Photo by Fighters Hub, Flickr CC

Sports fans and non-sports fans alike gathered in bars and family living rooms to watch the boxing match of the year between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor last month. In the weeks preceding the match, McGregor, who is white, received widespread criticism for taunting Mayweather with racial slurs such as, “Dance for me, boy” and boasting to black female fans that he is “half black from the bellybutton down.” His slurs fueled racial tensions, leading many fans to support either athlete based upon racial identity, despite Mayweather’s previous allegations of domestic violence. Social science allows us to address the complicated way that race, masculinity, and sexuality collide in sports culture.

Race and sexuality also influence male performances of masculinity within sports. Ben Carrington argues that male dominance in early organized sports relied on presumptions of white superiority and black male emasculation. Consequently, black men have traditionally used sport to assert masculinity, resist racism, and advocate for civil rights.
Gay male athletes often encounter a sports culture that thrives on homophobia. Athletes are expected to act like ‘real men,’ which not only involves physical aggression, but also a sexual desire for the opposite sex. While gay athletes may not always face verbal or physical harassment from coaches and team members, many feel pressure to remain silent about their sexuality. Teammates, spectators, and coaches often still use homophobic language to criticize heterosexual athletes. Interviews with several gay athletes, however, suggest that teammates and coaches are more accepting of gay identities in recent years.
Photo by Phil Roeder, Flickr CC

Many of us can recall at least a few teachers who influenced our career interests. At the same time, contentious relationships with educators may discourage class participation and extracurricular involvement. Social scientists of education provide important insight into how teachers and school administrators’ perceptions and disciplinary actions often stem from race, class, and gender stereotypes. They find that these early educational challenges may widen social inequalities later in life.

Several studies suggest that white teachers often view black students less favorably than their white students. These negative perceptions result in lower grades and student evaluation scores for minority youth. Non-white teachers, however, are less likely to hold more negative views towards minority students. But not all minority students are viewed less favorably. One study indicated that teachers’ perceptions regarding Hispanic students were similar to those of white students, while many teachers reported more favorable views of Asian students than white students.
Teachers’ perceptions also rely on cultural beliefs of female intellectual inferiority, especially in mathematical subjects. Minority boys and girls are overrepresented in lower level math courses and are more likely to obtain lower test scores than their white peers, which partially explains teacher differences in student perceptions. Yet, even when considering GPA and test scores, “high school math teachers are less likely to judge white females as being in a class that is too easy for them” (312). White boys are then perceived as the group to which all others – white girls, minority boys, and minority girls – are compared.
Negative views of students also affect school disciplinary actions. Though many schools espouse the idea of helping ‘at-risk’ youth, organizational policies and practices may actually push students out of school. Observations from one high school suggest that teachers construct images of “troublemakers” based not only upon the student’s behavior, but also their prior academic performance (e.g. grades, truancy record, status on the honor roll). Thus, administrators and teachers were less likely to view students who maintained higher academic performance but misbehaved as “troublemakers.” These images, however, vary across gender and race. Teachers and school administrators often punish Black girls more than white girls through referrals, suspension, and expulsion for exhibiting what they deem as loud, disruptive, and aggressive behavior. In other words, behavior that fails to conform to traditional norms of femininity.
Photo by Hamza Butt, Flickr CC

As students return to school, colleges and universities across the country are increasingly concerned about their role in preventing and disciplining sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently announced changes to the Obama administration’s guidelines for Title IX investigations of sexual harassment in higher education. DeVos drew criticism this past summer in hearings about Title IX for limiting the participation of student survivors and receiving testimony from advocates for accused students regarding harassment and assault. Others criticize campus investigations of sexual misconduct for a lack of transparency and due process. Social science research can help us understand the institutional and cultural forces that shape this serious problem.

The Institutional Story

Rather than focusing on sexual misconduct, U.S. law tends to categorize it as a kind of sex discrimination. The difference matters — it means that colleges, universities, and the Department of Education have taken a set of legal guidelines originally meant to fight sex discrimination in education and sport (Title IX) and use them as the basis for investigations of sexual misconduct. This improvised solution makes it easier to overlook the fact that sexual harassment happens when institutions provide power to harassers, not just when they explicitly discriminate.

The Cultural Story

Then again, the Board of Regents isn’t in the bedroom. Hookup culture on college campuses creates an environment in which sexual activity is separated from relationships. Some students, both men and women, find this empowering and liberating. The trouble is that others find it makes for emotionally confusing and unfulfilling sexual situations where violence and coercion can arise.
Photo by Elvert Barnes, Flickr CC

“They use their media to assassinate real news…all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism, and sexism, and xenophobia, and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding, until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.”

Last month, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch spoke these words in a new video campaign targeting progressive political protesters. The ad features black and white media footage of protest signs with the words “RESIST” and shows protesters looting, breaking windows, and starting fires in the street. Loesch and the NRA have since received widespread criticism for the advertisement’s seemingly pro-violence rhetoric, even evoking a video response from BlackLivesMatter. While the NRA maintains that the advertisement is not intended to encourage violence against progressive political protest, the black and white imagery depicting protesters as criminals is eerily reminiscent of political campaigns (e.g. the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s) that used political action as a call for criminalization and law and order.

In times of spiraling economic instability, political divisiveness, and social inequality — such as the Great Depression or the Civil Rights Movement, the result is often public unrest and widespread protest. In order to quell state criticisms, elite political actors on both sides of the political spectrum develop campaigns that heighten public anxiety of crime by conflating political dissent with criminal activity. President Nixon, for example, ran on a campaign of “law and order” and called himself part of the “silent majority” on this issue. Regardless of actual fluctuations in crime rates, the public often accepts these messages of criminalization and tough on crime policies. This law and order rhetoric then legitimizes police and military aggressive surveillance – and at times, physical confrontation – against protesters.
We can link the current tide of mass incarceration to these types of campaigns in the 1960s and ’70s. Though the Johnson administration is lauded for taking important legislative steps in welfare reform, Elizabeth Hinton’s recent work argues that the administration simultaneously developed legislation, like the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA), that expanded police control through federal funding and toughened criminal sanctions amid a time of sit-ins, boycotts, and marches by (young) black advocates against Jim Crow practices. The Johnson administration helped create the “War on Crime,” and their political rhetoric rested upon the notions of black urban pathology and individual (as opposed to structural) economic failure.
Photo by David Wilson, Flickr CC

While social scientists have long talked about globalization, a new concept called “glocalization” has emerged as a way to highlight the ways that global patterns are accepted and interpreted by localized populations. Sport sociologists have been among the leaders in developing this concept, and the International Champions Cup (ICC), a soccer tournament making its way around the United States, helps illustrate and explain why.

By combining local customs and traditions with global trends, communities engaged in globalization have control over how the global viewpoint is digested. And this combination of the outside world with the inside world has become a highly effective tool of capitalism — jumping on recognized trends while providing a local twist makes glocalizing of certain products more appealing.
When it comes to the ICC, we see American promoters and communities taking the world’s most popular sport and infusing it with traditional American sporting values. Club chants have been replaced by pop music that plays over the sound system like at many basketball and baseball games. Marching to the stadium with team banners and flags is replaced by exclusive fan party zones during tailgating. And players are elevated to celebrity status rather than community heroes.
Glocalization,  however, comes at the risk of loosing those who support what is already established. The ICC, for example, has created an artificial experience for hardcore fans  because of the domination of casual fans — known as “post fans” — as the main spectator group.  Post fans are casual supporters who have a certain expectation of what the event is supposed to entail, and often the experience they seek is very homogeneous with every other Western, middle class sporting experience.  With the event being catered to post fans, hardcore soccer fanatics are left with a watered down experience.  And within the context of the United States, Hispanics, Africans and other minority and immigrant groups are the primary soccer supporters. However, these groups are often at an economic disadvantage, which makes attending these games very difficult, further strengthening the post fan’s position in the glocalizing of the the global product of soccer.
Photo by Steven Guzzardi, Flickr CC

Another U.S. Independence Day came and went, along with cheers of ‘Murcia! and sentimental Facebook posts about American pride. But how do racial and ethnic minorities experience being “American” while systemic racial oppression continues to target people of color in the U.S.? A lot of the focus has been on the experiences of Black Americans, but social science shows that other racial minorities are similarly marginalized when they are excluded from whiteness.

For example, while stereotypes like the “model minority” myth seemingly valorize Asian American achievement, other stereotypes exclude them from the “American” label by depicting them as foreign. Moreover, Asian Americans are a pan-ethnic group – meaning there are many nationalities included under the umbrella term “Asian American.”  And darker-skinned, poorer Asians, like Cambodian refugees, are excluded from characterizations of excellence and success.
Even though many Arab Americans have lighter skin, enjoy middle class success, and identify as White, they are still “not quite White” because of the ways they are racialized. Negative stereotypes about Arab people as “backward” and “uncivilized” have resurfaced in recent years as the racialization of Arab and Muslim men as criminals and threats to national security became mainstream talking points in the War on Terror.
Institutions may also dismiss important differences among various Black ethnic groups. For Somalis who come to America, it is often the first time they are considered Black. However, their religion, language, and cultural identities may be more salient, differentiating them as “foreign” from Black Americans.
Photo by Jason Howie, Flickr CC

In recent months, Facebook faced intense scrutiny due to the streaming of violent acts on their live streaming service. Beyond the live sharing of violent crimes, the proliferation of social media has transformed criminal activity, ranging from the advent of cyberbullying to the widespread dissemination of terrorist propaganda and recruitment. And social science research also suggests that gang members are also employing social media. These gang affiliates, typically adolescents and young adults, use their online presence to promote their gang identity and gain notoriety, in a phenomenon often called “cyberbanging.”

Gang members use the internet at equal rates and in similar ways to their non-gang peers, but their online behavior serves an additional symbolic purpose: demonstrating a gang affiliation. A survey of 137 adolescent gang members found that 74% reported using the internet to show or gain respect for their gang. Therefore, the Internet does not appear to be a tool that gang members use to further the interests of their group by recruiting members or promoting activities; rather, the web is a space for existing members to demonstrate and solidify gang status by watching videos of gang fights or posting taunts against competing gangs. Gang members are increasingly aware that the police monitor their activity online, so they attempt to avoid posting anything publicly about specific criminal acts, which could threaten the gang as whole.
Like other groups, however, the social organization of gangs determines their behavior both offline and online. Gangs that have been around longer, have an established hierarchy, and have a set of rules and responsibilities are more likely to have a website and organize or post activities online, while newer gangs are more likely to use the internet as a recruitment tool. This pattern would be predicted by sociological research on organizations , which finds that the social context of a group’s founding shapes its future development. Preliminary evidence also suggests that gang members are engaging in more online criminal activity, such as pirating music or selling drugs, than non-gang or former gang members, but this online criminal activity is, as expected, more common among those with higher levels of computer skills. Despite these emergent trends, we still know very little about how gangs use the internet and what role social media plays in gang culture and crime. Gang researchers are therefore looking beyond “gangbanging” on the streets and into the “cyberbanging” on the web.
Cartogram of Total Disenfranchisement Rates by State, 2016. The Sentencing Project.

Amy Bach, a lawyer and criminal justice journalist, built a free public tool titled “Measures for Justice” that contains data on over 300 county court systems in 6 states. The nonprofit has received funding from the burgeoning activism of the tech community — Google gave Measures for Justice a grant for $1.5 million dollars and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative recently announced they would be awarding the nonprofit $6.5 million. Due to the fragmented nature of the criminal justice system, the Measures for Justice research team frequently had to travel to individual counties in order to request records.

Sociologists who study punishment have long recognized the importance of geography in structuring disadvantage, at multiple levels. For instance, there are tremendous differences between states in the scope and impact of felon voting restrictions. Florida, for instance, contains 27% of all disenfranchised felons in the United States—in large part due to its policy of disenfranchising people after they have completed their sentences.. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and Maine allow even prisoners to vote.  Another way that geography structures punishment is through children’s experiences of parental incarceration, which varies substantially by region. Moreover, the extent of racial disparity also varies regionally, with African American children experiencing the highest risks in all regions, and Latinos experiencing the most disadvantage in the West and Northeast.   
In a similar vein, even new forms of cybercrime are structured by geography. Sociologists have recently started to explore how these new types of crimes, such as cyber-victimization, are shaped by state-level characteristics.
These efforts could prove useful for scholars and for the public. For example, Measures for Justice developed a “Fair Process” indicator, which is closely tied to the social science concept of procedural justice — the idea that citizens will be more likely to comply with the law and requests of law enforcement if they perceive the system as fair. Recently, reforms and police training based on procedural justice have begun to be widely implemented.

Veronica Horowitz is a Ph.D Candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies punishment, mercy, and gender in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Photo by Wayne Silver, Flickr CC

Last month, a Texas law enforcement officer opened fire on a van of several Black teenage boys, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. His death reminded many of the cell phone footage showing a Los Angeles off-duty white officer dragging a 13-year-old Latino boy by the collar while pointing a gun, or the McKinney, TX officer who drew his gun on multiple Black youth at a pool party in 2015. During media coverage of Edwards’ death, the media emphasized his honor roll status and the fact that he was a “good student,” and thus not deserving of this treatment. This is not always the way mistreatment of minority youth is framed, however, and sociological research on youth victimization finds that minority youth are often excluded from the category of “true” or “ideal” victimhood, which ultimately works to legitimize their victimization.

Societal notions of childhood characterize children as innocent and pure in contrast to the deviant adult world. Society employs these images of innocence to address children’s vulnerability to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. However, when children’s behaviors contradict traditional notions of innocence and purity, adults tend to exclude them from the social and legal protection that childhood often affords. 
This inclusion and exclusion of some children from social and legal protection is highly racialized. Images of childhood innocence and victimization typically feature mainstream images of white girls and boys, leaving minority children excluded. Not only that, schools and law enforcement view Black and Latino boys as dangerous and often ignore or downplay their everyday experiences of violence.
Despite encountering high levels of street and interpersonal violence, Black and Latina girls’ victimization remains largely neglected in comparison to their white female peers. Minority girls living in high crime environments often feel pressure from adults to adhere to notions of being “good girls.” Yet, to survive such environments, many minority girls feel they must forgo traditional feminine roles and engage in physical confrontations with other girls and/or men. In doing so, they are criminalized, depicted as bad girls and “ghetto chicks,” and excluded from societal ideals of victimhood.
Photo by keith ellwood, Flickr CC

A stage play inspired by early boxing great Barbara Buttrick recently premiered in the United Kingdom. The play, title Mighty Atoms (after one of Buttrick’s nicknames, “The Mighty Atom of the Ring”), marks a departure in the history of women in boxing, away from condemnation towards acceptance, and has important implications for how we think about gender and women in sport.

Women participating in fights goes back to at least the 1700’s, in the form of Elizabeth Wilkinson, the “European Championess,” who competed in bare-knuckle boxing matches in the streets of London. Her combination of showmanship and fighting prowess made her popular in fighting circles. Still, for many, Wilkinson represented an awful kind of brutalism that lessened the value of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, in the United States, women boxers were seen as a side-show, forced to compete alongside snake charmers and trapeze artists in American carnivals.
Sport scholars have shown that these ideas are stereotypes about women in boxing continue today. While often used to marginalize or exclude women from the sport, they can also provide a source of identity and meaning for female fighters.
Finally, it is worth noting then even when women’s boxing was finally included in the 2012 Olympic Games in London–the site of this week’s theatrical premier–the addition was met with opposition.