Basketball

A basketball sits on a basketball court while players warm up in the background.
When sleep is viewed as a performance-enhancing strategy, the work of being an athlete never stops. Recovery becomes a sphere of performance in which athletes are closely monitored and expected to excel. (photo via Sports Illustrated)

Issues related to athlete welfare are impossible to ignore as the National Basketball Association (NBA) leaves the “bubble” behind and begins the 2020-21 regular season on December 22. As play resumes, sleep and athlete recovery will be a major area of media attention and discussion within the league.

It is no secret that NBA players are routinely exposed to poor sleep, jetlag, and overtraining. Teams play 82 games in a 6-month period and travel an average of 40,000 miles a season. Commissioner Adam Silver called rest a “significant issue,” and Michelle Roberts, Executive Director of the NBA Players Association, predicts that sleep will be an issue in future collective bargaining. Just last week, the NBA updated its rest policy, specifying that teams may face fines of $100,000 if they decide to sit out healthy players in nationally-televised games.

Given this context, promoting sleep may seem like an easy way to safeguard players’ wellbeing. But the rise of a “sleep-friendly” NBA shows that fostering athlete welfare is more complex than it may first appear.

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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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Kevin Durant faced criticism for his lack of “loyalty” when he decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors prior to the 2016-17 NBA season. (Photo from NBA.com)

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
– Karl Marx, The Manifesto of the Communist Party

Last year, Reggie Miller criticized Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors in order to win a championship. While many others made similar critiques, I find that Miller reveals a broader issue in professional sports. Miller expresses this point through the article’s title, “Kevin Durant Traded a Sacred Legacy for Cheap Jewelry.” Framing his critique through the sacred (legacy) and the profane (cheap jewelry) reveals what I see as two inter-twined, mutually-dependent yet contradictory elements that structure professional sports.

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Donald Trump signing the Executive Order which has once again raised questions about the impact of migration in sport. Photo from Politifact.com

The migration of professional athletes has entered the news once more in recent weeks. In Chinese association football (soccer), quotas on the number of foreign athletes permitted on the pitch have been implemented to curb the boom in spending which has attracted players such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Asamoah Gyan and Graziano Pellè to the Chinese Super League. In further high profile news, freshly inaugurated President Donald Trump’s use of executive orders to restrict the movement of people from predominantly Muslim countries could affect the movement of athletes into the North American territory.

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