On March 6, 2023, video game company Electronic Arts (EA) announced the introduction of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) to their FIFA franchise. This inclusion, just like with the WNBA in EA’s NBA Live franchise, was initially celebrated as a step forward to gender equality in sport and the video game industry. However, this celebration faced pushback from many athletes about the (un)likeness of their digitized counterparts and how the game rates certain athletes’ performances. Subsequently, athletes’ public outcry drew pushback on social media, with some users urging NWSL athletes to stop making this a gender issue, arguing that it is just a technical problem because men, too, have been misrepresented in video games. In this article, we provide a different perspective on the misrepresentation of female athletes. Instead of saying “yes, the misrepresentation is about gender inequality,” or “no, it is merely a technical issue,” we want to argue, “yes, the misrepresentation may be due to technological limitations, but how these athletes are misrepresented can be a gender issue that hinders the good intention of advocating for equality.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR) is a reality television show where drag queens—performers, who are typically but not always men, that dress up as glamourous and often overstated women—contend for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” and a $100,000 cash prize. In each episode, the queens compete in challenges that involve activities such as acting, sewing, dancing, comedy, and singing. The two queens who do the worst in the challenge that week compete in a lip-sync “smackdown” to a song chosen by RuPaul—the creator, co-producer and main judge of the show, who also is a drag queen—with the loser being eliminated from the show. The competition continues like this weekly until only four contestants remain, at which point they participate in a final challenge for the crown. The popularity of RPDR is evidenced by the fact it has spawned a variety of spin-offs in multiple countries.
For many people across the U.S., the summer of 2020 felt as if racial tension reached a fever pitch. The murder of George Floyd was met with anger, outrage, and a great deal of political banter among elected officials. Following the summer of 2020, there was a wave of discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the sporting/corporate world, along with a related “resurgence” of attention to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), with a particular focus on athletics. But please don’t call it a comeback, ‘cause HBCUs have been here for years. It is only now that the national sports media has shone a spotlight on decades of systemic financial and racial inequalities that have led to top Black students and athletes being lured away from HBCUs to predominantly white institutions (PWIs).
Sex segregated sport is increasingly untenable. As sports authorities and politicians enact flawed attempts to regulate who can and cannot participate in women’s and girls’ sports, the shaky foundations of the current system reveal themselves. Yet gender-integrated sports are perceived as unthinkable to many because they confront taken for granted beliefs about women’s inferiority to men. Sport is the only remaining institutional realm where sex segregation is permissible and, as such, it maintains and reproduces gender inequality. More than any other institution, sport showcases the cultural system of binary sex difference and makes it appear natural. Even people who, on all other fronts, believe in women’s equality to men, find themselves compelled by the argument that men are athletically superior to women. Gender expansive athletes, including trans, non-binary, and intersex athletes, threaten our social, economic, and political systems with disarray.
The increasing public recognition of direct links between sports, social issues, and politics poses a challenging question: what should we watch? If we watched the 2022 Beijing Olympics despite concerns about IOC policy and China’s human rights record and repressive surveillance, does that make us bad people? If we watch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite concerns about FIFA motives along with the rights of migrant workers and LGBTQ people, does that make us complicit?
Nneka Ogwumike, President of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, released a statement on August 8 asking for a resolution to the league’s ongoing travel issues. The seven-time league All-Star wrote the statement at 4 a.m. in an airport terminal.
Following a 79-76 win over the Washington Mystics the previous evening, Ogwumike and her teammates had arrived at the airport, learning at 1 a.m. that their flight back home had been rescheduled to 9 a.m. the next morning. Local hotels had limited capacity and could only accommodate about half of the team, leaving the other half stranded at the airport.
You’re probably thinking, “Duh! Of course bikes are good for the environment, we all know this!” But let’s take a minute to make an important distinction between cycling and bikes. The activity of cycling as a mode of transportation has been proven time and again to be beneficial for the environment; however, bikes are commodities made possible by the extractive industries, and they end up in the landfill alongside our diapers, toasters, and other trash. While sport sociologists who conduct environmental research have done an excellent job of highlighting the environmental cost of hosting mega-events, creating golf courses, and operating ski resorts, very few academics have asked questions about the environmental impact of our sporting goods. In fact, in 2009, in an article published in the journal Sports Technology, Subic and colleagues wrote, “The disposal of composite products in an environmentally-friendly way is one of the most daunting challenges facing the sports goods industry.” Thirteen years later, we have barely begun to scratch the surface of this issue.
In 2022, Atlantic University Sport (AUS), a conference within Canadian university sport (U SPORTS), witnessed a significant number of its men’s hockey players sign professional contracts as a result of the uncertainty in their sport caused by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Deliberations about U SPORTS as a viable pathway to professional men’s hockey are not new; however, the number of athletes entering that pipeline increased significantly throughout the pandemic. In contrast, there was little to no public discussion of women having or pursuing the same opportunities. In this article, we discuss these issues by drawing on the first author’s research on AUS hockey athlete experiences of the pandemic and the second author’s personal experience as a former U SPORTS athlete who also competed internationally.
It can be argued that no sport is more identified with Canada than hockey, which makes it an interesting mirror through which to examine how race is defined and constructed. And yet, for a nation that prides itself as a “cultural mosaic,” there is little to suggest that hockey players reflect that self-image. Look no further than the overwhelmingly white National Hockey League. With the excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs still fresh on our minds, it is worth reflecting on the question, “why are there so few racialized players in the NHL?”
For the first time since tennis player Renee Richards in the 1970s, transgender (trans) women athletes, including Lia Thomas and Laurel Hubbard, received major media coverage in 2021. However, these athletes weren’t spotlighted because of their athletic abilities per se, but because they became political targets caught in the crosshairs of arguments about fairness and competitive advantage in sport.