The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team celebrates after winning the 2017 National Championship. Photo From Nathan Klima/The Daily Tar Heel

Fireworks boomed from the Dean Dome two weeks ago, sparking a high-spirited time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Tar Heel fans had gathered around the home court and all along Franklin Street to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game. The celebrations following the Tar Heels’ victory have been a stark contrast from last year’s disappointing buzzer-beating loss.

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Portland Thorns FC led the NWSL in attendance during the 2016 season with an average of 16,945 fans per match. (Photo by Ray Terril)

The National Women’s Soccer League begins its fifth season this week with markers of success that eluded the two failed U.S. women’s professional soccer leagues that predated it. Perhaps first and foremost is the league’s longevity. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2012) folded after three seasons. With no sign of impending failure, the beginning of a fifth season for the NWSL bodes well for this league’s ability to break into the national sporting imagination. Currently, when I ask the undergraduates I teach to name a women’s pro sports league, they are only able to recall the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). This could change in the future, but only with a league that lasts long enough to build a national profile.

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RALEIGH, NC – MARCH 21: Chaz Williams #3, Trey Davis #12 and Maxie Esho #1 of the Massachusetts Minutemen sit on the bench in the second half while taking on the Tennessee Volunteers in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 21, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Over many years of watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments, one thing that I, and many others, have looked forward to is the video montage broadcast at the end of CBS’s coverage of the championship game, set to the song “One Shining Moment”. The montage celebrates not only great basketball, but also the range of male emotional expression in sport. Images of young men bursting with joy over a victory and crying in agony over defeat have long been a staple of this video memory of the tournament. Quite honestly, this video has often brought a tear to my eye as I connected to these young men’s emotions. However, it is not my reaction to the video that is notable, but rather the celebration of men’s emotions that is of interest.

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Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender boy, made national headlines when he won the Texas state wrestling title in the girls’ division. AP Photo

Several cases working their way through the legal system have placed a national spotlight on the issue of transgender access to bathrooms. While some states have taken steps to allow access based on gender identity, many are considering legislation that restricts bathroom use by the sex assigned at birth.

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On Sept. 5, 2016, the New York Mets signed former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow to a minor league contract. Photo from Sports Illustrated.

Five years since Tim Tebow and “Tebow Mania” flooded mainstream media, electoral politics, and religious discourse, the genuflecting born-again Christian is relevant in American sport culture once again. Though Tebow no longer throws fluttering passes in the NFL, the barrel-chested southpaw now crowds the plate at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida for the New York Mets in spring training. On September 5, 2016, the Mets signed Tebow to a minor league contract that included a $100,000 signing bonus.

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Stadium 2, Indian Wells. Photo by Courtney Szto.

*Cross posted on The Rabbit Hole*

I recently visited Palm Springs/Indian Wells, California to see the BNP Paribas Open. For non-tennis aficionados the BNP Paribas Open (more commonly referred to simply as Indian Wells) has been unofficially titled the “Fifth Grand Slam” (AKA major tournament) of the professional tennis circuit because of it’s prestige as a title, the fact that both the men’s and women’s tours play concurrently, and the amenities available to the players and fans.  In doing my trip planning I stumbled upon some of the tourist appropriate history of Palm Springs:

More than 2,000 years ago, Palm Springs’ first residents were the ancestors of today’s Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. One of the many Cahuilla bans, the Agua Caliente existed as peaceful hunters and gatherers, living off the land, and adapting to the extremes of desert summers and mountain winters…The Cahuilla tribe first encountered non-Indians in 1774, as Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition traveled through the area. In 1853, a government survey party mapped Palm Springs and its natural hot springs mineral pool – now the site of the Spa Resort Casino – and established the first wagon route through the San Gorgonio Pass.  The Cahuilla culture was decimated with the 1863 smallpox epidemic that killed thousands.

In 1877 as an incentive to complete a railroad to the Pacific, the U.S. government gave Southern Pacific Railroad title to the odd-numbered parcels of land for ten miles on either side of the tracks running through the Southern California desert around Palm Springs…

The even-numbered parcels of land were given to the Agua Caliente, yet federal law prohibited them from leasing or selling the land to derive income from it. (Visit Palm Springs)

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University of Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen, a native of Finland, was named to the top-20 list for the Wooden Award, which recognizes the best player in men’s college basketball. (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

The NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s National Basketball Tournaments tip off this week, bringing together players and spectators from around the world. Commonly known as “March Madness”, these annual tournaments have come to be seen as one of the biggest performance platforms for young basketball players from both the United States and, increasingly, across the planet. Generating more than $1 billion in advertising revenue alone, the NCAA basketball tournament has drawn more attention globally thanks to international broadcasting, digital technology, and the rise of international (non-U.S.) “student-athletes” at U.S. colleges and universities. In this article, I’ll discuss some noteworthy international players in this year’s tournament in light of the debate set off on college campuses nationwide by President Donald Trump’s policies surrounding immigration.

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Team USA’s starting 11 before a friendly match against Romania, November 2016
Team USA’s starting 11 before a friendly match against Romania, November 2016. Photo from YouTube.

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team will take the field on March 1 for the SheBelieves Cup. With no upcoming major international tournaments, these matches will be the team’s most publicized events of 2017. Though the team’s success has been rightly celebrated as an achievement for women in sports, there has been far less analysis about the racial and ethnic diversity of the players. Prior to the 2015 World Cup, several journalists noted the team’s overwhelming whiteness, but this discussion largely took a back seat to female empowerment narratives and Title IX salutes that followed their victory, celebratory parade, and subsequent time in the spotlight.

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In December 2016, a league-appointed spotter had Connor McDavid controversially removed from a game to be assessed for concussion symptoms. Photo from Yahoo Sports!

*Cross posted on Hockey in Society*

The media conversation surrounding sport’s ongoing “concussion crisis” took an interesting turn in early December 2016. In spite of the wide assortment of sophisticated technologies heralded as providing the next big breakthrough in protecting athletes from the effects of brain trauma, the debates around how to best diagnose a concussion revolved around a pair of human eyeballs.

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University of Minnesota football players stand behind senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky as he reads a statement about the team’s boycott to media members. (Photo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Sexual violence in college sport represents an important problem that coaches and administrators must address. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the government has conducted 365 investigations of colleges for possibly mishandling reports of sexual violence since 2011. A simple search in the Chronicle’s Title IX database using the terms “football” and “sexual assault” yields around 250 matches for currently open investigations and 49 matches for cases that have been resolved. Further, roughly half of the student athletes surveyed in a recent study admitted to committing coercive sexual behaviors. Scholars have been investigating the relationship between college football and sexual violence for a long time, and the problem has not gone unnoticed by journalists, critics, and higher education administrators.

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