Harlem Shake with this:

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America, one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority, and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm flailing and hip thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, Florida.

“Digital Residue” Of Steubenville Assault Lifts Veil On Rape Culture

Chilling video taken at a high school party in Steubenville, Ohio in which attendees laugh and joke about an unconscious 16-year-old allegedly raped and sodomized by members of the football team, propelled the case into the national spotlight earlier this winter.

The deeply disturbing video focuses on Steubenville High School alum Michael Nodianos as he holds court with a grim comedy show, cracking up to quips such as, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!” and “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team!” Those with the stomach to endure the entire 12-minute video hear the victim repeatedly referred to as “dead,” offering ugly details including, “They peed on her! That’s how you know she’s dead because someone pissed on her.” The death motif is so amusing to those involved that it leads to a litany of references to her being “deader than” everyone from Caylee Anthony to Trayvon Martin.

Trigger warning:

The video combined with other digital remains of the attack mined from Twitter and Instagram stirred public outrage at the accused perpetrators, at the bystanders who failed to intervene, and at adults — coaches, police, prosecutor, and parents — perceived as having been complicit in covering up the assault, preferring to sweep the violence under the rug to protect the football team and the young men on it. Protests sprouted around the courthouse and are expected to resume on Wednesday as the trial begins.

This video and other digital souvenirs of violence, such as the photos taken and circulated of Savannah Deitrich while she was sexually assaulted, may or may not have significant legal consequences. Yet their cultural legacy — the opportunity they have to undermine our most resilient rape myths — has the potential to be even weightier.

Read the rest of this article at WBUR’s Cognoscenti.

Men Throwing “Like a Girl”: Separating Nature from Nurture

Screenshot_5One of the few genuinely large observed differences between men and women involves throwing ability.  Men, on average, are much stronger throwers than women.  Hence the phrase “throws like a girl.”

That we observe a difference, however, tells us nothing about where that difference comes from.  Figuring that out is much more difficult than simply measuring difference and sameness.  We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it.  But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role.  How to test this?

Well, here’s one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand.  Muscle memory doesn’t transfer from one side of the body to the other.  Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.

I don’t know that that study has been done, but an enterprising videographer has captured video of a set of men throwing with the “wrong” hand. What I like most about the video is the men’s facial expressions.  You can see them laughing at themselves, suddenly reduced to a beginner thrower.  Though we still don’t know how much of it is biological and how much social — though, this is the wrong question anyway – it reveals that, no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice:

A big thanks to Reynaldo C. for sending in the video!

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.