For our book Doping in Elite Sports: Voices of French Sportspeople and Their Doctors, 1950-2010 (Routledge, 2018), Christophe Brissonneau interviewed 55 former dopers who competed in a variety of different Olympic sports. At the end of one interview, “Pascal” concluded with a story illustrating the life of an elite cyclist. As he told the story, his face lit up with an expansive smile. One morning during training, Pascal woke up as usual, except he could not move. He was paralyzed. He could not even get out of bed to call his father for help. The next day, Pascal’s father checked in on him and Pascal was still paralyzed in bed. Brissonneau asked what had happened. Through a peel of laughter, Pascal confessed that he had injected himself with a drug a friend gave him, but it turns out the drug was meant for snakes! After the interview, Brissonneau wrote in his research journal that Pascal’s story was extraordinary. Who in their right mind injects themselves with snake medicine they got surreptitiously from a friend and then laughs about almost dying from it?
In mass media and popular culture, sport is often presented as a level playing field where the most skilled and committed athletes rise to the top. The racial composition of American football is often presented as evidence of the supposed meritocracy of sport. While 13.2 percent of the U.S. population is black, 47.1 percent of NCAA Division I football players and 68.7 percent of National Football League (NFL) players are black. Thus, if black men are more commonly from poor and working-class backgrounds compared to white men, yet are overrepresented in football, one might conclude that factors such as race and social class play little to no role in player development and selection.
The recent spate of highly-publicized, mass mediated instances of sexual misconduct has brought attention to a culture in which men have been permitted to harass, humiliate, fondle, and even rape women – and men – with impunity. While the narrative surrounding this culture has been mostly bound to the entertainment, news media, and political industries, the recent firing of Gregg Zaun, television analyst for Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, shows that the sports media are also implicated in a system that turns a blind eye toward sexual misconduct.
College sports fans probably weren’t surprised to learn that the University of North Carolina (UNC) had been engaged in academic fraud for decades. In this particular instance, students, predominately varsity athletes, were enrolled in classes with few (if any) academic requirements. They almost always received high grades.
The UNC scandal is just one of many recent examples where universities have prioritized athletic prowess over academic integrity.
CrossFit, the popular group fitness regimen that members half-jokingly call a “cult,” is much more than the latest get-ripped-quick fad, according to a recent study my colleague Ted Butryn and I conducted out of San José State University. CrossFit’s massive growth from one gym in Northern California in the early 2000s to over 13,000 worldwide in 2017 has sparked fierce debate about the program’s safety and efficacy, and disrupted an industry that has for decades been built on selling the superficial aestheticism of bodybuilding and aerobics. Instead of wading into the ongoing debate about CrossFit’s methods, our study sought to understand the social significance of CrossFit in a moment when work is becoming increasingly sedentary and technologically dependent, especially in the Silicon Valley area where I spent five months as an ethnographer in two CrossFit gyms. Our results showed that CrossFit portends a deeper angst about the purpose of physical bodies in a world that is rapidly devaluing physical labor, particularly for a well-educated white-collar workforce.
On October 5, The New York Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced a partnership. While the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) has made several of these cross-league partnerships with the NHL in the last few years (Montreal Canadiennes – Montreal Canadians, Toronto Furies – Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Inferno – Calgary Flames), this is the first such partnership for a team in the NWHL. In recent years, there have been suggestions that the two women’s leagues need to build partnerships with the NHL and its affiliated teams in order to gain legitimacy and maintain a stable league. From that perspective, this partnership is a step in the right direction and, at face value, is a huge asset to the Riveters, because it provides them with increased marketing and promotional resources and reach, a state of the art facility, and support for local grassroots programming for girls and women’s hockey. Despite these benefits, there are also reasons to be concerned about the NHL being associated with and having a say in the development of professional women’s hockey.
David beating Goliath is very exciting – unless you’re a fan of Goliath.
The United States has 330 million people and a massive youth soccer system, yet its men’s national soccer team just got bushwhacked by a team from Trinidad and Tobago, a country with 1.3 million residents.
How could this happen?
As we enter the heart of another college football season in the U.S., millions of fans flock to stadiums and gather around televisions each Saturday. Sometimes forgotten in the hype and excitement that surrounds the sport is the fact that the players on the field not only are athletes, but also students who must devote a substantial portion of their time throughout the week to academics. As stated in the tagline of a memorable National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) branding campaign, “there are over 380,000 student-athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.” In football, only about 1.5% of college players will go on to the NFL. Given this reality, it’s important for college athletes to gain meaningful value from their education to help them succeed in careers beyond sport. In fact, the NCAA’s rhetoric often reinforces the idea that the academic experience is of first and foremost importance for college athletes.
To a legion of Harry Potter fans, quidditch is a magical sport involving flying wizards and witches, fierce competition, friendship, and fun. Following this spirit, a modified version of the game (minus magic) emerged at a U.S. college in 2005 and is now practiced in more than 25 countries on 6 continents. In its real-life version, quidditch is a 7v7 mixed contact sport with elements from rugby, dodgeball, and tag. True to its origins, it features terminology such as “bludgers” (dodgeballs), “quaffles” (deflated volleyballs), and “snitches” (humans draped in yellow clothing with a tennis ball hanging from a belt), along with the mandatory rule of running with a broom between one’s legs at all times (learn more about quidditch’s gameplay here).
Beth Mowins became only the second woman to serve as a play-by-play announcer for a regular season National Football League (NFL) game when she called the Monday Night Football (MNF) broadcast of the Chargers-Broncos game on Sept. 11, 2017. Mowins has called games for ESPN since 1994, and her repertoire spans college football, college basketball, and, for 23 years, the softball world series. As Chris Finn noted on boston.com, “[Mowins] confirmed again to little surprise that she’s a steady and often superb broadcasting pro, no pronoun qualifier necessary.” However, that Finn even needed the pronoun reference indicates why Mowins is significant for the proverbial hill she climbed to reach the MNF booth despite having the credentials to merit the opportunity years before.