Combat sports, such as mixed martial arts (MMA), involve substantial risk of physical injury. (Photo by Gregg Rich Photo.)

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a combat sport that involves a combination of different fighting styles. As it has gained prominence in mainstream cultures, MMA has introduced the world to a variety of martial disciplines, such as wrestling (grappling), Muay Thai (striking), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (submission grappling). Given that the goal of an MMA competitor is to defeat an opponent, which can occur by way of a knockout or submission (e.g., “tapping out” due to pain or injury), the sport involves a substantial level of physical risk.  When a fighter inflicts visible damage on an opponent, it is categorized under what the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), one of the world’s biggest MMA organizations, calls “significant strikes.”

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Photo of Judith Kasiama, a woman of colour, with long black hair, wearing sunglasses and an orange jacket, against the backdrop of snow-filled mountains.
Figure 1: Judith Kasiama, an Adventure Ambassador with Mountain Equipment Co-op, has criticized the company for perpetuating the myth that only white people frequent the “outdoors.” (Photo from MEC)

In November 2018, Canadian outdoor recreation giant Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) sent ripples through the community of “outdoorsy” folks in Canada with a statement framed around the following provocative question: “Do White People Dominate the Outdoors?” The statement was a response to an Instagram callout from Judith Kasiama (see Figure 1), in which Kasiama pointed out “a narrative that [Black and Indigenous peoples and people of colour] don’t enjoy the outdoor[s] compare[d] to their white friends.” In its statement, MEC took responsibility for its role “in underrepresenting people of colour in the outdoors,” and promised “that moving forward, [MEC] will make sure [they’re] inspiring and representing the diverse community that already exists in the outdoors” (see Figures 2 & 3 below).

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A view of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park. The smooth blue water of a lake is seen in the foreground, while snow-capped mountain peaks are visible in the distance.
The formation of spaces like Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada occurred through the active removal of Indigenous people (photo via Wikipedia Commons)

Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, made a memorable campaign stop in Sudbury, Ontario. After paddling a canoe around a local lake, Trudeau emerged to make an announcement related to land and ocean conservation during the federal election campaign. Specifically, he outlined a Liberal Party promise to teach young Canadians to camp by Grade 8 and provide support for 75,000 lower-income families to spend time in provincial and national parks. This announcement points to the iconic place the “wilderness” and Canada’s park system play in the Canadian imaginary. In the following narratives, I draw on some of my own experiences with Canada’s park system to situate outdoor recreation in a broader and more troubling history rarely considered in Canadian mainstream media, classrooms, or politics.

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Student Athletes from the Sierra College Football team play in the pre-season football scrimmage at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. on August 20, 2016. A quarterback with the football attempts to break away from the grasp of a defensive player. The first game of the season will be at the Rocklin stadium on September 3rd against Fresno City College at 2:00 PM.
A substantial body of research has documented racial stacking–the tendency of athletes from certain racial groups to be disproportionately represented in particular positions and roles on a team (photo by davidmoore326, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Racial stacking – the tendency of certain racial groups to be overrepresented in particular positions on sports teams – is a longstanding issue in numerous sports, including college football. Even though the last of the segregated college football programs disappeared in the early 1970s, racial disparities still exist on the field today. Even someone observing American football for the first time might notice that white and black players tend to occupy different roles and positions on the field. To explore these issues, I conducted a study – recently published in Sociology of Sport Journal (unpaywalled version) – to provide a contemporary picture of if and how stacking persists in college football. I also looked beyond race and examined the social class origins of college football players at different schools and playing positions. Social class reflects economic forces that affect the development of talent, as well as athletic outcomes. I learned that race and class intersect in both high school and college to provide different playing opportunities and outcomes for black and while players.

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Former NFL player Ricky Williams on the sideline during a game
After retiring in the prime of his carrer after a third positive marijuana test, former NFL running back Ricky Williams explained that he had lost interest in fame and celebrity status. (photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary)

In August 2019, former National Football League (NFL) player Chris Long declared that he smoked marijuana and “is a good person”. Long is not the first professional athlete to discuss marijuana use, and his comments situate him in a conversation many former players are having about the benefits of marijuana compared to traditional pain killers. Long’s comments are also part of larger marijuana reform movements happening in places such as Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Uruguay, and the U.S. In the U.S., however, it is white marijuana users like Chris Long who tend to get the benefit of the doubt with respect to being a “good person”.

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While concerns about brain injuries in sport are not new, the current “concussion crisis” is unique in that it is a broader cultural crisis. (photo via Popular Science)

There is a concussion crisis in sport. In some ways, concern about brain injuries in sport is nothing new. Over a century ago, medical journals started campaigning against the dangers of sport, and there were specific attempts to ban U.S. college football in the early 1900s and abolish tackle football in the 1950s. But the current crisis is different in four key respects:

  1. It is a multisport injury crisis, spanning combat sports, various forms of football, hockey, and lacrosse to name but a few.
  2. The crisis is global in nature, with debates in North America paralleled in most other English-speaking nations and, increasingly, mainland Europe.
  3. The crisis extends beyond one type of injury—concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI)—and is now inseparable from concerns about second impact syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It even includes concerns about the influence of barely perceivable “sub-concussive” impacts.
  4. The crisis is distinct in terms of its penetration into the popular cultural imagination, notably through the book and documentary League of Denial and popular movie Concussion.

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lists indicating that the current landscape of sports podcasting is dominated by content focused on a narrow set of professional sports, produced and hosted almost exclusively by men, with little perspective through a critical lens.
The current landscape of sports podcasting is largely dominated by content focused on a narrow set of professional sports, produced and hosted almost exclusively by men. However, there has also been growth in sports podcasts that provide a more critical perspective. (photo via Resonate Recordings)

The field of podcasting has experienced rapid growth. Since its coinage in 2004, hundreds of millions have listened to podcasts—digital audio files available on the Internet, which are usually part of a themed series. As of 2019, over 64% of Americans were familiar with podcasts, a dramatic increase from 22% in 2006. In 2018, Google had indexed at least two million podcasts created around the world. According to Edison Research, over 700,000 active podcasts and more than 29 million podcast episodes were available on the Internet in 2019, rising from an estimated 550,000 active podcasts and 18.5 million episodes in 2018. In the United States alone, 51% of the population aged 12 and above have listened to podcasts. Internationally, a 2019 Reuters digital survey reported that 36% of international respondents recently listened to podcasts.

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An offseason trade has united sisters Nneka (left) and Chiney Ogwumike as teammates for the Los Angeles Sparks
A trade prior to the 2019 WNBA season has reunited sisters Nneka (left) and Chiney Ogwumike as teammates for the Los Angeles Sparks. (photo via Irfan Kahn / Los Angeles Times)

With the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) season underway, one storyline that made waves this offseason was the controversial trade of Chiney Ogwumike to the Los Angeles Sparks. The trade re-united Chiney with her sister, Nneka, in one of the biggest media markets in the United States. Through their success in sport, the sisters have built their social profiles in different ways, with Nneka finding more success on the court (WNBA MVP and champion in 2016) and Chiney in media working for ESPN.

As successful athletes and burgeoning media personalities, the Ogwumikes present themselves as figures of sociological interest, primarily because they exist at the intersection of an increasingly diverse Black America as second generation Nigerian immigrants.

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Members of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at the 2019 World Cup.
Members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team at the 2019 World Cup. The costs associated with youth sports in the U.S. create barriers for many young athletes who hope to reach the elite level. (Photo from U.S. Soccer)

The success of the United States (U.S.) Women’s National Team (WNT) has encouraged millions of young female soccer players. With television viewership records being shattered at the 2019 World Cup, these elite athletes may inspire today’s young players to pursue the next level of their game, with the hopes of earning a college scholarship, signing a professional contract, or maybe donning that coveted red, white and blue jersey. However, the opportunity to achieve those dreams remains beyond reach for many girls due to the expenses associated with youth sport.

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Fan with a sign that reads, "we hated Kaepernick before it was cool (fot football reasons, not because we're racists)"
Many fans who object to protests by NFL players during the US National Anthem insist their opposition has nothing to do with race (photo from Idaho Statesman)

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick continued a tradition in US sports by staging a protest against racial injustice during the playing of the US national anthem. Following his initial protest, Kaepernick said:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick’s comments were in reference to a series of deaths of unarmed Black American men, such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Reactions to Kaepernick’s protest were split. Within the NFL and beyond, many Black athletes, performers, fans, and even some coaches and officials joined in the protest against state violence in Black communities. At the same time, many others vociferously objected while claiming to not be racist. The image above illustrates the color-blind racism of the objectors; an anti-black statement of on-going hatred (“We hated Kaepernick before…”) is modified by a racially neutral phrase (“For football reasons”). The denial of racism when protesting an anti-racist protest obscures the ongoing operation of racism as a multifaceted construct that disproportionality targets Black Americans. Moreover, it prevents understanding of the US’s failure to provide equal protections for all citizens when state violence and poverty disproportionately affects Black communities.

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