social media

A man on a skateboard performs a trick on a cement wall. A cellular phone on a tripod is pictured in the foregroud.
While professional skateboarders may seem to have a “cool” job, their employment is often precarious. Skaters rely heavily on social media to build a personal “brand” and secure the sponsorship of companies in the skateboard industry (skateboarder Andras Alexander pictured; photo by Dane Haman).

Tracing its origins back to 1960s California, skateboarding represents both a popular “lifestyle sport,” and an irreverent subculture that exists in a space between mainstream notoriety and obscurity. Highlighting its progression into the “mainstream,” the International Olympic Committee included skateboarding events for the first time in the delayed 2020 Summer Games. Today, people of all class backgrounds, age ranges, genders, and racial identities enjoy rolling around and performing tricks, such as kickflips, 5-0 grinds, and melon grabs, on nearly any architectural feature that is accessible, including sidewalks, streets, stairs, concrete ledges, rooftops, warehouses, and parking lots.

Further demonstrating the growth of skateboarding, a $2 billion industry supports the lifestyle sport, producing apparel, equipment, and media. Skateboard companies from Alien Workshop to Zero Skateboards sponsor talented riders at the professional and amateur level. Acting as ambassadors for their brands, these riders comprise a promotional “team.” They wear clothing emblazoned with logos, appear in advertisements, try to gain exposure, and compile clips for skate videos. In many cases, skateboard companies release videos of their riders performing impressive tricks as a form of advertising. Existing alongside these actors is an ecosystem of legacy and digital media that likewise promotes companies and their riders, such as the physical Thrasher Magazine, and the Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts of The Berrics, which have millions of followers. Foregrounding the money and business behind skateboarding is important, because it allows us to see pro skaters as workers who perform athletic labor; as I explain below, part of their job is to promote and brand themselves on social-media platforms. Upon further investigation, we find that these alternative athletes face precarious employment, as well as an industry that discourages discussion about their working conditions.

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2017-2018 Humboldt Broncos. Photo from The Globe and Mail.

On April 6, 2018, a bus associated with the Humboldt Broncos Junior Hockey Team crashed in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, killing 16 people. The national and international response was astounding, including a $15 million GoFundMe campaign (the largest ever in Canada) along with another $1.5 million donated directly to the team over just 12 days. Between consistent features in sport media outlets, shout outs from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, a Tim Horton’s donut controversy, and a large participatory movement of “putting your sticks out for the boys,” the tragedy was seemingly omnipresent.

Among the social media buzz, Québec-based writer and activist Nora Loreto commented in a twitter thread that the “maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are, of course, playing a significant role” in this uptake. Public response to her comments was swift and included over 5000 replies to her tweet, death threats, an attempted boycott, and multiple editorials. While not all of the reactions were negative, the public response to Loreto’s critique – which was almost as prompt and passionate as the philanthropy toward the players and families – offers us the opportunity to think through the ways in which power and politics play out in the Twittersphere and digital spaces more broadly. The attack on Loreto provided interesting points through which we can critically unpack ideas of nationalism, rurality, and the hockey community in the context of Canadian sport.

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Members of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

As the furor over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem rekindles, the full power of the players themselves has not yet come into play. Presidential politics and U.S. culture wars combined to make the issue a dominant subplot of the 2017 NFL season. In late May, the league’s team owners reopened the debate by deciding to create a policy requiring players on the field during the playing of the national anthem to stand, under penalty of fines and on-field penalties, though players can also stay in the locker room.

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Amna Al Qubaisi, Emirati Formula 4 race car driver (Photo by Thomas Schorn)

Muslim sportswomen are too often read and represented as the oppressed “other” needing saving from their backward culture/society. However, my research on the digital lives of Muslim sportswomen reveals the multiple and nuanced ways they are taking matters of representation into their own hands, and in so doing, are challenging dominant portrayals of Muslim women in the mass media. Mainstream media coverage of Muslim women tends to focus on the hijabi athlete, while other Muslim sportswomen are often overlooked. The overrepresentation of the “oppressed” hijabi athlete obscures the multiple ways that Muslim women are participating in sport, as well as the cultural differences and diversity within this group. For example, the image below of a beach volleyball match between teams from Egypt and Germany, dubbed by some as the “clash of civilizations,” was circulated widely on social media. Many of the conversations and images centred around the hijabi athlete and rarely mentioned her Egyptian teammate who did not wear the hijab.

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