Monday, February 04, 2008

Let's talk about fat

We don't talk about fat a whole lot in sport, certainly in comparison to other topics. There are discussions about the connection--both real and imagined--between the obesity epidemic and sport/physical activity. It's an interesting silence, or near silence, given our belief that athletes are not fat despite the fact, for example, that over half of the players in the NFL qualify as obese--some of those morbidly so.
The issue of weight, though, is becoming much discussed in society in general--again mostly in the context of an obesity epidemic and the negative health consequences of being overweight. Scholars are engaged in fatness studies these days. And it seems appropriate that sport studies is engaging with the issue of weight and fat as well. Last year there was an interesting discussion in women's college basketball about players' weights which started to transcend that particualr sport as we talked about the issue of female athletes being weighed by coaches, disordered eating (not a new topic in women's sports), and the publication of players' weights in media guides, programs, etc. More and more teams have players who weigh more than 200 pounds. Courtney Paris of Oklahoma is one of them and she was featured in a NYT article last year about weight and the female athlete. No one is calling Paris out of shape and thinking of her as any less of an athlete because she is bigger.
The social norms surrounding fat certainly influence our views of athletes but it also seems like athletes--and the coaches that recruit them--are sending messages about what is fat, what is fit, and what makes a good athlete (I couldn't think of another appropriate f-word to complete the alliterative series).
The forthcoming (spring) issue of Sociology of Sport Journal takes up some of these issues in their special issue called Social Constructions of Fat. All of the articles look interesting. They address issues of fatness and morality, the pathologizing of fat, fatness in elite athletes, fat phobia, and special categories for fatness in sport. This last issue is addressed by Dr. Laura Chase, who has researched and written about the Clydesdale category in road races. I heard some of her work on this topic at NASSS a couple of years ago and I expect it will be a good piece, especially given that she won the Article Award for a previous SSJ piece this past year.

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