Sport organizations, along with media partners, build an audience by actively promoting fandom to particular groups of people. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of research I did several years ago on U.S. women’s professional soccer, I went to a lot of games. I still do. Since 2011, I’ve attended games in Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, New Orleans, and Birmingham.

In all of these locations, one thing has always stood out to me—how different the crowd is from that of many men’s sporting events. At professional women’s soccer games, girls fill the stands, accompanied by their parents. But not just any families are there—white girls and their parents predominate.

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“I feel good that I am playing part in changing our culture and showing girls anyone can cycle. I don’t care what people say. I am the one benefitting from this bicycle. The most important thing that anyone can do is stand up for him or herself.” – Ayan from World Bicycle Relief (Eldoret, Kenya, Dec. 2017)

“You cannot lie when you’re on your bicycle, it will always tell you the truth” – Fagodien Campher, BEC Owner – Bicycle Empowerment Network (Lavender Hill, South Africa, date unknown)

“We believe in the bicycle as a means of increasing access to vital health services, economic opportunity, educational empowerment and independence.”  – Bikes Without Borders (Toronto, ON)

“It is not a hyperbole to say that bicycles can change the world.” Mike Brcic, Board Chair of BWB

 

Photo: Bikes Without Borders

The narratives above provide a small glimpse into the values and experiences people place onto bicycles across the globe. These narratives encapsulate the bicycle as a tool for development that has the ability to address a range of social issues, including poverty, lack of transportation, gender inequality, health and education. In addition, various social actors – such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and corporations – praise the bicycle as a tool for reducing poverty, and supporting youth development and education within marginalized communities around the globe. As a Master’s student and a member of Dr. Lyndsay Hayhurst’s research team at York University in Toronto, Canada, these kinds of narratives enable research teams like ours to highlight and identify what is called the Bicycle for Development (BFD) movement.

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Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand either kissed or licked opposing players on multiple occasions during the 2017-18 NHL season. (Photo via Slidingsideways)

Some may have chuckled the first time Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand kissed an opponent on the cheek. This was during the 2017-18 National Hockey League (NHL) regular season, and the “recipient” was Toronto Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov.

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Josip Šimunić yells to the crowd following Croatia’s 2-0 victory over Iceland to qualify for the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup. (photo via Sanjin Strukic, Pixsell)

In November 2013, a capacity crowd of nearly 40,000 fans at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia celebrated one of the great moments for any team competing in international soccer: by defeating Iceland 2-0, the Croatian national team was among the last of 32 countries to qualify for the 2014 Men’s World Cup finals in Brazil. Amidst the ecstasy, someone made the fateful mistake of handing a microphone to Josip Šimunić.

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Members of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

As the furor over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem rekindles, the full power of the players themselves has not yet come into play. Presidential politics and U.S. culture wars combined to make the issue a dominant subplot of the 2017 NFL season. In late May, the league’s team owners reopened the debate by deciding to create a policy requiring players on the field during the playing of the national anthem to stand, under penalty of fines and on-field penalties, though players can also stay in the locker room.

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Amna Al Qubaisi, Emirati Formula 4 race car driver (Photo by Thomas Schorn)

Muslim sportswomen are too often read and represented as the oppressed “other” needing saving from their backward culture/society. However, my research on the digital lives of Muslim sportswomen reveals the multiple and nuanced ways they are taking matters of representation into their own hands, and in so doing, are challenging dominant portrayals of Muslim women in the mass media. Mainstream media coverage of Muslim women tends to focus on the hijabi athlete, while other Muslim sportswomen are often overlooked. The overrepresentation of the “oppressed” hijabi athlete obscures the multiple ways that Muslim women are participating in sport, as well as the cultural differences and diversity within this group. For example, the image below of a beach volleyball match between teams from Egypt and Germany, dubbed by some as the “clash of civilizations,” was circulated widely on social media. Many of the conversations and images centred around the hijabi athlete and rarely mentioned her Egyptian teammate who did not wear the hijab.

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Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman delivers her impact statement during the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who pled guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault. (Photo by Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP)

For most of January 2018, one of the worst sexual abuse scandals ever in sports dominated the news cycle, as former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, more than 100 sexual abuse victims testified about the predatory environment Nassar had created. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman delivered an awe-inspiring 13-minute testimony that received national praise. Raisman, who identified herself as a powerful voice and advocate for all victims of sexual abuse, embodied the persona of feminist advocate and champion for abuse victims. However, Raisman’s credibility as a feminist advocate has come into scrutiny in light of her decision to pose – for the second time – for the 2018 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This case raises several questions: Can Raisman still be considered a feminist advocate in light of her choice to pose for a sexist, white, heteronormative, and objectifying magazine feature? Where is the line between empowerment and objectification? As a rhetoric scholar, I am interested in how both Raisman’s traditional form of activism (public address) and her embodied rhetoric are compatible feminist discourses. My purpose is to explain Raisman’s multi-modal activism through the lens of feminist rhetorical criticism – highlighting the concept of “power feminism” – in order to complicate what feminist sports scholars and hosts of the Burn It All Down podcast call the “Sports Illustrated swimsuit conundrum.”

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The Nigerian women’s bobsled team, comprised of Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun, and Ngozi Onwumere, will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics Feb. 20-21. (Photo by Obi Grant)

A substantial body of research has demonstrated that media coverage of the Olympics often perpetuates nationalistic and ethnocentric ideas. While the Olympics are popularly touted for “bringing people together,” Olympic media coverage may also reinforce and naturalize problematic ideas about gender, race, nation and culture. With these concerns in mind, one storyline to be mindful of is the qualification of a women’s bobsled team from Nigeria, the first from the African continent to appear in the Olympics.

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Although it is often framed as a “global” event, the Winter Olympics is quite exclusive and Eurocentric. (Photo by Mike Crane Photography)

While a record number of countries and athletes are expected to participate in the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, the Winter edition of the Olympics remains an exclusive event. South Korea will be just the 12th country that has ever hosted the Winter Olympics, a quadrennial event that was inaugurated in France in 1924. Only a few countries have the geographic and economic conditions to host the event, which accounts for the fact that only 6 percent of the 206 recognized National Olympic Committees have ever done so. Further, a majority of countries still do not participate in the Winter Olympic Games. At the 2014 Sochi Games, 89 countries participated. This number increases to 92 in PyeongChang (plus the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” category), which still leaves 55 percent of countries out of the Games. According to the organizing committee website, 31 nations are participating with just one athlete (18 countries) or two athletes (13 countries). Seven of the eight participating African countries will send only one or two athletes to PyeongChang, while Nigeria has the largest African delegation with three athletes. For comparison, the United States of America is participating with 242 athletes.

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Cleveland Browns fans showing their disappointment with the team’s performance at the “Perfect Season” Parade. (Photo by John Kuntz, Cleveland.com)

In North American professional sports culture, parades are typically organized by cities and organizations after a major team accomplishment, such as winning a league championship. On Saturday, January 6, 2018, however, thousands of Cleveland Browns fans, in response to their team’s failure to register a win during the National Football League’s (NFL) 2017 regular season, congregated near FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio to “celebrate” the Browns’ “perfect season” record of 0-16. The fans braved frigid January temperatures, creating satirical floats, signs, and costumes to publicly mock team owner Jimmy Haslam—CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, a company embroiled in an FBI investigation concerning rebate fraud—and the team’s consistent lack of success in the NFL. Parade organizer Chris McNeill described the event as a protest expressed through “macabre-humor”: “I think we have every right,” McNeill said, “after this organization has given us nothing now for how many years.” The parade, thankfully, benefitted the local community in ways other than creative celebration, as event promoters raised over $17,000 and collected perishable food donations, all of which were subsequently donated to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

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