The Olympics, Broadway, and genomic biology, oh my! Sociology is everywhere these days, and we are here to report on it. We’ve got some great stuff for you this week, including a brand new Office Hours podcast with Dalton Conley, so be sure to stop by and stay up to date on all things sociological.
In other news, the TSP crew is heading to Seattle for the ASA meetings this weekend. Grad editor Evan Stewart will be live tweeting the panels and plenarys from the TSP Twitter, so for those who can’t make it and even those who can, you can follow us for updates and highlights.
Happy Friday everyone! We have some great stuff for you this week, including thoughts on Trump’s latest “joke,” how to better promote diversity on college campuses, and the success (or lack thereof) of social media campaigns. See below or stop by the site to catch up on the latest.
Hello again everyone! The TSP crew is gearing up for another year and looking forward to bringing you all the best in sociological writing and research during what it sure to be a roller coaster ride of an election year. Starting this week, we are resuming our weekly roundups to keep you up to date on what is going on around the site. We have a lot to share with you this week, including some pieces from a new issue of Contexts, thoughts from editor Doug Hartmann on the new era of athlete advocacy, and numerous angles on all things election.
“Promiscuous Papas,” by Caty Taborda-Whitt. A study of 37 countries reveals that the gender of a father’s firstborn child has a significant influence on that father’s likelihood of being sexually promiscuous later in life.
As Joel Best points out in his new Contexts piece, “Sociologists don’t just view the glass as half-empty, we mutter that it is probably leaking, too.” So, the new issue of Contexts asks sociologists to tell them some good news for a change. See below for a first look at what they came up with.
When even Michael Jordan—that erstwhile poster child of the transcendent, apolitical, super-star athlete—jumps into the fray, you know something is up. I am referring, of course, to the public announcement Jordan made Monday. Saying he could “no longer stay silent,” legendary #23 pledged to donate $1 million each to a charity for community-police relations and to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Jordan said, “We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers—who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all—are respected and supported.”Athletic advocacy can play an important role in bringing issues of social injustice to broader public visibility and debate.
As a scholar who’s done a good bit of work on sport and race and social unrest and social protest over the years—including a book on the 1968 African American athletic protest movement, the activism associated most famously with Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s iconic victory stand demonstration in Mexico City—I’ve been asked a lot of questions and invited to make a lot of presentations on athlete activism over the past year. So, as all of this has been unfolding, I’ve begun work on a paper situating the most recent activism and advocacy in the context of the protests of the Civil Rights era. Below, a few of the points I’m building the paper around:
AthleteAwareness. While public advocacy may be new, social awareness among athletes is not. Athletes, especially elite professional and Olympic athletes, have long been far more educated, intelligent, and aware than prevailing if outdated “dumb-jock” stereotypes allow. The problem, in my view, has not been lack of social awareness and understanding, but barriers to public expression. Anthony has referenced highly lucrative endorsement deals (sometimes offering more renumeration to players than their actual sporting endeavors do), but formal and informal league rules, organizational pressures, and norms about the public roles of athletes all also apply. If there is a new consciousness, in my view, it involves a revitalized understanding of the powerful platform that sports provides athletes who are so inclined to voice their opinions.
Context and Connections. Those athletes who have chosen to use their status as public figures to speak out on social issues are not just speaking off the cuff, nor are they isolated malcontents. These public expressions are deliberate and reflective, responding to social issues such as police brutality and profiling or hateful gender or sexuality policies outside of the world of sport, in concert with other public leaders, and more often than not in close communication with other activists and organizers. Perhaps the best and clearest example of this was at the University of Missouri last fall: football players launched their boycott after working with campus leaders on ways to show their support for student on a hunger strike in protest of racial conditions and treatment on campus.Those athletes who have chosen to use their status as public figures to speak out on social issues are not just speaking off the cuff, nor are they isolated malcontents. These public expressions are deliberate and reflective, made in concert with public leaders, activists, and organizers.
Black Athletes as Leaders. It almost goes without saying that African American athletes have been the most prominent and powerful figures in this emerging movement (I think all but one of the athletes profiled by the Star Tribune were persons of color)—except that in our perverse “colorblind” culture, we often dodge the opportunity to name race explicitly and talk about it openly. This conversation is important for far more reasons than I can discuss here; it speaks to the unique racial composition of the American sports world, the prominent role of African American athletes in our culture, the centrality of race and racism in American society, and the larger role of sport in the construction, reproduction, and contestation of existing racial hierarchies. At the most basic levels, though, we can consider how sport is both impacted by and a driving force in the larger racial unrest in contemporary America—including the recognition of persistent patterns of racial injustice, emergent movements of resistance and opposition (such as Black Lives Matter), and the countervailing, reactionary movements of containment, denial, and resentment. The role of white athletes will be interesting as today’s movements unfold. At the University of Missouri, white players and coaches supported black activists, and, in the WNBA, star Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen and head coach Cheryl Reeves, both white, lent their support to protesting players. Whether white athletics and athletic leaders continue to step up and assume responsibility remains to be seen. For what it is worth, I’m impressed though not at all surprised the female athletes–including a huge swath of the WBNA–have been such powerful public voices in recent weeks.
Will this advocacy and activism change anything?
The initial answer is not always encouraging. If my study of the 1968 Olympic protests taught me anything, it is that sport protests usually do not change anyone’s mind or political position. Though we tend to heroize Smith and Carlos these days (as we did with the recently deceased Muhammad Ali), the truth is that these athlete advocates were seen as villains and traitors by mainstream Americans in the 1960s. If anything, their actions inspired a good deal of backlash and resentment, probably hardening some lines of conflict and division. Some of that reaction is already unfolding now.
But this doesn’t mean that nothing at all came of athlete activism in the past or today. One of the things that athletic protests and demonstrations can accomplish is forcing Americans who are or were not otherwise interested in such issues to look up from their otherwise comfortable, apolitical lives and pay attention to the social issues around them. So athletic advocacy can, in fact, play an important role in bringing issues of social injustice—police bias and brutality, policies toward LGBTQ Americans—to broader public visibility and debate. I believe it’s already happening.
And all of the money and attention we lavish on athletes and athletics in this country does put athletes in a unique and, on occasion, powerful material position. Witness the events at the University of Missouri: here, we saw athlete activists and their allies using the power afforded to them by virtue of how the institution and the public rely upon them for their athletic performances to force concrete, organizational change. This was amazing, revealing, and essentially unprecedented.
One final point on social and cultural change. When harkening back to 1968, I constantly find myself remembering and trying to remind others that Smith and Carlos not only didn’t change many people’s minds about race problems and civil rights, they didn’t change American norms about the relationships between sport and social change. If fact, they and their allies (as well as their opponents) were caught within prevailing conceptions of sport as a somewhat special, sacred, or apolitical cultural space. To wit: while some saw athlete activists in the 1960s as heroes or villains, public opinion polls showed that most everybody agreed that sport wasn’t a place for politics or, by extension, protest. The two sides simply disagreed on what counted as protest and politics. Those who sided with Smith and Carlos saw them as standing up for what was good, right, and morally just—in the idealistic way that high-minded sport supporters have long celebrated sport; the majority who were against them saw them and their actions as disruptions outside the social status quo.While some saw athlete activists in the 1960s as heroes or villains, public opinion polls conducted showed that most everybody agreed that sport wasn’t a place for politics.
What is at stake here is not just whether we agree with the particular causes of athlete activists. What is also at stake is how we understand sport and athletes in society, especially when it comes to issues of racial justice and social change. Will the cultural stereotypes about athletes change? Can we begin to see sport as something more than an arena for entertainment and release, or some kind of apolitical sacred space? If social change is hard, sometimes cultural change is even harder—so on those questions, I remain cautious and curious.
Hello, everyone, and happy summer! Things have been heating up at TSP headquarters, and we’re back with a look at the latest in social science research. Our team is also gearing up for ASA 2016 next month, and we hope to see many of you there!
“The Point of Unicorns” by Neeraj Rajasekar. Remember that prehistoric “Siberian Unicorn” discovered earlier this year? While archeologists comb the fossil record, sociologists are unpacking all our other paranormal beliefs.
Hello and happy Friday everyone! We here at TSP HQ are wrapping up another great semester with research on binge drinking, collective mourning, and ex-felon employment. While we will remain hard at work bringing you all the best in sociological research over the summer, we are going to scale back our Roundups to once a month until September. So, you won’t hear from us again until June but be sure to keep stopping by to check out what we are up to in the interim!
Big things are happening at TSP this week! Our latest volume, Assigned: Life With Gender (edited by Lisa Wade!), is now available along with cutting edge work over on TROT and a new Office Hours podcast to enjoy!
“Why Pay Inequality is So Stubborn,” by Allison Nobles. “Unfortunately, while a small number of women moving into top positions may help those below, when large numbers of women enter traditionally male-dominated fields, the results are not so rosy. Why? Women’s work simply isn’t valued as highly as men’s.”
Hello, everyone, and happy NOT Tax Day! With a brief respite from the primary election news cycle this week, we at TSP have been rounding up research on everything from harm reduction to hookup culture. Enjoy!
After wrapping up a public talk Thursday night, I was delighted to see political scientist Larry Jacobs smiling down from the screen above. On-deck as the next speaker in the series, Professor Jacobs has taught me a great deal about public scholarship. He’s in the news these days for Fed Power: How Finance Wins (with Desmond King), but he’s written powerfully and well on numerous hot-button topics as health care reform (with Theda Skocpol), public deliberation, democratic responsiveness, and US foreign policy.
There are infinite ways to be a public scholar, but Larry Jacobs’ example is instructive. How did he become such a welcome and trusted voice? Well…
(1) He is active and effective in engaging local as well as national and international audiences.
(2) Although he clearly has political views, Larry takes pains to offer a fair-minded perspective.
(3) Similarly, as a center director and leader of our local Scholars Strategy Network chapter, he invites speakers who don’t always agree with him (or with our faculty, or University administration, or each other).
(4) He is a prolific and respected national academic expert in particular specialties, but he has also developed the command and authority to speak to a broad set of public concerns.
(5) After cataloging these attributes, it almost seems redundant to note his boundless energy and willingness to make himself available on short notice.
With regard to the latter point, his advice for me was something of a paradox. When I asked how I could improve in on-camera interviews, he just said, “slow down, don’t rush, and have a nice conversation.”
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