American football

The football programs at Baylor University and the University of Oklahoma made headlines in 2016 due to criminal behavior by team members. (Photo by Alonzo Adams/AP)

As we welcome another college football season, players, coaches, and fans are busy breaking down rosters, reviewing schedules and predicting which four teams will remain in the hunt for a national championship on New Year’s Day.

The arrival of a new season is an especially welcomed sight for the Big 12 Conference, with the 2016 season being such a forgettable one. Not only was the conference left out of the College Football Playoff, but two of their featured programs dealt with major issues and violations relating to the criminal behavior of their student-athletes. Baylor University fired head coach Art Briles and several high level university administrators in the wake of a sexual assault scandal involving numerous football players, and the University of Oklahoma had two players in Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook that garnered national attention for their off-field issues. A video of Mixon striking a woman in 2014 was released, and it was reported that Westbrook had twice been arrested on domestic violence charges.

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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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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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Advertisement for NFL Women’s Apparel. Photo from thenug.com

As NFL fans gear up for Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, some fans are apt to feel more included in the broadcast than others. Advertisers, as critics have long noted, tend to assume that American football fans are straight men. Many long-awaited and expensive Super Bowl ads tend to be, well, pretty sexist. While the most egregious examples of sexism in Super Bowl broadcasts and advertisements seem to be decreasing as the NFL tries to acknowledge the presence of women fans (at minimum as a new marketing demographic), many women continue to feel left out of the Super Bowl spectacle.

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High school senior Jamire Calvin announces his commitment to Oregon State University during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7, 2017.
High school senior Jamire Calvin announces a commitment to Oregon State University during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7, 2017. (Photo from USA TODAY Sports)

Each year, universities in the United States spend millions of dollars and college football coaches invest countless hours in an effort to lure top players to their schools. The recruiting process culminates with “National Signing Day,” on which high school seniors are officially able to sign National Letters of Intent that bind them to attend a particular university. As National Signing Day 2017 approaches this Wednesday (Feb. 1), millions of people will visit recruiting websites, such as rivals.com and scout.com, to follow who signs with which school. College football fans will alternately experience joy when a top prospect commits to their favorite team and devastation when a recruit goes elsewhere (this is often how I’ve felt as a fan, at least).

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