Black Boys Playing Ball: Race and Masculinity in American Basketball

Since its invention in the late 19th century, basketball has become one of the most popular sports in the world today. It is one of the most widely known and watched televised sports especially in the United States where many of the country’s most famous players are African American, and have been for decades. As of 2011, the entire NBA league was composed of over ¾ African American players (“NBA Racial,” 2011). This phenomenon is interesting to analyze because it stems from a society where African Americans have been historically oppressed by segregation, racism, and a lack of equal rights. Meanwhile, basketball has served as a path through which black male sports icons have gained worldwide fame. Although basketball can help many African Americans promote their masculinity, gain social recognition, and establish the sense of belonging in American society, media serves as a double –edged sword that helps African Americans promote their achievements and meanwhile constructs racism and stereotypes that are harmful for African American community.

Despite its racially segregated origins, the sport of basketball has become synonymous with African American masculine identity in today’s popular culture. Like many other sports in America, the sport of basketball was racially segregated at one point in its history. The “separate but equal” policy and segregation between white and black leagues served as a perpetuation of the United States’ history of legalized discrimination. Even today, according to one study by Kahn and Sherer, “black NBA players earn significantly less than white players by about 20%. In addition, ceteris paribus, home attendance is a positive function of white representation on the team” (Kahn, and Sherer 59). Even though a handful of famous basketball players are predominately African American, they are overall paid much less than white players in the United States. In addition, professional basketball games can be expensive to buy tickets for and attend, and home attendance can often be dominated by a white audience or audience of a certain income.

Moreover, American advertising also perpetuates basketball’s role as a positive outlet for African American masculinity, in a world where key black male athletes are idolized for their bodies and physical prowess. Athletic prowess is valued very highly in American culture, in part because success in sports reflects American identity. Furthermore, athletic prowess and strong physicality represents strength, masculinity, high level of muscle control and reflex, and in many ways the ideal male body type. As Brooks and Blackman point out, many companies pervasively hire athletes to “endorse their products and services” for this reason, and masculinity in sports is often “represented by athleticism, hard work and sweat, normative ideas of attractiveness, and fit bodies” (Brooks, and Blackman 441). One such example of this body idolization is a 2007 Nike advertising campaign that uses basketball player LeBron James as its central figure. The ad is minimal and consists of only a solid black background with LeBron’s image, from his chest up, displayed wearing his Cleveland jersey with his arms spread out wide. At the top of the advertisement is a short excerpt of text that boldly reads: “We are all witnesses.” These elements, while seemingly simple and minimalistic, are a dramatic representation of the American sports culture that influences this advertising. It focuses on LeBron’s physicality and muscular body, specifically his chest and arms, which speaks to the perceived value of athletic prowess. This kind of image-building technique in advertising can be misleading, especially because LeBron James is not recognized with any awards or achievements and has not actually won any NBA championships. But LeBron’s status as a high-profile African American male in basketball, backed by excellent advertising and representation, ensures that he can build his image in the basketball world and hone a reputation that his reality has yet to live up to. The advertisement’s replication online, in print and especially on large billboards instills a larger-than-life, almost godlike reverence in the viewer for LeBron. This kind of reverence is often given to the most successful athletes in our country, and also underscores how the world’s most famous basketball players are perceived as more than human, and how the common man should bow down to and be grateful to witness then. The simplicity and effectiveness of this advertising campaign, put forth by a major corporation such as Nike, is testament to the idea of idolization of these African American basketball player figures.

Moreover, basketball, perhaps, can help African Americans gain recognition and the sense of belonging in American society. It can easily be said that the development and evolution of the game ultimately grew in tandem with elements of the American civil rights movement: “It concerns the emerging link between basketball and blackness, both in terms of cultural style and political import” (Goudsouzian 61). Basketball gained popularity and quickly became an integral part of black culture in the United States. That fact, coupled with figures of black success who were especially proficient in the sport, allowed basketball to evolve into a cultural entity that linked athleticism, black identity, American cultural identity and overlap, and on the surface seemed to indicate changing attitudes towards segregation and racism. For many, basketball became a symbol of African American men who gained success and fame in their country from their prowess in the sport in a society that was otherwise highly oppressive. The sport of basketball “intersects with the achievements of the civil rights movement, the impulses toward racial brotherhood, and African American self-pride… manhood and character” (Goudsouzian 61). To this end, basketball did become a beacon of hope for many people in the black community, because it was read as a positive representation of what a black man could achieve and be recognized for in this country. It also allowed young male athletes to be recruited after the civil rights movement created new legalized opportunities for them. Coupled with the national pride that can be found in the popularity of many sports, there was an additional layer of racial pride that grew from the increasing number of black men in the gradually more popular sport of basketball, a phenomenon that helped the black community feel that they were able to belong and contribute to sports-related nationalism.

While many African Americans deem that basketball as a social tool that helps them gain recognition and achieve upward social mobility due to their achievements in basketball, racism still exists and can be perceived throughout the history of basketball, well into modern cultural attitudes regarding the sport. Although a large percentage of American basketball players are African American, the owners of many of the American professional basketball teams are predominately white or at least not people from minority races. While the highest-paid players of the NBA are also predominately African American, their high salaries can be attributed to ability, popularity, representation and marketability among other factors. Generally speaking, the average black player in the NBA is even today still paid less than the average white player. Anthony Kwame Harrison points out that this is not an uncommon phenomenon; even as far back as 1979, “sociologist Harry Edwards…explained that the high visibility of Black athletes in a handful of popular sports had obscured” the racism present in popular sports and leisure activities (Harrison 315). This “racial specialty” Harrison talks about in sports dictates which sports it is “socially acceptable” for African Americans to participate in, and basketball is one of them. When the basketball league is predominated by African Americans, it does not mean the disappearance of racism and the achievement of racial equality. In fact, it is another form of racism by associating one particular ethnic group with a particular career. In effect, it is possibly leading to a new form of stereotype.

Idolizing African American basketball players may potentially be harmful for African American community. Some argue that basketball offers attainable goals for young black boys who want to use their athletic talents to become like their famous black basketball player role models. There is a defined historical relationship between the black community and the sport of basketball, dating back to before the civil rights movement when the teams were still segregated, and this history makes it that much more likely for African Americans to socially accept the sport as part of their history and identity. However, scholars like Michael Messner would argue that the media portrayal of sports icons isn’t always a positive, role model-like representation. “The sports pages are peppered with stories of the latest athlete’s DUI, drug test failure, arrest for possession of illegal firearms, assault, rape, or domestic partner violence. These stories hold the potential to disrupt the ideological association of male athletes as glorified icons of hegemonic masculinity” (Messner 117). The hegemony—or dominating presence—of the sports icons’ masculinity therefore becomes threatened in American media. In addition, the desire to become a basketball player could potentially replace the desire in young African American men to otherwise go to college, start a business, or pursue another kind of career.

Moreover, sometimes the media treatment is not always consistent or fair towards African American basketball players. With basketball players such as Magic Johnson, the media has fixated on their indiscretions such as contracting HIV by choosing to focus on certain aspects of their behavior. “Studies of media treatment of big-name male athletes who have contracted HIV have been especially useful in illuminating the intersections of gender with race and sexual orientation. For instance, McKay…reflected critically on the ways that the media responded to basketball star Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s revelation that he was HIV-positive by projecting Johnson’s sexual promiscuity on to ‘wanton women.’ Dworkin and Wachs’s…comparison of mass media treatment of three stories of HIV-positive male athletes showed the ways that social class, race, and sexual orientation came in to play in the media’s very different framings of these three stories” (Messner 118). According to Messner, the media responded to Magic Johnson’s HIV-positive diagnosis by implying or playing up the fact that he was sleeping with “wanton women” and being very sexually promiscuous. He implies that there is a difference in Magic Johnson’s treatment in the media because he is African American, and coverage would have been different if he was another race.  There have been historically racist images and stereotypes of African American men present in our culture that portray them as deviant, sexually promiscuous, and at their worst, even rapists. One example of this in the sport of football is OJ Simpson, a black football player accused of murder whose infamous trial and acquittal in 1994 served as a racially divisive issue between blacks and whites in America. The studies of sports journalism’s response to Magic Johnson contracting HIV, as well as OJ Simpson’s trial, demonstrate that there is a racial difference in how Magic Johnson was portrayed at the time, because experts believe that is not how a white basketball player would be treated in the media.

In conclusion, the historical oppression of African Americans along with the civil rights movement make the high status of African American males in the sport of basketball that much more important to watch. Basketball has served a function on the African American community, acting as a rallying point for masculinity, teamwork, cultural identity and pride. Even so, there is historical segregation and racism even today, with a discrepancy between wages and a lack of black representation among team owners. Furthermore, advertising idolizes and exploits the black male body as a peak of physical fitness and strength, to the point where it is almost fetishized as a kind of godlike ideal. Though some may argue that the iconoclastic status of black basketball players is good, black men in sports can also have an inconsistent portrayal in the media, where they are often demonized as substance abusers, sexual deviants, or violent partners in domestic disputes.

Works Cited

Brooks, Scott N., and Dexter Blackman. “African Americans and the History of Sport—New

Perspectives.” Journal of African American History. 96.4 (2011): 441-465. Print.

Goudsouzian, Aram. “Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution.” American Studies. 47.3/4

(2006): 61-85. Print.

Harrison, Anthony Kwame. “Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of

Whiteness.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues. 37.4 (2013): 315-339. Print.

Kahn, Lawrence M., and Peter D. Sherer. “Racial Differences in Professional Basketball Players’

Compensation.” Journal of Labor Economics. 6.1 (1988): 40-61. Print.

Messner, Michael. “Reflections on Communication and Sport: On Men and Masculinities.”

Communication & Sport. 1.1/2 (2012): 113-124. Print.

“Study: 2011 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card.” SlamOnline.com. June 16, 2011.

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Lets Get Emotional

Emotions play a key role in one’s everyday life. lt is through emotions that one may act out anger and frustration, but also out of love and joy. It is through emotions that one may become motivated to interact in a sport such as running. Running is ultimately seen as an universal sport that basically if a person is an abled body one can take to the street and run. With today’s technology and innovations in medicine not only is the able body able to run, but also this allows a disable body such as a person with asthma as well as the cyborgs, and supercrips to participate in this sports. One develops emotional and physical ties to a sport whether they are participating in the sport or the bystander watching their favorite sports team play. As athletes and people in society, cyborgs, and supercrips act upon one’s emotions to consume technology, and consume both prescription and illegal drugs.
It is through the act of emotions that one often strives to be the best. This desire to be the best may induce the temptation of drug intake to uphold to societal norms . In Drugs For Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health, Joseph Dumit discusses how society as a whole consumes pills and medication not because one is ill, but to prevent the illness from occurring. Dummit discusses that the action of consuming prescription drugs is due to the fact that one continues to strive to be what is considered a “healthy” and abled body within society. Dummit states, “To be normal. therefore, is to be insecure…Health is America today is defined by this double insecurity: never being sure enough about the future-always being at risk- and never knowing enough about what you could and should be doing.” (pg 1) With the constant need to conform to societal needs and uphold the norm one may turn to some type of medication or drugs. One may consume drugs in order to fit this hegemonic ideology of what a body should look like. Caster Semenya was an olympic track runner for the country of South Africa and fell victim to hegemonic ideologies. Rather being acknowledged for her athleticism and her achievement in running, such as having a championship title for mid distance running; Semenya was ostracized for her body. Caster Semenya’s body was not the hegemonic ideology for a female body nor the balanced body due to her “manly” physique. Due to constant back lash on her physique Semenya felt the need to change her body by consuming the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is the hormone that is produced and is found abundant in a womans body. A woman may take these pills much like Semenya to chemically enhance one’s body to become the ideal “woman”. Ultimately, it was due to Semenyas insecurity to be normal and gain the balanced body lead to her downfall in talent and in the sport of running. Rather than being known for her sheer talent she was constantly being criticized by the male gaze and producing insecurity in her physical appearance rather than her athletic ability.
Not all drugs necessarily connote to something negative or hard such as cocaine, but can also be an aid for ones body to participate in a sport such as running. For instance, in order for a person who lives with the of disease asthma one must consume medication as well as technology to participate in any physical activity. An asthmatic may aesthetically be seen as an abled body due to the fact that there are no visible prosthetics or aids, but still are cyborgs who are trying to be seen as normal in societal terms. In order to participate in the physical aspects of running an asthmatic needs to take certain medications such as an inhaler to prevent an asthma attack from occurring. It is hard to say what a healthy and able body is based upon the fact that society still does not know what it means to be healthy due to industrialization and technology that humans are so heavily dependent on. This constant debate of what is an abled body or what is the correct body for a human will make a person such as an asthmatic feel as if one does not have a healthy or normal body. For instance, my friend and colleague Aisha Mckee expresses the emotional impact that running has had on her life due to her diagnosis with chronic asthma. Mckee states, “I have chronic asthma as well and have been battling with it all my life.I love running too, but could never do it as well as others around me because of my asthma.My chest felt tight and I would always be breathing hard like an elderly women. Right now I am participating in a fit challenge and I run every single day trying to prove that I am able and that I’m not disabled.” Mckee’s emotional drive and connection with running and her illness coincide due to this feeling of being disabled. As an asthmatic athlete myself I push myself to run since I do feel ostracized from society not physically, but physiologically. To be diagnosed to have a disability is a title that is plastered on one’s forehead and is made to make one feel weak and vulnerable. It is the drive and motivation to go against the norm of the disabled body to reclaim the term cyborg to make it a norm in society. It is through the feeling of hope that runners like myself feel that an athlete with a disability is a norm rather than an emotional battle. It is through the want to be considered as an equal to the balanced body that motivates one to turn to the use of medication to become an abled body.
In ‘I Can’t Cry and Run at the Same Time”: Women’s Use of Distance Running,”, Gail Leedy discusses the how women use running as physical and emotional outlet. It is through the testimony of five women who discuss how they used running to escape the negative emotions that were impacted in these women’s lives. Running is able to give a person clarity amongst a number of issues that may disable one from simple actions. Leedy explains that these women gained a sense of self and confidence when running. It was as if they were leaving these everyday ideologies such as the male gaze and were able to be empowered as women to be what they claim to be healthy rather than the societal conception of health which is insecurity. Leedy claims, “My interest in the relationship between participating in regular self-motivated physical activity and coping with social and emotional stress came from my own experiences of using distance running to deal with a stressful transition in my life.” This use to escape the everyday hegemony of the male gaze as well as the eurocentric view of what a person can and cannot do is now tearing down barriers. A sport such as running is able to give one a sense of emotional, physical and psychological clarity, which goes against what one is taught in society specifically for women. Much like in professional sports women are often eroticize and not seen for the strong and talented women that they are, but are seen solely for their female attributes.These female stigmas such as being a mother, a feminine physique, and beauty. These women have gained a sense of empowerment through this physical activity, but most importantly go against this ideology of femininity.
Moreover, technology also enables not only disabled bodies to become cyborgs, but as well as abled bodied humans. In “Body Like a Rocket: Performing Technologies of Naturalization” Sarah Rebolloso McCullough discusses how technology such as the Speedo’s LZR Racer Swimsuit allows able bodies such as olympians to become cyborgs. It is through these technologies that one is able to raise the abled body to a new level of superiority. McCullough states, “Joel Dinerstein argues is centred in the “self-control, self-mastery, and perfectibility” of the body aided by technological intervention (20).” McCullough discusses that there is a new strive to become a better and more efficient human being. It is through the emotion of drive and motivation that social darwinism lives in all sports. The need for the human race to push new extremes and go beyond what the human body is able to do without aid is nearly impossible without the use of technology. It is also through the need to create a new frontier through body that society pushes for a new excellence. Through innovation and technology, society as a whole is able to create a new imperialism towards excellence. This not only stimulates the emotional aspect of one’s drive, but also challenges the norm in society. Thus, ultimately playing a key role on one’s emotion to become the best.
Hence, it is through emotion of sport that one is able to express one’s self, but also a way to conform to the hegemonic view of humans within society. Running is able to invoke multiple emotions that can influence the way many view one’s self in both in a negative as well positive manner. One is able to see how an emotion will motivate one to go against the societal norms to become happy as well as try to be accepted and equal to ones abled body peers. Technology and innovation has allowed people to strive to new extremes and imperialise the human mind and body.

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Women’s Ultimate : Ideals of the Gendered Body from Different Perspectives

The game of Ultimate Frisbee originated in the late 1960’s counterculture and was created by a high school student named Joel Silverman from New Jersey. He and other interested students created a high school league, and then took the game to college with them – beginning the development of collegiate Ultimate Frisbee tournaments. During that time period the game was predominately played by white middle to upper class males, as this was the demographic that made up most of the college sphere at that time. Ultimate’s origins as a sport dominated by males continues to have a legacy in the sport in terms of dominant ideologies of women’s bodies and feminine practices that people outside of the culture tend to embrace. Hegemonic society has generally seen women in sports as masculine bodies that perform masculine characteristics, and college Ultimate is no exception. Women within the sport, however, do not see themselves as the masculine subjects they are portrayed to be. Therefore one’s position within the culture of Ultimate directly relates to their perspectives on gender and the construction of the body in college Ultimate Frisbee.

Outsiders or spectators of the sport generally view women in college Ultimate as masculine females. The first thing that an outsider of the sport would notice is the attire that these women wear. Women Ultimate players generally wear long basketball shorts that reach the knee, either a hat or a headband, and sometimes crew socks that reach the calf. This attire is generally associated in hegemonic society with that of what males wear to work out in, while females are expected to wear short shorts and tight fitted shirts that accentuate their curves. This expectation is linked to the idea of the male gaze. This male gaze is the objectification of the bodies, particularly female bodies, and makes it an item of consumption. According to Laura Mulvey, the male gaze “projects its (f)antasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly” (Mulvey, 1975). Women who wear clothing that subvert from ideologies that result from the male gaze are thus seen as masculine. Combining the attire with the aggressiveness and competitiveness (masculine traits) that women Ultimate players generally posses, causes these women to be seen as masculine. The aggressiveness and competitiveness can be seen through women diving or “laying out” for the disc. Andrew Thornton suggests that “women who ‘lay out’ transgress essentialised gender discourses of biology and nature, and men who do it are considered exemplars of athletic prowess” (Thornton 184). “Laying out” in Ultimate is seen as a normal occurrence for men but is seen as extraordinary for women, thus suggesting that this act masculinizes a woman. These notions of masculinity assigned to women Ultimate players are constructed through hegemonic ideals of gender in society. These ideals are apparent in the perspectives of outsiders of the sport in how they view these women as portraying masculinity and subverting feminism ideals.

I was once an outsider of the sport and I was subject to the same ideas and judgments of women Ultimate players. I saw women’s Ultimate as a sport that was manly because of the attire and personalities that women Ultimate players portrayed on the field. I placed ignorant judgment on women of this sport, which does not make any sense since I come from a sport that is also highly masculinezed by hegemonic society (softball). My experience as an outsider displays the influence that hegemonic ideals of femininity has on people, even on women who have experience in playing a sport that is also masculinized by mainstream culture. It is important to note that women’s sports in general are seen as deviations from femininity. As Toni Bruce notes, “[women’s] activities are filtered through a male gaze that struggles to reconcile discourses of sport and discourses of femininity” (Bruce 133). This filter that Bruce mentions links the notion that women’s participation in sports generally comes with what is seen as deviation from femininity. It is not just Ultimate Frisbee, but its lack of popularity in mainstream culture makes this sport more unknown and therefore easier for outsiders of the sport to pass judgments on.

Men who play Ultimate see women’s Ultimate as inferior to men’s Ultimate and display this through their discursive criticism of women’s Ultimate. This has to do with historical sport-related policies, according to Patricia Vertinsky, because these policies “have codified historical myths about female physical inferiority, fostering a system which, while offering women more opportunities than ever before, has kept them from being perceived as equal athletes to men” (Vertinsky 26). This view of women being less capable then men in athletics is portrayed in a study and analysis that Hamish Crocket completed. He observed a men’s Ultimate team for a year and discusses the discursive construction of masculinity by the denigration of women Ultimate players. He says that the men that he analyzed believed that “being male was seen as a prerequisite for [good Ultimate] skills” (Crocket 324). These men repeatedly used terms to refer to bad playing as feminine traits and traits that women Ultimate players possess. This shows that men in Ultimate view women’s Ultimate as lesser to men’s Ultimate. Their criticisms to each other that compares them to women players is suppose to motivate them to not “play down” to the level of women. It is hard for women to overcome these beliefs because according to Bruce, “discourses of sport and masculinity combine to form an articulation” that is “extremely hard to disrupt” (Bruce 129). Discourses about the inferiority of women that have been apparent in hegemonic society for hundreds of years remain an influence of the idea of women’s inferiority today as seen in the discourses of men Ultimate players.

In my experience with playing with men Ultimate players in mixed pick up games, I have heard them make remarks that regard women as inferior in the sport. When the people on my team would be talking before the pull (the beginning throw that begins a point) about a play we wanted to construct, the guys would joke that the girls can “sit this one out” and basically get out of the way so that we “don’t screw up our chances of getting the point.” Although these remarks were suppose to be a joke to get a reaction out of us girls so that we would argue with the guys, there is generally some truth to a joke that can reflect the teller’s beliefs. The men would exclude the girls in strategic plays to “enhance” their chances of scoring. Even when women would be included in a play, it was simply because the guys believed that the other team would not see it coming. They would also jokingly remark that the girls were “too fragile” as they held up one of the girl’s thin arms as a display of fragility compared to their much larger arms. These jokes reflect some truth to the men players’ beliefs about women inferiority to the sport and women’s bodies as not being adequate enough to be successful in Ultimate.

Women who play college Ultimate do not have the same perceptions of femininity and their bodies as outsiders of the sport or men’s Ultimate players have of them. Joanna Winn Nevelle suggests that college women Ultimate players “manipulate and negotiate ‘masculine’ identity practices, making them their own and thereby creating a distinct space” (Nevelle 6). Women in college Ultimate do not necessarily see themselves as masculine beings. That stereotype is appropriated to women Ultimate players by other people. Women’s Ultimate is comprised of competitive play that displays the athletic drive of these women. Competitiveness is a masculine characteristic, but performing competitiveness does not make one masculine. Playing Ultimate requires taking on what are constructed as masculine characteristics (competitiveness and aggressiveness), however performing these characteristics do not make women Ultimate players feel manly and they still see themselves as feminine beings. These traits have been associated with men because of our nation’s history as a patriarchal society in which these positive traits were associated with men as guides to success or dominance in the workplace – not reflective of what a man is, but maybe what hegemonic society expects men to be. These hegemonic traits that our patriarchal society expects women to stray away from can be explained by Messner’s description of soft essentialism as the idea that women have tendencies that men “naturally” have (i.e. competing in intense and aggressive sports), while also having to reassure their femininity (Messner 161). Hegemonic society wants women to reassure their femininity in sports, but women in Ultimate do not feel the need to because they do not feel as masculine as other people see them to be.

As an Ultimate player myself, I personally do not feel hyper-masculine as I believed I would feel when I was an outsider of the sport. Ultimate is not a highly masculine sport to begin with, in comparison to sports like football and wrestling. There are many types of bodies that I have noticed in this sport, and women Ultimate players tend to not care about what other people think of their own bodies. When a team has to change the color of their jerseys for a game, I have yet to come across a woman who was reluctant to take her shirt of in front of people. Everyone that I have come across, with varying body types, yanks their shirts off in public while changing into their other jersey without appearing to look as if they are self-conscious. Displaying “feminine” bodies that are on the slimmer side is not a priority of a women’s Ultimate player. The priority is playing the game to her best ability, and not thinking about the perceptions that others might have of her.

There are dominant ideologies that were created by our patriarchal society that have been prevalent for hundreds of years that allow outsiders to view women in this sport as masculine and men Ultimate players to see women players as inferior to themselves. The women in this sport, however, have constructed their own identity and ideas of masculinity and body image but people that are not women Ultimate players see differently. Discourses of masculinity are apparent in most if not all female sports and have deemed female athletes as masculine figures in the mainstream media. However, it is dependent on one’s position relative to the sport that shapes their perspectives and perceptions of gender binary, as well as what degree of importance body image has in relation to hegemonic body ideals.

Works Cited
Bruce, T. “Reflections on Communication and Sport: On Women and Femininities.” Communication and Sport 1.1-2 (2013): 125-37. Print.

Crocket, H. “‘This Is Men’s Ultimate’: (Re)creating Multiple Masculinities in
Elite Open Ultimate Frisbee.” International Review for the Sociology of
Sport 48.3 (2013): 318-33. Print.

Messner, M. (2011). Gender ideologies, youth sports, and the production of soft essentialism. Sociology of Sport Journal, 28, 151–170.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 4 (1975): 6-18.
Neville, Joanna W. OUT OF BOUNDS: COLLEGE WOMEN’S ULTIMATE FRISBEE AND THE PRACTICE OF GENDERED IDENTITIES. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Thornton, Andrew. 2004. “‘Anyone Can Play This Game’: Ultimate Frisbee,
Identity and Difference.” Pp. 175-196 in Understanding Lifestyle Sports:
Consumption Identity and Difference, edited by Belinda Wheaton. London:
Routledge.

Vertinsky, Patricia. “‘Skierinas’ in the Olympics: Gender Justice and Gender Politics at the Local, National, and International Level over the Challenge of Women’s Ski Jumping” Olympika 2009, 25-56.

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Media Frames in Track and Field

When one thinks of the sport Track and Field, names such as Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, and Mo Farah may come to mind.  Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world in the 100m and 200m race is probably the most recognized name because of his domination on the track, and because of all the world records he has broken as well.  Allyson Felix also dominates in these sprint races, while Mo Farah is an incredible distance runner.  All of these athletes have more in common than their amazing talent in their event(s), and numerous champion titles.  They are also colored athletes.  In contemporary Track and Field, it seems that, although colored runners like Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, and Mo Farah are indeed talented athletes and deserve recognition, media representations of athletes of other races are lesser.  Caucasian track athletes, for example, hardly receive recognition for their impressive and winning performances in their event.  Caucasian Jesse Williams, and World Champion high jumper, is never seen in commercials or documentaries, while there is a plethora of media attention surrounding Bolt, Felix, Farah, and other track athletes of color.  In fact, there is barely coverage of William’s event at all, while there is an intense anticipation around coverage surrounding the events with colored athletes in them.  (Disclaimer: I have no problem necessarily in all the attention being on athletes of color, it is simply something I have noticed when watching Track and Field meets on television, and this class further provoked my curiosity.  Basically, I am trying to explain that I not a racist.  Haha) It is my goal to seek how the representation of colored athletes versus the dismissal of talented Caucasian performances affects one’s perception about the sport of Track and Field in general.

Firstly, it is important to look at primary, hard media circulating throughout he world right now.  When looking up “London Track and Field” in the Google Search engine, images of the colored athletes dominating their competitors appear.  This image was taken from within the first few rows of pictures that appeared in the results:

 

Through close analysis, this image is more powerful than one would expect.  The Caucasian athletes are collapsed at the finish line of the track in exhaustion, while a Kenyan athlete walks past them as if he is in no pain at all.  The look on his face connotes that of a dominating, fearless athlete.  These simple observations provide opportunity for further discussion.  The description of the observations gives the viewer the assumption that athletes of color easily top those of other races.  The cultural meaning of this in terms of track and field is that the colored competitors own the sport.  The subtle frameworks of media representation such as a simple picture like this is what ultimately gives life to the ideology that only athletes of color can rise above runners/jumpers/throwers of other races.  

In the world of Track and Field, it is clearly evident that colored athletes do indeed dominate the sport.  Particularly in the running and jumping events, athletes of color frequently top competitors of other races.  Based on factual results and performances, colored runners and jumpers are significantly more successful than Caucasian or other races.  For instance, in the 2012 Olympic 100m dash, the competitors on both the men and women’s sides were colored.  While each of those athletes rightfully earned their spot, other impressive athletes seem to be dismissed, as the Kenyan athlete in the photo seems to brush past his competitors.  David Turner and Ian Jones’ “False Start? U.K. Sprint Coaches and Black/White Stereotypes” looks at this phenomenon and how athletes of color are put on a pedestal over other Track and Field athletes.  They argue that a combination of “disproportionate success”, “overrepresentation”, and “media representation” causes assumption that Caucasians and other races are genetically inferior.  Essentially, they claim the inflation of attention on successful colored athletes by the media is a major attribute to this phenomenon.  They bring up a thought provoking, yet disturbing point that by explaining Caucasian success is assumed because of their “hard work” and “intelligence”, while colored success is because of “instinctive physical qualities”.  Relating back to the picture, it would indeed seem as though the Kenyan athlete is genetically superior to his Caucasian competitors.

One theory that could also explain why athletes of color are given more media attention so disproportionately has to do with the term “the gaze”.  Drawing from Oates’ analyzing of American Football in comparison with Turner and Jones’ work, a better understanding of my research question results.  Turner and Jones mention the media portrays colored athletes as having “instinctive physical qualities”.  Media products of track and field athletes and their “instinctive physical qualities” greatly promote this idea of “the gaze”.  Taking our picture back into consideration, and the close analysis of the picture itself, it can be concluded that this is a product of “the gaze”.  “In addition to such routines, extensive media-facilitated public display of the athletic body, presented as entertainment, has become a staple of sports media coverage” (Oates).  Essentially, contemporary media coverage of Track and Field accelerates “the gaze” by focusing on the colored athletes, who, according to Turner and Jones, have more athletic bodies than fellow competitors of other races.  Perhaps there is not as much attention on these other races because they are not depicted as being physically up to par with colored competitors. 

Also, it is vital to discuss the history of white supremacy in connection with the gaze as well, in order to explain, “…why the mostly black prospects are available for this kind of perusal and assessment”(Oates).  The gaze more-or-less dehumanizes the subject, making them a product for enjoyment and amusement for the audience.  Anthony Harrison in his article states that white power can be simply defined as: “’a constellation of ideologies, a series of sociohistorical formations, an ordering principle, and a specific set of structures’—as a means to more explicitly target the political nature of racial authority and inequality in sports”(Harrison).  In relationship to my theory about media overrepresentation of colored athletes, this would seem to have no merit at first.  How could showing the public more of colored athletes be considered as a form of white supremacy and power?  But when one adds Oates concept of “the gaze” into the equation, answers do start to appear.  White power is exercised through the gaze because it dehumanizes the colored athlete into being a form of entertainment.  They are categorized as a basically a different breed of human because of their supposed more advanced physical attributes.  This is one way to keep the colored athlete and race in check, even though they dominate the rest of their competitors.  It ultimately keeps Caucasians in control of the sport, by allowing the colored athlete to obtain the audience’s attention. 

Ultimately, this is a difficult and abstract concept to grasp.  Track and Field exhibits a wide variety of different events to truly test the boundaries of the human body.  Athletes of color have begun to take over the sport since their integration in the mid 20th century, breezing past Caucasians and other races.  The way the media represents this phenomenon is by allowing them into the spotlight, making them appear to be more of a spectacle than a human being.  Real life media products are seen to take part in this cultural development.  The picture of the Kenyan athlete after his race provokes feelings of “oohs” and “ahhs” as his perceived advanced physical qualities are exhibited.  Media frames and representation possess “white power” ideologies that are then bombarded to the audience.  By connecting these concepts together, one can piece together the answer to my original question of why they are represented so much more than any other race in the sport of track and field.  As the integration movement of the mid 20th century falls further into history as time marches on, it is interesting to see how the sport will be covered by the media, and if the sport is still framed in the way it is seen today.    

 

Google Images

http://media.oregonlive.com/oregonian/photo/2012/08/11388467-standard.jpg

Oates, Thomas P. “The Erotic Gaze in the NFL Draft.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 4.1 (2007): 74-90. Print.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14791420601138351#.UyTlfl7HJK4-NFL Draft

David Turner and Ian Jones “False Start”

http://uhra.herts.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2299/8871/900739.pdf?sequence=1 

Anthony Harrison “Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of Whiteness”

http://jss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/21/0193723513498607.full.pdf+html

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Surfing as a Lifestyle..Not a Product

Surfing is recognized by the definitive culture that surrounds it as a sport. Although surfing is recognized as one of the fastest growing sports, the authentic nature lies behind the surfer’s lifestyle. Surf culture can be symbolized as the type of people who participate in the sport as well as the fashion, language, and surrounding nature. But in my experience with surfing would not be labeling it as a sport but rather a way of life. Surfing should be embodied through a specific set of behaviors that represent a surfing lifestyle. This framework is built around the idea that surfing is a privilege that should play a large role in your life only benefiting you positively. Surfing at this level is almost seen as a spiritual connection due to the way we are able to indulge completely into the unmatched energy of the ocean. Surfing in this sense can be seen as an escape as well as a connection with nature that creates these remarkable, lucid, emotions towards the activity and the ocean.

Our oceans demand respect and warrant us to honor these responsibilities as privileges rather then products of our environment. To participate in surfing and the associated lifestyle should change the way we appreciate where we live and for some of us were fortunate enough to grow up. Surfing for some walks of life have become a product of everyday entitlement that fails to recognize and celebrate the true happiness surfing provides. Racial spatiality and cultural capitol has in a sense blinded some people who are fortunate enough to afford living close to our beautiful coastlines. Beachfront property and its advantages have constructed a level of surfing obtained by grommets, “young surfers” far beyond the normative level obtained by average kids. Having grown up near the coast I can personally connect with the concept of living near an environment that directly enhances your lifestyle and cultural understanding. In the reading discussed in class Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of Whiteness, we read “Racial spatiality is founded on the perception that certain racialized bodies are expected to occupy certain social spaces and, complimentarily, that the presence of other bodies creates social disruption, moral unbalance, and/or demands explanation” (Harrison, 2008). This quote I found to parallel surfing and its ideas regarding geographic exclusion and how white privilege can be identified throughout surfing’s predominantly white participation. These locations that allow these demographics to be displayed are seen within surfing cultures and communities. As we read further in Harrison’s reading we see, “Because such perceptions exist at the level of ideology, and not social structure, their exclusionary functions are especially hidden and enduring. As such, power remains cloaked behind what refers to as an epistemology of ignorance” (Harrison, 2008). The concept of misrepresentation among many different races in surfing is what I aim to demonstrate while addressing the ignorant unawareness within the culture. Although this idea seems to address the hegemony and whiteness of the sport it also peels back some other levels of he sport effectively advance its revenue.

The commodification of surfing and the companies that represent it have grown into multi billion-dollar industries that directly seem to feed off the surfing as a lifestyle mentality. This concept can be met all over the world and is still prevalent to places thousands of miles from any coastline. This theory seems to support my previous argument tying into the way that surfing and its associated lifestyle should be recognized as a privilege and meets up with the ideas of cultural capital. Surfing and its growing market in associated commodities have appropriated surfing into its expanding mainstream market. Surfing for years was not recognized as a misesteem sport or a mainstream society but has grown into a central market for economic growth whether directly correlated to the sport itself of the coupled culture. In Waves of Commodification: A Critical Investigation Into Surfing Subculture, author Michael Alan Reed explains, “In a capitalistic society the most important mechanism for the hegemonic control of ideas is commodification, that process whereby places, products, people, ideas and images are construed primarily as goods for consumption in accordance with the directives of the market. Dick Hebdige (1979), in Subculture: The Meaning of Style, ‘demonstrates how consumption of status-rich commodities reflects a desire to be affiliated with particular subcultures’” (Reed, 1999). The advantage surfing as a market to be sold as commodities, not only demonstrates the popularity and longing companies strive for but shows different ways this can be socially constructed. Most surfing companies and ads represent not only a lifestyle that suggests a whiteness but also themes of exotic territories. Surfing is able to illustrate an idea of transnationalism. The search for foreign exotic shores that offer perfect dreamy waves is among the most recognizable. Surfing is a transnational sport that happens in all corners of the earth and is shared by all types of cultures but can specifically be sold and marketed to surfers with economic stature available to support these adventures. Michael Alan Reed explains this by stating, “Surfing is actively involved in the shaping of places throughout the world. The practice and imagery of surfing have been involved in place making and place marketing for almost a century. Beginning with the use of surfing in travel advertisements for Hawaii in the 1920s and 30s, the sport eventually came to be a recognizable facet of American culture through its association with particular places and a distinctive lifestyle revolving around the beach and waves” (Reed, 1999). The way that tropical uncrowned destinations are readily used in the marketing as well as the transnational concept of tourism create and exemplify the way surfing as a market is commercialized and used with commodification.

As a surfer I experience much of what is displayed in these models as I actively participate in these conceptions. The way an activity is perceived is much different than the ways it is performed or acted out. Media and media sport constructs these ideas in ways that are directly manifested to promote consumption of the sport. This promotes many different categories for the surfer to fall into. A recurring example of how this is acted out throughout surf culture is seen in amateurism of the sport. Surfer magazine author Taylor Paul writes in an article called Dancing When the Music Stops, “only 1 percent of surfers are paid to surf, the rest of the 99 percent aren’t, and once finished doing the asp or photo trips have to find a new chapter in life simply because they get to old or the company drops them.” This proves how media sport throughout surfing generally displays unobtainable heights for the average surfer. The majority of these amateurs strive to obtain the spotlight but never succeed. Almost no on will get paid to surf everyday of their lives which mainly keeps them grounded with other occupations. Not allowing them travel and get paid to surf these amateur surfers work to maintain a living as well as partial surfing career but are well recognized within their local areas and communities especially surf breaks. The local recognition these surfers gain is then applied to a system that with surfing is socially constructed around the idea of localism. Localism in surfing plays a major roll that affects the balance of surfing in check with a sequence of unwritten rules. In the article, We Shall Fight On the Seas and the Oceans… We Shall, written by Paul Scott, we read  “One way of maintaining the perception of individualism and freedom of the surfing experience is through protecting the local break from newbies via localism: its advocates justify it as a means of keeping hierarchical law and order in a field where game rules do not officially exist” (Scott, 2003). This quote explains some of the structures that are actively reinforced by local surfers and local amateurs who participate in these behaviors in order to demonstrate masculinity and dominance of the territory.

In my arguments on surfing and the surrounding factors that create a culture and a lifestyle I deconstruct some of the socially constructed factors dealing with cultural capital and white privilege among the sport of surfing; and how racial spatiality is reality is enacted. Within these concepts I chose to also shed light on the nationalism market within surfing and ways it has come about throughout the media while demonstrating factors surrounding the way surfing is marketed on a global scale. I also chose to exhibit how this produces amateur athletes striving for pro status. Specifically I chose to argue that surfing as an occupation is unrealistic and doesn’t allow for the amateur athlete to achieve this. This I chose to connect back to a local scope and how these hierarchy factors within the surfing community contribute to a pecking order in the water. This pecking order ads and constructs a sense of self-policing within the lineup demonstrating localism. In conclusion my argument seeks to reflect on my personal experience with the sport of surfing and how the prevailing discourse surrounding surf culture and lifestyle should be shared.

Sources:

Harrison, A. K. “Black Skiing, Everyday Racism, and the Racial Spatiality of Whiteness.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 37.4 (2013): 315-39. Print.

Paul, Taylor. “SURFING Magazine.” SURFING Magazine RSS. GrindMedia- Surfer Magazine, 14 July 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

Reed, Michael Alan. Waves of Commodification: A Critical Investigation into Surfing Subculture. Thesis. San Diego State University, 1999. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Scott, Paul. “We shall Fight on the Seas and the Oceans…We shall ” M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 6.1 (2003). Dn Month Year < http://www.media-culture.org.au/0302/05-weshallfight.php&gt;.

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Disabilities & the Motives in Media

Throughout this quarter I have come across particular themes that stood out to me while analyzing the angle of viewership that media focuses on.  I have separated the them into three categories with examples of how these people are represented to the audience’s eye.  We are presented with disabled individuals who are examples of exceptionalism and play into the society of consumerism.  Than there are individuals who are recognized for their disabilities but weren’t seeking for the media’s attention although they inevitably were.  The last type of media recognition I wanted to talk about are groups who facilitate and help athletes with disabilities and how they are perceived in the media.  I want to touch on who is behind the scene writing the script in media in each of these situations because I believe it’s a strategic tool producers use to capture responses from their audience.

In my previous post I discussed an article, “Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change” by Charles Riley where he discussed problem of identity.  “One of the reasons the representation of people with disabilities in the press is such a fascinating problem is due to the complexities posed by this question of identity” (Riley, 19).  I directly related this to Aimee Mullins, a Paralympic Athlete who is all across the media for her athletic abilities, modeling, and acting career.  After further research, I have changed my idolized view of Mullins to an image of her disabilities as an asset to her success and fame.  This isn’t arguable to a certain extent, but her identity in the media seems to appear a lot about her looks.  In “The Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson she states, “Photography authorizes staring…Disability photography offers the spectator the pleasure of unaccountable, uninhibited, insistent looking” (Garland-Thomson, 191).  This author manages to capture the image that all photography of the disabled body are constructed or assumed from the nondisabled gaze.  Mullins plays into this to a tee with her legs being the object and focus of her difference.  Her modeling images have been recognized for the technology that are attachments to the human body.  There is something about Mullins that also is apart from the majority of individuals with prosthetics and that is her beauty and sexualization.  Viewers are exposed to Mullins story and there is no denying her success and beauty but the fine line that is crossed comes to the surface when we think of disability as an unappealing quality.  Not all individuals, especially women would meet the criteria it takes to land the cover of Life magazine due solely to the inability of reaching the ‘ideal white woman’ that media consumes.  This places Mullins in a different category than many other women with or without prosthetics because to achieve this status on magazine covers is out of reach for the norm of women in our society.  All of Mullins’ successes have been praised, as they should be but they are written in her favor and play with the American dream for women to be fit, beautiful, successful, and smart.

There is than this framing of achievement that is more relatable to the general audience and individuals that are living lives away from being the front cover of a magazine.  There seems to be a longing to become recognized for overcoming disabilities and seen as a great influence for those that are struggling to achieve success as well.  There are two young brothers, Conner and Caden Young who were 2012 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKids of the Year.  Conner’s younger brother was diagnosed with hypertonic cerebral palsy at birth, which is a disability that restricts him from walking or talking on his own.  Conner and his brother began participating in triathlons together where Conner pulls his brother through each part of the race because “..seeing him smile and laugh” lets him know he’s having fun (Conner Long).  This is the type of example where these two young boys, specifically Conner choosing to participate in a race with his brother was for the pure joy of bonding with him.  They than began gaining recognition for their astonishing story which got them nominated for this award.  The story behind these boys is from their family and Conner’s voice of how and why he races with his brother.  The voice is not only praising their accomplishments but the touching bond between two brothers without the ability to truly communicate in equal matters.  It would be hard to imagine producers creating a story from a 9 year old boy’s life to increase income and although I am not ruling it out, I see in this clip and in their article voicing the story of the genuine and loving bond between the boys.  There is a theme of dependency within many disabled individuals and although Aimee Mullins doesn’t quite fit this because of her ability to be on her own, these boys independently from their parents chose to race together.  Cayden, due to his disabilities is dependent on his older brother Conner to assist him from the start line to the finish line.

In our reading “Cyborg and Supercrip: The Paralympics Technology and the (Dis)empowerment of Disabled Athletes” by David Howe discuss how media exposure defines a supercrip.  “…label of supercrip can be negatively bestowed on impaired individuals who simply manage to live ‘an ordinary; life” (Karma, 2004- Howe, 869).  The media exposure on these two boys sheds light not on the supercrip or the boy that is disabled, but the fact that their lack of knowledge of being publicized is touching to consumers.  In the San Francisco Globe, it mentioned how Conner is a hero but he is too young and careless of what others are thinking of them because his focus is to show his brother how to have fun together (SF Globe, 2014).  Conner Young in his interview made a point, “…if people could race with people that can’t walk or talk or with any type of autism, it might open up the eyes of people that don’t really care about it… and care about it in the future hopefully.”  Conner is only 9 years old and wishes to have recognition for the amazing experience it is for both the independent and the dependee when given the opportunity to help.   The boys’ story is much more relatable to the majority of disabilities because of their motives without the enforcement of income or care towards receiving something back.  Mullin’s story is touching but seems out of reach for if not all, many; but helping a friend or near by community is rewarding for both parties and is more accessible to the broad society.

This brings me to my last exposure of disabilities in the media, focusing on agencies or groups that work for and towards disabilities.  In “Cause Marketing” by Angela Eikenberry she discusses how marketing can put up blinders on the consumer.  Many marketing objectives such as the Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness, put up a front that their proceeds all go towards research but in reality they are getting the best of both worlds (Eikenberry, 51).  Yes, your proceeds when purchasing Pink Ribbon products do help funding but that is after the deductions are made for the finances towards their own corporation.  Corporations like this bring up the question of the honesty and truth behind objectivity in the media and how they target their audience.  There are other foundations that are set up in order to facilitate and assist people who are not able-bodied citizens, looking to compete and be involved in athletics around the world.  There is an organization for running called Achilles International which has able-bodied runners volunteer to help train and guide athletes with disabilities.  This is a non-profit organization began in 1967 by Dick Traum, an above the knee amputee and also the first amputee to run the New York City Marathon.  His goal is to have help bring hope and inspiration to those with disabilities through his organization.  Groups like this, are hard to tell the difference when it comes to whether the agency is gearing towards the people in need or profiting the organization.  Their website does a good job not crossing a line of who they praise in the situation; the volunteer or the disabled being assisted.  This type of agency balances a stable position of which agency is benefiting and how.  I referenced in a previous blog, “The ‘Supercrip’ in sport media: Wheelchair Athletes Discuss Hegemony’s Disabled Hero” written by Marie and Brent Hardin who discussed media’s portrayal of people with disabilities.  The article relates well to this organization and groups around the world whose goal is to incorporate all individuals with disabilities (blind, prosthetic, wheelchair, etc.) into athletic settings without setting them apart from those without impairments.  Many scholars believe that mass media has a tendency to praise huge successes of athletes with disabilities which in turn creates a standard which the accomplishments of the cultural norm, won’t be able to be reached.  Non-profit and other organizations who work towards creating a better and more involved community I believe do a better job than the producers who can’t stop raving about the small percentage of athletes who push even further past a successful discourse, in order to acquire fame and recognition with consumers.  Emotional responses are sure to come with this take of involvement due to the face to face interaction the volunteers will have and experience with the disabled athlete.  The pain and feelings that they presumably have are reached not through the media itself, but the requiring involvement that person has in their work.

Producers behind media whether that be magazines, videos, or organizations, have a knowledge on how to trigger certain emotional reactions from their audience.  These reactions can either help induce awareness and involvement, but also a strong passion for income.  The more recognition individuals with disabilities have, depending on their resources and means of reaching a type of audience, in my eyes are helpful in any situation.  I think awareness is something that is found through social media and purposely targeting the viewers in order to get a response.  I don’t agree that all sources handle or present it well but I do believe awareness is the key especially if it’s done with the means for more involvement above all else.

FEEDBACK PLEASE 🙂

Sources:

“Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pink.” Think Before You Pink » Before You Buy Pink. Breast Cancer Action, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

Editorial Staff. “The San Francisco Globe.” The San Francisco Globe. SF Globe – Credits: Sports Illustrated Kids, 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

Eikenberry, Angela M., “The Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing” (2009). Public Administration Faculty Publications. Paper 39.http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/pubadfacpub/39

Hardin, Marie, and Brent Hardin. “The ‘Supercrip’ in Sport Media: Wheelchair Athletes Discuss Hegemony’s Disabled Hero.” Sosol. School of Physical Education, University of Otago, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Jay Dolmage. Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.

P. David Howe, Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK. Email:p.d.howe@lboro.ac.uk

Riley, Charles A. Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change. Hanover, NH: University of New England, 2005. Scholar Google. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Snyder, Sharon L., Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2002. Print.

“Sports Illustrated Kids 2012 SportsKids of the Year: Conner and Cayden Long (OFFICIAL).” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

“Who We Are.” Achilles International |. Rappy & Company, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

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Title IX and the Intersection of Race and Gender in Rowing

When analyzing any sport it is important to acknowledge the power relationships and ideological discourses that occur within all sports. This idea is transnational.

My Engagement with the Sport:

         It is important to recognize my position within the sport of rowing, and assess how it has shaped the ways in which I interpret the history and other ideologies which are embedded in the sport. In 2011, I was asked my height and weight by the men’s head rowing coach at Orange Coast College (Coast). Coast is the only community college that has a rowing team that also competes at an elite level of competition. Paul explained to me that he was looking for small people who could fit in the coxswain seat of the rowing shells and steer the boats. My experience on the water from sailing was an attractive quality that the men’s thought would help me in learning how to “cox”. At Coast, I raced on the varsity team for a year and was then recruited to UCSD by the head men’s rowing coach. I was involved with the men’s team for a year but I had this constant feeling that I was missing something. Being the only girl on an all men’s team, in a position that many rowers consider annoying or even pointless is not an easy spot to hold. There was a team aspect, and motivation that I was lacking at UCSD. In the spring, it occurred to me that I really had gotten all that I wanted out of coxing men’s rowing. I wanted to engage more with the sport. I wanted the level of fitness that all these people I yelled at on a daily basis had. I wanted to feel the excruciating pain that I had seen on people’s, but not been allowed to feel. I decided to switch to the women’s team and started to row in September 2013. There has not been a day that I have regretted this decision and there are new things that this sport continues to teach me about myself and others on a daily basis.

 History of Women’s Rowing:

       Competitive rowing (especially collegiate rowing) has its roots in elitist practices that were manifested from the very beginning of the sport. Originally, the only people who were considered eligible to compete in rowing were white men of the upper middle class. Evidence for this can be seen by the fact that governing bodies of the sport only considered a man an amateur if he did not hold a job that involved excessive amounts of physical labor. If a man had a job that did require physical labor he was not eligible to compete because he had an advantage over the white-collar workers. White collar workers did not have jobs that required copious amounts of physical labor. If a man was performing intensive physical labor on a daily basis he was seen to have an advantage over those men who had a desk job. “An amateur athlete was one who participated for pleasure, play and/or recreation, not for the pursuit of excellence or perfection”(Schweinbenz,3). It is important to note that this definition of amateurism is still upheld by the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics. Originally only the very elite, private universities established men’s rowing teams and as a result continued to sustain the elite nature of the sport.    Rowing is an extremely grueling sport, it requires endurance that is matched by sports such as cycling and swimming, but uniquely it also requires a level of strength and efficiency that is only developed through a complete dedication of one’s body and mind. “Victorian notions of female frailty deemed women unfit for such kinds of physical exertion, incapable of enduring the pain of harsh, vigorous sport” (6), these are traits that are considered synonymous with hegemonic masculinity. The excessive amounts of sweat, positions in which one is required to put their body and the extreme pain required to row were all reasons that women were barred from competitive rowing.  The Women’s Amateur Rowing Association (WARA) was founded in 1923 when the British Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) continued to refuse to allow women’s rowing competitions. As a result women began to govern themselves, which in hindsight was a much better deal than being governed by the male dominated ARA. WARA continued to uphold very similar amateurism rules as the ARA. Therefore, women from the working class were barred from competition. In barring working class men and women from competing the sports elitist principles began to transcend across the gendered borders.

 Women’s Bodies, and Reproduction:

Historically, almost all women’s sports have faced some type of adversity in the effort to become considered legitimate. Women’s ski jumping being one of the most recent to overcome this by finally being considered an Olympic sport. It is cited at some point in many sports such as biking, swimming, rowing and ski jumping, that a primary reason for the women’s sports divisions to not be considered a legitimate form of competition is their threatening nature on reproductive capacity. Rowing, like many others, was at one point also part of this discourse. Dominate ideologies that still exist transnationally uphold that women and men are said to occupy separate spheres of the world. The public sphere, meaning the work place, is for men. The private sphere, meaning family and the home, being a place for women. Women’s rowing originally was a hoby for wealthy, upper class women. Women of the working class were continually marginalized because of their lack of free time to participate in the sport. The fact that women all together have been continually banned from sport on the basis of harming their reproductive organs, or because they were not to leave the private sphere illustrates a larger issue that is necessary to understand in the context of women’s collegiate rowing. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is necessary to acknowledge in terms of modern women’s collegiate rowing.

Title IX and Women’s Rowing:

Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,  found in Ware ). While Title IX’s roots were not based around women’s collegiate athletics, women’s rowing (along with many other women’s sports) has benefited significantly since its approval. Rowing required large squads of people, each boat can require anywhere from one person to nine people. A typical Division I or Division II football team can have anywhere from seventy five to one hundred athletes and a typical rowing team will have around sixty-five athletes (Thomas). Therefore, when Title IX began to affect collegiate sports women’s rowing came to the surface as a way to balance out the opportunities being given to male football players. As discusses in Barabara Carton’s Wallstreet Journal Article, there was so much money that needed to be given in scholarships the amount of highschool rowers was not enough. As a result, girls from other sports (ideally swimming, triathlons or cycling teams) are being recruited to colleges that will teach them how to row. The one catch was these girls need to be tall. I argue that “tallness” was not the only factor taken into account during the recruiting process of female athletes for women’s rowing.

Race and Rowing:

      Once again, the elite roots of the sport have clearly influenced that ways in which it is treated in college. The exclusivity is extremely obvious to those within the sport and those who are on the outside and do not fit the ideal profile of “a rower”. With Title IX came a change that clearly helped many women’s sports teams across the country. But there are certain groups that are continually marginalized because of a failure to recognize a hiccup that occurs within the system as a result of Title IX. Women who do not fit the category of tall and “white” are not the first on the list to be recruited for rowing scholarships. While Title IX attempts to resolve the gender equity issue it continues to marginalize those of a different race, or social status.

 The Intersection of Race and Gender in Rowing:

     The failure of the system to recognize the intersection of race and gender within people that continues to marginalize those women who do not fit within the category of “white”. While the college recruitment process of female rowers seems like they will take just anyone who has some sort of athleticism and turn them into a rower, this is not the case. It is unsettling that a government policy, such as Title IX continues to uphold the elitist practices that are make rowing so exclusive. This is easy to see if you ever attend a rowing regatta, such as Crew Classic in San Diego. Crew Classic is the largest regatta on the west coast and many colleges, high school programs and masters programs attend. Spend one hour at this race, and it will become clear “who” this sport continues to be geared toward in the women’s sphere. White, tall (“genetically superior”), females. If one does not fit that bill, odds are they won’t be getting recruited by a college recruiter looking for walk-ons to teach how to row. The fact that there is a government policy so large that is attempting to resolve a gender equity issue, is huge. It is the continual failure to recognize that in many cases gender is not the only issue. And the intersectionality of race and gender operates in all aspect of society where suffers from inequality.

 Conclusion:

     In the acknowledgment of the intersection of race and gender in those groups who are continually marginalized by policies such as Title IX, sports such as rowing will begin to be for everyone. America Rows is a group that is attempting to do just this. America Rows takes rowing to inner city high schools, and other places that because of the geographical demands of rowing (not covered in the scope of this paper) make it an exclusive sphere. In the recognition of the history of the sport and the future, it is necessary to shift focus from tall white girls and attempt to open the sport to the rest of the world. America Rows attempts to do this, giving the opportunity of learning how to row to everyone who wants it.

            In high school, I struggled with grades and my priorities as a whole. Rowing, changed everything for me. Having been on three different rowing teams (2 men’s and a women’s) this is not an uncommon story. Many, if not all, people who walk onto a rowing team in college will tell you the same thing. It changed their life in ways that one cannot possibly imagine. Something about waking up at 4:30am everyday, putting on your trou and tank top only to go freeze on the water for twenty minutes and then be sweating more than you ever thought was possible teaches, you something. What rowing teaches you though, is not one single thing. It shapes you in all the different aspects of your life, that maybe once before you feel needed any adjusting. The physical and mental demands of rowing teach individuals to demand more of themselves, this is just what the youth of America need. Organizations like America Rows, that recognize this power are just the beginning, of the future, of the sport.

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The above photos are when was coxing at Coast on the men’s team.

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4th from the stern (the back) or 6 seat that’s me rowing my novice year. Image

Here is our boathouse at UCSD. All of these photos are mine.

Works Cited:

A Hero for Daisy. Dir. Mary Mazzio. 1999. Dropbox.

Butler, Richard. “US Rowing.” America Rows. US Rowing. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Carton, Barbara. “You Don’t Need Oars in the Water To Go Out for    Crew — Colleges Have Plenty of Money For Tall, Muscular                   Women; `No Experience Necessary’” The Wall Street Journal 14      May 1999: n. pag. The Wall Street Journal. Web. 25 Feb.     2014.

 McDonald, Brent D. “Learning Masculinity Through Japanese      University Rowing.” Sociology of Sport Journal 26 (2009): 425- 42.

Thomas, Jim. “Division 2 College Football Scholarships.” LIVESTRONG. LIVESTRONG.COM, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

Ware, Susan. “Introduction: Title IX—Thirty-seven Words that Changed American Sports,” Title IX: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007, 1-31.

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