sports

Sports: Who benefits?

Who benefits from sports? A lot folks, certainly. I’m sitting here watching a Milwaukee Bucks game as I write. I’m benefiting because I’m being entertained. The players are benefiting because they are being paid, and hopefully having fun. The coaches and team staff benefit because they get jobs, and the owner benefits because he (they are mostly men in pro sports) makes money. There are stadium staff from food service to custodial. Restaurant and bar owners in the area benefit from folks who gather to watch the games and buy food and drink. Fans may stay in hotels, so the hotel owners benefit too. The league and other retailers sell team merchandise. In short, there is a lot of economic benefit to go around.

What about amateur sports? Who benefits? If we are talking about NCAA sports, it’s very similar to the pros, except for the players aren’t being paid. But, they must love the game more, right? Otherwise, why play? Sure, there is the college education, but student-athlete is in many cases a misnomer. Especially for ‘big time’ college sports, the athletes are often playing as much for the chance to make money in the pros as they are to get an education.

What about folks who play in recreational leagues and pick up games? There, it seems that the economic benefits for others not involved in the play are much less direct. I’d guess they are still there as it’s not that uncommon to go from the game to dinner or a bar, and a few folks will probably stop and watch for a few minutes to see what’s going on in the park.

In recreational leagues the benefits accrue most completely to the participants themselves. What about as sports become more commodified? Do the athletes still benefit the most? It’s hard to argue that’s the case for ‘big time’ college sports. So many people are making so much money, and getting so much entertainment, while the student-athletes tend to be so focused on the sport that they often don’t have time to take full advantage of the academic scholarship, and the NCAA produces some funky numbers to inflate ‘graduation rates.’ Do the athletes get what they deserve given the work they do to produce the product? This Forbes article compares the market value of college athletes to professional athletes, and it doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m obviously asking more questions than I’m answering, but these are questions worth considering. Who gets the most from sports? Players, those who extract value from the game but don’t play it, fans? Who should get the most?

As I wrote the Bucks lost, so it wasn’t quite as fun as it could have been, and those guys still get paid!

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The locker room as sexualized space?

Today’s ‘Sports in America’ discussion was about 2 recent articles related to Michael Sam and the details of his pre-draft coming out, draft result, and experiences with the Rams and Cowboys afterward. Here are the two articles we read, both by Dave Zirin:

After the Press Conference: Michael Sam and “The Man Box

Michael Sam gets drafted and the NFL has issues

These were great conversation starters, but I couldn’t have predicted the way the conversation went. Early on one of the students asked if Michael Sam being openly gay would be a problem in the locker room, and if so, why? The class was in general agreement that while, morally, it shouldn’t be a problem, sociologically, it almost certainly would be. Why?

While our 50 minute conversation took many twists and turns, we spent a good bit of time talking about locker room norms and culture. The male students, most of whom are athletes now or have high school sports experience, told stories of ‘life in the locker-room.’ One said, basically, ‘in the locker room everyone is 12.’ I said, but why would homosexuality matter, in that case? It turns out that the locker room must be a very sexualized space. To hear my students tell it, the locker room is a place where straight men engage in a range of behavior, some of which mimic sex, and sexualized dancing. One student said it really was expected if you are to be part of the team. So, everyone should be sexual, but no one should take it too seriously. The fear (yes, it’s homophobia) is that a gay teammate might ‘take it too seriously.’

Obviously there is much here to explore, but I was surprised to learn that the locker room may in fact be a very sexualized place for male athletes. I shouldn’t have been surprised that performances of masculinity would be different in a locker room than elsewhere, as Tristan Bridges points out here. Bridges writes that locker rooms are “often presented as a cultural “safe space” for men—a space in which they can talk and act however they want without fear of reprisal.” I would have imagined hyper-heterosexuality, not ‘blurred lines’ between heterosexuality and homosexuality that would generate homophobia because ‘gay guys might not understand.’ The female student athletes seemed to know this, too, but said the female locker room isn’t the same. Nonetheless, there was discomfort at the thought of lesbian athletes in the women’s locker room. What explains it there?

Baseball and sociology: A little chatter

I’ve been a baseball fan longer than I’ve been a sociologist. I’ve got memories of playing as a kid (I threw a 3 inning no-hitter and then got taken out of the game!; I made a great catch once in t-ball; once I hit a bases clearing triple, etc.). My Glory Days came before I was 15, and they were only so glorious. My other childhood memories about baseball are about being a fan and learning about the game. I recall my dad teaching me to watch the catcher’s mitt to get a sense for how the pitcher was doing. I remember trips to Milwaukee County stadium to watch the Brewers in the American League. Occasionally we’d use box seat tickets my dad got from someone he knew through his work. Once in those seats I got a ball that an ump tossed into the stands between innings. Those are good memories, thus far unadulterated by analytical thought.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

Over the years colleagues who know about my enjoyment of baseball have suggested I turn my sociological eye to the game. There is certainly a lot one could wax sociological about, but I’ve resisted because I thought why turn something I enjoy so much into work? However, recently I have blogged a bit about sports and tweeted some sociological takes on changes in the MLB. In particular I’ve been sending some Weber inspired tweets about instant replay as rationalization. I’m not someone who values the ‘human element’ for sentimental reasons, but rather it’s that I just don’t understand how replay will significantly improve the game. I think the cost of chasing certainty will be some of the spontaneous emotionality of the game which is sometimes the result of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of a bad call.

Seeing some of these tweets, fellow sociologist and friend Todd Schoepflin asked if I’d answer some questions for an interview he’s put up on his blog. I was happy to, and it was fun. Here’s a link to Todd’s post.

 

I don’t like football like I used to

For all but the sentimental, football is America’s pastime. America’s brutal, product-peddling, time-sucking pastime. I used to like football much more than I do now, and I can list a number of reasons why I don’t enjoy the game as much as I did even a few years ago.

More than anything else, I simply can’t sit there for three hours watching a game. It’s not because I always use the time to do other, more productive things. It’s mostly because the typical football game seems to be a boredom inducing stretch of commercials, penalties and ‘instant-replay reviews.’ Nearly every exciting moment of a contemporary college or pro-football game is immediately followed by 2 minutes of wondering if the play will stand. Even if the play is allowed, the Weberian rationalization of the game kills so much of its potential spontaneous fun that you wonder why anybody cheers for anything until they’ve been told by the appropriate authority that it’s time to do so. Also, anyone who has watched even the slightest bit of a televised game knows that you spend more time enduring commercials than enjoying game play; the same beer and car commercials over and over again. A Wall Street Journal study showed that a typical game broadcast carries 11 minutes of action. This isn’t only a problem for those watching on television either, as anyone who has attended a game and stood in silence with 80,000 others waiting for the TV-timeout to end can tell you. The Durkheimian effervescence of shared experience is quite thoroughly dampened in these moments as you sit there noticing that you are cold and ready to go home.

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