Monday, January 26, 2009

I wish I was in the classroom

Last year at this time I had just started teaching sport sociology. It's a fine class to teach. So many examples at one's fingertips to illustrate various points. Plus I think students really feel involved in the course when they can draw on their own experiences in sport and on what they see and hear as fans and consumers of a variety of sports.
Last spring was the Lebron James Vogue cover "incident" which was great discussion material even though my students accused me of "reading too much into it."
But I bet those who are teaching sport soc or sport in society are having a great time already.
First there is the ongoing "blowout" saga in a high school basketball game in Texas. I heard this story first on Sunday morning lying in bed listening to NPR. Didn't catch the beginning because, well I was lying in bed just waking up. So all I heard was something about a team that had not won in something like 4 years being blown away by another team and the winning team was being asked to forfeit the game for bad sportsmanship. Then there was a lot of commentary about the lessons of sports and if you really want that 1 in the win column to come from a forfeit, yada, yada, yada. Interesting, I thought, but I had my own sports to worry about that day and so forgot about it.
Then I saw further news that said it was a girls' basketball game and the score was 100-0. And then this morning on Mike and Mike in the Morning (I was looking for the Australian Open--I hate Mike and Mike) there was further news that the winning coach had been fired because he would not apologize and said his players played with integrity. The details have turned into a back and forth so it's difficult to say what really happened. And even if we could how one interrupts what really happened it always variable.
But there is very little talk about the gendered component of this whole thing. There's the Christian angle: Covenant School is a Christian school. Is it Christian-like to beat an opponent 100-0? But I think what people find upsetting is that girls did this--to other girls. Sure, we know that girls can be "catty" because we've seen Mean Girls and heard about the studies and the behaviors. But to beat an opponent--and to want to beat an opponent--by 100 points, you have to be pretty aggressive. I think Americans have some issues with girls being so aggressive. How much press would this story get if it had been boys? I am sure it would have gotten press. But would we have asked boys to forfeit a game? We might have questioned the sportsmanship but probably not the competitive drive.

And then I heard about another basketball incident (there's a video of the incident at this link) where a player from the University of Houston stepped on the face of an Arizona player after a foul had been called and play stopped. The player was ejected from the game but the comments keep on coming from fans who are calling from a suspension for the rest of the season or even a ban from NCAA play. And what people are talking about--or at least invoking--in this story is race. The player doing the stepping: black; the player stepped upon: white. The offender has been called a thug. Some say that if the races were reversed Jesse Jackson would on the scene already. Others remind us that white players have acted equally egregiously against black players with no repercussions.

And if you get through those two topics and still have time left in class (yeah, right!) you can always talk about parental involvement in sports and use as examples: tennis dads. Jelena Dokic is making a great career comeback at the Australian Open having, it seems, finally recovered from the craziness of her father. And then there's Walter Bartoli who is just plain odd. And the way he trains his daughter, Marion, is a little sketchy. Mary Carillo and Mary Jo Fernandez talked about Walter Bartoli's methods and the very hermit-like existence the two have and the implications--none too subtle--were that his tactics border on abuse. And there are plenty of other examples from the sport of near-abuse or actual abuse by parents.

So, in short, there's plenty of food for thought coming from the world of sports these days.

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