racism

A group of women and men, members of the Washington Mystics, stand on a basketball court wearing white t-shirts that spell out the name Jacob Blake
Members of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot in the back seven times by an officer in Kenosha, WI. (photo from CNN)

Sport sociologists like Harry Edwards have long fought against the notion that sports and politics can be kept separate, battling back against assaults by people like Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, who in February 2018 told NBA star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” In the midst of the NBA and WNBA finals, and at a time of intense political polarization, basketball fans ought to be aware of the stakes that exist for Black athletes and listen to their voices. How else can you as a fan ethically focus on the games if many of your favorite players say that they themselves cannot? In this brief essay, we offer some considerations for basketball fans today, building upon the work of many sports sociologists who have come before us.

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A group of football players, predominately composed of Black men, march on the Clemson University campus. One holds a sign that reads "matter is the minimum." Two other men hold signs that read "I can't breathe."
Members of the Clemson University football team lead a “March for Change” protest in June 2020. (photo by John Bazemore, AP)

A TIME magazine article recently discussed college athletes realizing their power to create meaningful change. While college athletes as a collective have great power, it is Black athletes in particular who are leading this charge by placing emphasis on their racial identity. Recent atrocities, such as the unjust shooting of Jacob Blake, as well as the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, have placed increased attention on racism. Injustice has caused college athletes to speak out, when in the past, they have remained mostly silent.

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A male soccer player in a blue jersey kneels in a soccer stadium.
Mason Holgate of Everton kneels before a Premier League match against Liverpool on June 21, 2020. (Photo by Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images)

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in June 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol, England pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its pedestal, dragged it through the city’s streets and dumped it into the harbour. Colston, who some revered for his philanthropic donations to schools and hospitals, was a 17th century slave trader. He made his fortune through his involvement in the Royal African Company, a mercantile corporation that oversaw the forced removal, transportation and annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Black Africans. The dismantling of his statue – which had stood for 125 years – was an iconic event in the demonstrations across the United Kingdom, adding new momentum to campaigns to remove or replace public monuments, and to rename buildings that have racist, colonial connections.

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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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Following a season of protest and activism, Colin Kaepernick has been frequently passed over by teams in need of a quarterback.
Following a season of protest and activism, Colin Kaepernick has been frequently passed over by teams looking to sign a quarterback. (Photo by Gerry Melendez/ESPN)

With NFL training camps well underway, teams looking to sign a quarterback have passed over Colin Kaepernick time and time again. It appears he may be serving his ultimate punishment following a year of protest and activism. Amid those who defend NFL decision-makers as simply making choices for “football reasons,” there has also been a chorus of critics who see (black) players as responsible for his remaining on the sidelines.

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Parminder Singh (left) and Harnarayan Singh (right). Photo from The Toronto Star.

My PhD research explores South Asian experiences in ice hockey. Why, you ask?

  1. Because the South Asian community in Canada has become some of the most devout and enthusiastic hockey fans you will find on this planet.
  2. We don’t talk about race in Canada; therefore, there is very little literature about what it is like to be a “visible minority” playing in Canada’s game (a game that remains pretty white-dominated).
  3. Lastly, because the Punjabi broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada has become a significant development for hockey culture and Canadian media more broadly.

Two years ago, I conducted a study via Twitter to try and see how people made sense of Hockey Night in Punjabi. It was a term paper that eventually made it’s way into the Sociology of Sport Journal. This was well before the “Bonino Bonino Bonino” call went viral during the 2016 NHL playoffs and before the broadcast moved from CBC online to OMNI television. This post is compiled from excerpts from the article in an attempt to translate some of the material for a popular audience. Please keep in mind that a lot has changed with the broadcast and it’s online presence since the study was first conducted.

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