All in “The Name of the Game?” The Perilous Practices in the Sports Industry

Ashley Judd’s enthusiasm for college basketball has recently been silenced by threats and attacks she underwent via Twitter. Following a tweet regarding a play by the opposing team, she received tweets of an assaultive nature, both physically and sexually.[1] While social media could be a vehicle for constructive dialogue or social progression, it also serves as a platform for racism, prejudice, and other harmful forms of bullying.[2] A victim of sexual assault as a youth, Judd drew attention to the systemic problems behind the motive of these tweets; she “asked for it” and deserved it.[3] While the backlash surrounding Judd’s tweet exposes the prevalence of rape culture in many different spaces, one can notice many problematic tendencies before her tweet, beginning with event she was at.

While sports may seem to be a fun, healthy, harmless activity, some of institutions behind this form of recreation possess many colonial trends that one can trace back hundreds of years ago. As an attendee of a college basketball game, Judd was supporting one of many sports organizations which glorify the patriarchal culture; profiting off of lower class, African American bodies, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is guilty of engaging in the continuation of a form of free labour. During “March Madness,” over one billion dollars is made in ad revenue, and college basketball coaches, often white, upper class, Christian men, make millions of dollars a year. Despite these numbers, players do not make a penny, and the NCAA reminds the media that they are “students, not employees.” With many of these players struggling to maintain their college workload, coming from households so poor that “their lights are about to get cut off,” these men are inherently abused by the system and their coaches. [4]

Michael Sam http://ca.eonline.com/eol_images/Entire_Site/2014110/rs_634x1024-140210045753-634-Michael-Sam-JR-21014_copy.jpg

These “opportunities” that young men are given are not without threats, significant sacrifices, and hazing, and like many other institutions, the league is not open to any talented player. Michael Sam, an openly gay football player, has been kicked off of two NFL teams; while coaches deny that his sexual orientation had anything to do with the decision, one look at Sam’s statistics makes it clear that this is likely the case, reminding one that sports remains an inherently heterosexist space.[5] While race might not be an issue, being cisgendered and straight certainly is. Additionally, coaches verbally abuse their players for an “unacceptable” performance by using gay slurs; for instance, one coach angrily told his players, “You’re a fucking faggot, you’re a fucking fairy.”[6] Additionally, “fag” is regarded as one of the worst insults in the world of sports.[7]

Toronto Argo Cheerleaders http://www.argosendzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Where-the-hell-was-I.jpg

While there is no space for gay athletes in sports, the spaces that women occupy is also rather alarming. Women are spectators, but only if accompanied by men, “sports moms,” or are cheerleaders or dancers, having their bodies objectified for the purpose of straight men’s entertainment. In addition, the sports industry possesses a glass ceiling, as women athletes are almost always unable to attain the same levels of success that men athletes are.[8] Men are consistently paid more than women athletes, and many sports fans are unaware of the women’s equivalents available to them, allowing one to realize that lack of proper attention women athletes receive. Many of these problematic tendencies can be linked back to the “television sports manhood formula”; some of the features of this formula include that “white men are the voice of authority,” that “sports are a man’s world, ” and that women are “sexy props” for men.[9] Unfortunately, the attention that women in sports often receive is one of a hyper-sexualized nature, simply serving as accessories to the game. When asked how to increase the popularity of women’s soccer, one of the head executives of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) suggested the athletes “should wear shorter shorts.”[10] Unfortunately, such horrific sentiments are not uncharacteristic of the organization.

NCAA State Teams http://nexgenmadden.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/28lx3sp.jpg

One could easily liken organizations like the NCAA and FIFA to other colonial structures; Joddi Alden points out that colonialism exists in the form of white supremacy, and capitalism commodifies workers and their bodies, and these tendencies can easily be spotted in both organizations.[11] With each organization being ruled by white, upper class, Christian men, they profit off of bodies in different ways. For the NCAA, many of the basketball players are lower-class African Americans, who go unpaid for their participation, while their coaches have million dollar salaries.[12] FIFA is inherently colonial, as it goes into second and third world countries, demands that the nation’s government build multi-million dollar stadiums that they cannot afford, and institute their own rules and regulations, whether or not they conflict with a country’s laws. Meanwhile, all of the profits for the games go to FIFA. With the 2022 games being hosted in Qatar, a nation regarded as a “modern day slave state…4000 workers will die before a ball is kicked off.”[13] FIFA successfully engages in a short-term form of colonialism, one based on the exploitation of labor, leaving these nations in crippling conditions.[14]

Ashley Judd’s treatment on Twitter was absolutely horrendous, and showcased one of many problematic discourses that are a product of the sports industry. Hegemonic masculinity is the only acceptable mentality for many sports; these sports, regarded as power and performance sports, “organize hierarchies of authorities from owners to coaches to athletes,” perpetuate colonial methodologies and racialized frameworks.[15] African Americans were previously seen as a form of technology during the long-lasting transatlantic slave trade, but continue to be regarded as forms of property, rather than humans, by the sports industry.[16] Additionally, FIFA seems to have co-opted their own colonial practices, by entering third world countries, forcing their practices on citizens, and leaving the nation in worse circumstances. Many think of sports as just “fun and games,” but one need not dig deep to find an abundance of problematic practices.

[1] Charlotte Alter. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape” Time Magazine, March 19, 2015.

[2] Danyel Haughton, “Seeing is Not Believing.”

[3] Ashley Judd article Ashley Judd. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Identities Mic, March 19, 2015.

[4] John Oliver, “The NCAA,” March 15, 2015.

[5] Will Femia. “Michael Sam, First Openly Gay NFL Player, Cut by St. Louis Rams.” MSNBC, August 30, 2014.
Greg Price. “First Openly Gay Football Player Cut By Dallas Cowboys, So What’s Next for Michael Sam And The NFL?” International Business Times, October 22, 2014.

[6] John Oliver, “The NCAA,” March 15, 2015.

[7] Judy Aulette Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Words, Third Edition. (New York: Oxford, 2015): 447

[8] Ibid, 452.

[9] Ibid, 444.

[10] John Oliver, “FIFA and the World Cup,” June 8, 2014.

[11] Joddi Alden, “Globalization, Colonialism, and Orientalism in Visual Culture.”

[12] John Oliver, “The NCAA,” March 15, 2015.

[13] John Oliver, “FIFA and the World Cup,” June 8, 2014

[14] Maria-Teresa Matani. “Colonialism and Slavery.”

[15] Root Aulette and Wittner, Gendered Worlds, 459.

[16] Danyel Haughton, “Seeing is Not Believing.”

Bibliography 

Alden, Joddi. “Globalization, Colonialism, and Orientalism in Visual Culture.” GNDS 125 Lecture, January 29, 2015.

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape” Time Magazine, March 19, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2015. http://time.com/3750788/ashley-judd-speaks-out-about-twitter-abuse-and-rape/

Femia, Will. “Michael Sam, First Openly Gay NFL Player, Cut by St. Louis Rams.” MSNBC, August 30, 2014. Accessed April 5, 2015. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/michael-sam-cut-st-louis-rams

Haughton, Danyel. “Seeing is Not Believing” GNDS 125 Lecture, March 2, 2015

Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Identities Mic, March 19, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2015 http://mic.com/articles/113226/forget-your-team-your-online-violence-toward-girls-and-women-is-what-can-kiss-my-ass

Matani, Maria-Teresa. “Colonialism and Slavery.” GNDS 125 Tutorial, February 12, 2015.

Oliver, John. “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: FIFA and the World Cup (HBO)” YouTube Video, 13:13. Posted by “LastWeekTonight” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I&feature=iv&src_vid=pX8BXH3SJn0&annotation_id=annotation_2807374561

Oliver, John. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: The NCAA (HBO)” YouTube Video, 20:53. Posted by “LastWeekTonight” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX8BXH3SJn0

Price, Greg. “First Openly Gay Football Player Cut By Dallas Cowboys, So What’s Next for Michael Sam And The NFL?” International Business Times, October 22, 2014, Accessed April 5, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/first-openly-gay-football-player-cut-dallas-cowboys-so-whats-next-michael-sam-nfl-1710370

Root Aulette, Judy and Wittner, Judith. Gendered Words, Third Edition. New York: Oxford, 2015.

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All in “The Name of the Game?” The Perilous Practices in the Sports Industry

4 thoughts on “All in “The Name of the Game?” The Perilous Practices in the Sports Industry

  1. piper125 says:

    The lack of female representation in sport culture and the marginalization of professionally equal female sports teams has always been something that both disturbs and fascinates me. For every professional male sports team, there is a female equivalent that almost never makes it on to the big screens or popular media, yet it seems that few people question this trend as though sports are inherently meant to be male-dominated. You did a great job explaining the patriarchal structures and colonial thought in the backbone of the sports industry, but I would have loved a little more insight as to what the female sports industry is like, to draw a contrast between the two and shed light on what the reasons for difference in popularity are. For example, is there less/more verbal or physical violence? If less, is this a factor of sport that people are drawn to? If more, does this make an audience uncomfortable through a belief that women should not be physically aggressive? Are there hypersexualized male cheerleaders? Female cheerleaders? What does this say about heterosexism in the female sports industry or: lack thereof?

    Like

  2. You did a great job making a thorough intersexuality of the sports world. You touched on so many different oppressions including race, gender, sexuality and class. I found it interesting how you noted the intersection between patriarchy and colonization within college basketball. I had no idea that college players do not make money, which I guess makes sense, but it’s absurd when you think about how much profit is generated due to March Madness. You also touched on sexuality within the sports world, mentioning particularly that fag is regarded as one of the worst insults. When I was doing research on this same topic, I found slurs such as “throws like a girl” or “she plays like a man” which are also dangerous and horrible insults made to girls. Do you agree that these slangs and reoccurring terms are further creating these inequalities for different individuals? I believe that if these terms/ slangs were eliminated it would help narrow some of the gaps in the sports world. Overall, do you think any of these oppressions seen within the sports world will one day be totally eliminated?

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    1. redjr21 says:

      Thank you for your comments! I absolutely agree that such derogatory language and insults perpetuate the inequalities and reaffirm the legitimize the problematic system in place. As long as anyone can consider being gay or a woman an insult, both the sports industry and the world are glorifying the patriarchal institutions and society we live in.

      I hope that such oppressions could one day be eliminated. I do believe that as long as the businesses behind such sports, such as the IOCC, the NCAA, and FIFA, continue to adhere to a capitalist system, that no change will happen. Corporate capitalism and patriarchy go hand-in-hand, and each of these companies stand to make a profit off of perpetuating racism, sexism and homophobia. Until we see economic reform and greater social justice in our society, as well as at a governmental level, I do not believe that such sports organizations will change.

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  3. pennatucky says:

    You are completely on point, when discussing the comments exposing the prevalence of rape culture in many different spaces in society, including online. It is an absolute disgrace that in 2015 women are being objectified and verbally abused for having an opinion.

    Fantastic connection between colonial trends, patriarchal practices and sports. Sports are often seen to be competitive and aggressive, similar to the way boys are raised in line with hegemonic masculinities practices

    I see you make connections to the homophobic nature of many of these sports and the hate language that is used by team members. Sports needs to change its ideologies to be able to get with the tone of the times.

    Like

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