It’s that time of year. So when our university media relations folks called, I agreed to do a little segment for the local Fox News Station (channel 9, in the Twin Cities market) on the madness of the NCAA’s annual college basketball tournament. Turned out, the TV team wanted to talk about its impacts on office productivity–not exactly something I’m an expert on. Luckily, I got a few leads from former Contexts graduate board student editor Wes Longhofer (who is now in the business school at Emory University) on research suggesting that while productivity does decline a bit, it is more than offset by increases in workplace morale. (See here, for one such study.) I’m not exactly sure about the methodology and all, but it was a starting point.

Anyway, I told the producer I could talk about the relationship between productivity and morale a bit, and then try to explain–from a sociological point of view, of course–both why morale may be more important than we often realize *and* why sport provides such a great context for building office culture and community. I also said I wanted to say a bit about the dangers and limitations of all this, especially who might be left out of this (think, gender and those who don’t like sports) and how and when things can get out of whack (think sports obsessiveness and excessive gambling). I even provided links to a couple of pieces on community and gender I’ve written that I thought would be useful for prepping and framing these points.

You’ll have to be the judge, but they seemed to buy into my framing (a victory in itself!) and I think it all went okay. One thing I considered mentioning–but didn’t–was the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s notion of “deep play” as described in his classic piece on cockfighting, betting, and kinship in Bali. With his ideas about how unusual popular cultural forms such as sport provide a perfect setting for the reproduction and reinforcement of social ties through rooting and betting, I think the piece provides a wonderful and revealing context for understanding March Madness. However, judging from the anchorwoman’s reaction to my brief description of the piece right after the cameras were turned out (I’m pretty sure she never got past cockfighting), it was probably the right call not to go there.



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