By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.
[By Porcielcrosa [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.]
Although soccer (or ‘football’ as it is known in most places globally) still lags behind the four ‘major’ sports of American football, basketball, baseball and hockey as a speactator sports, it does have a sizeable and growing following in the US. A recent interdisciplinary conference
at Hofstra University explored the importance and meaning of soccer in society – beyond (but including) economics and market shares – and made the argument that soccer (and sports more generally) should be treated as a serious topic of academic study, a phenomenon worthy of our attention and a lens through which society can be understood. One sociologically relevant topic is that of fans, violence, politics and identity in soccer.
By mariselise derivative work: Steffaville [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The NBA has its first openly gay player in Jason Collins, and the NFL will follow soon, as former college player Michael Sam is expected to join a team this summer. This might indicate that we are seeing a radical shift in society’s stereotypes about gay men. At the same time, it remains to be seen, as Dave Zirin asks at The Nation
whether gay male athletes like Sam can help shift our definitions of masculinity more broadly or whether they might paradoxically reinforce gender norms and notions of hyper-masculinity at the same time.
This month the 22nd Winter Olympic Games began in Sochi, Russia. The spectacle of the event has captivated persons from around the world to tune into watch their favorite sport or favorite athletes. Russia spent over $50 billion to prepare for the Olympics by building hotels, roads, stadiums, and to bring in artificial snow into the Southern resort town. The Sochi Olympics are the first mega-sporting event to occur this year, but will likely be trumped by the upcoming World Cup in Brazil over the summer. Brazil’s price tag for hosting the World Cup is considerable less at around $9 billion dollars. Nonetheless, the cost of both of these events and the emphasis by the respective countries to show the world the capabilities of their nation reveal the increasing globalization of these world sporting events. The Olympics and the World Cup are two global sports spectacles that have considerable cultural and economic ramifications, and are a product of intense politicking to bring the events to one’s national home.
“Fans against Homophobia” display in the stadium of German soccer club Mainz 05, celebrating the 5 year anniversary of their LG(BT?)-fan club. [Source: http://www.meenzelmaenner.de/resources/_wsb_500x276_Choreo5.jpg]
In 2013, NBA player Jason Collins made headlines when he became the first active openly gay male* athlete in one of the major 4 men’s team sports in the US. A similar story made headlines this winter in Germany, when recently retired soccer player Thomas Hitzlsperger – who formerly played in the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and English Premier League as well as for the German national team – came out as gay in an interview with the newspaper Die Zeit
, becoming the first openly gay male soccer player in Germany. Similar to Collins, Hitzlsperger tied his outing to the political project of starting a discussion about homophobia and notions of masculinity in soccer. And paralleling Collins’ story, Hitzlsperger’s outing raises the question of whether we will witness a transformation of the gender politics in big-time German professional sports.
By A. Smith [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Football season is upon us, and there are plenty of reasons why this moment in big time football is very intriguing from a sociological perspective. More specifically, most of the major offseason storylines of both professional and collegiate football tell us much about the racial politics in big time football and the negotiations of race and sports in the media.
Update: Johnny Manziel makes the cover of Time Magazine.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Earlier this year, many retired football players and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The complaint states that the NFL hid evidence of the dangers of the game, dangers like brain damage from repeat concussions and sub-concussive trauma. New research indicates that the repetitive beatings that football players experience over the course of their career causes irreparable damage to their brains, leading to cognitive, emotional, and functional problems similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Several players committed suicide after repeat concussions left them with depression and mood swings, and many others continue to suffer memory loss, cognitive impairment, and balance problems.
By Rachael Liberman
As the controversy surrounding 18-year-old Caster Semenya’s gender (note the incorrect usage of “gender” as opposed to “sex”) verification test continues to raise questions about racism and sexism, issues of humiliation and trauma have surfaced as well. London’s The Guardian quoted Leonard Chuene, head of Athletics South Africa, as saying, “If gender tests have to take place, they should have been done quietly. It is a taboo subject. How can a girl live with this stigma? By going public on these tests, the IAFF (International Association of Athletics Foundation) has let down this young child, and I will fight tooth and nail to protect her.” While organizations like the African National Congress and Athletics South Africa continue to speak out against the test, which takes weeks to process, Samenya’s voice has been noticeably absent from news coverage.
This makes sense when one considers her private, yet public situation. Semenya became under suspicion when she drastically improved her 800 meter time from 2 minutes and 8 seconds at the IAFF world junior championships in Poland last July to 1 minute and 55.45 seconds last week in Berlin – transforming her unknown status to senior world champion. That being said, the speculation regarding her “gender” (not sex) began before she won this latest race in Berlin. (more…)