Our list of good sport literature reads

March 20, 2011

As I wrap up editorial work on two books for my publishing house – Sport, Race, and Ethnicity: Narratives of Difference and Diversity, and Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game,  I’m realizing that I’ve had a wonderful experience editing these two works. The first, edited byDaryl Adair, features essays from a multitude of international scholars in the fields of sport history, sport management, sport and culture, sociology, communications, and then some—all on the topics of race, ethnicity, and aboriginality in sport. The second book is a collection of essays by scholar Braham Dabscheck on the varying underpinnings of baseball: labor relations, sentimentalism, ambassadorship, race, and culture.

From my standpoint as a reader only, I have to say that these two books are wonderful, and although “pegged” as sport pseudo-academia (I say this because of the entertaining value on top of the intellectual value), they shouldn’t be confined by the framework of sport. These books are for anyone with an interest in humanity. Sport serves only as the vehicle to deliver the stories.

Which brings me to my topic: Too often I see hungry readers, who have no vested interest in sports, bypassing sport literature. As an editor, writer, and journalist, I feel I must make a case for sport literature as a foundation for humanity. The best way to do this is to take a look at a solid reading list, hand-picked by scholars. Attached below is a recommended reading list by writers and scholars in the field—Dr. Steven Pope, Dr. Braham Dabscheck, and Dr. John Nauright (see bottom of article for biographies):

The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture (1994), by Gerald Early. From the jacket: “The sport of prizefighting forms the intellectual core and central metaphor of this celebrated collection by one of our most daring writers. Early’s subjects, though, range far and wide—his insights and expertise illuminate subjects from multiculturalism, Black History Month, and baseball to racist memorabilia, Malcolm X, early jazz music, and the raising of daughters. Important and captivating, The Culture of Bruising, as William Gass has written, ‘provide[s] for the reader an almost continuous revelation.’”

Beyond a Boundary (1963), by C.L.R. James. John Nauright says, “In the book James recounts the history and legacy of colonialism in his native Trinidad and how that history impacted on his own life and on the development of the sport of cricket in the Caribbean. James, a leading Marxist influenced scholar, was influenced by his favorite novel, Vanity Fair and was a life long passionate follower of cricket, not a sport usually associated with the masses. In the West Indies, however, cricket did become a lingua franca that permeated all classes and races. Beyond a Boundary tells this story with passionate expression, keen cultural insight and a political edge that all merge to generate a compelling study of history, culture, politics and sport in the Caribbean.”

Crossing Boundaries: An International Anthology of Women’s Experiences in Sport (1999), edited by Susan Bandy and Anne S. Darden. From the jacket: “Crossing Boundaries is the first anthology of its kind—international in scope, cross-cultural in context, and uniquely female in content. The collection includes poetry, short stories, prose memoirs, dramas, and journalistic works by women from over twenty countries, including such celebrated contemporary authors as Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Wislawa Szymborska, and Joyce Carol Oates. The female voices that resonate through these works are often angular, raging, and knowing; at other times they are soft, melodic, peaceful, and yearning.

Baseball: The Early Years / Baseball: The Golden Age, by Harold Seymour, Oxford University Press, New York, 1960 / 1971. From Dabscheck: “Early work that demonstrated that sport was capable of research and writings norms associated with other areas of scholarship.”

Eight Men out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof, Owl Book, New York, 1987 (first published 1963). From Dabscheck: “A classic study of one of the greatest scandals in the history of sport.”

Lapham’s Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 3, (Summer 2010). This edition is titled “Sport & Games.” From Lapham’s introduction: “One not need be American to know that sport is play and play is freedom. It’s not a secret kept from children in Tahiti or Brazil. Dogs romp, whales leap, penguins dance. That play is older than the kingdoms of the Euphrates and the Nile is a truth told by the Dutch scholar, Johan Hizinga, in Homo Ludents, his study of history that discovers in the ‘primeval soil of play’ the origin of ‘the great instinctive forces of civilized life,’ of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science. ‘Play,’ he said, ‘cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.’”

Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line, by Adrian Burgos Jr., University of California Press, Berkley, Los Angeles and London, 2007. From Dabscheck: “A nuanced account of the changing role of Latinos in the national pastime and nuances and subtleties associated with race in the American experience.”

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball, by Stephen Jay Gould, Jonathan Cape, London, 2004. Dabscheck says, “One of the great thinkers of modern times demonstrates how logic and scientific method can be applied to unravelling various aspects of American baseball.”

Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball, by John Helyar, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994. Dabscheck: “An account of the internal operations of an unstable cartel.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Some Schools Use Millions in Student Fees to Supplement Athletic Revenue

October 4, 2010

Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano is making more than $2 million per season, and in recent years the University committed to spending more than $100 million to upgrade its football stadium. Meanwhile, student fees contributed nearly $8 million toward Rutger’s athletic department revenue in 2008-09, which equals more than 13% of the revenue generated by Rutgers’ athletics.

According to a USA Today database on athletic department budgets, Rutgers netted less than $200,000 in 2008-09. Take away the nearly $8 million contributed from student fees and the athletic department would have severely overspent.

Rutgers isn’t alone. A recent report by USA Today outlined in detail how some universities are using escalating student fees to support the multi-million dollar budgets of their athletic departments. The practice has some academicians, students, and parents crying foul.

Transparency, or the lack of it, is what has some up in arms, as many universities go to great lengths to make it difficult to discern just how much their athletic departments are benefitting from receiving student fees.

To some, it seems as if the athletic department is the big, bad bully on the block, stealing lunch money from poor students to pay its coaches millions of dollars and build lavish luxury suites for its millionaire alums.

But as Dr. William Kern, chair of the Department of Economics at Western Michigan University, pointed out to Fitness Information Technology, athletic departments aren’t the only units in a university that receive financial support from general funds. Kern and Donald Alexander, also a professor and economist at Western Michigan University, recently conducted a study on the effect of athletic success on state appropriations to universities. Their research will be published in the November issue of the International Journal of Sport Finance.

“There are a number of activities across the university that are subsidized through one means or another,” Kern said. “For example, there are probably a number of academic departments on every campus that don’t generate revenues sufficient to cover the costs of their operations.

“Philosophy might be such a case and the reader can probably think of others in the fine arts where this might also be the case. But we subsidize them because we think they are a necessary part of the university. That argument is easier to justify in the case of philosophy than in the case of non-revenue sports but some would no doubt argue much the same way that sports are an integral part of the university.”

Perhaps the biggest objection with using general funds and state appropriations to support athletic department budgets is the fact that salaries for coaches in football and men’s basketball, in particular, have escalated at a rapid pace during the past decade. It’s now atypical that a coach in one of those two sports at a large university isn’t earning in the neighborhood of $1 million annually, with a select few football coaches earning $3-4 million per year.

In addition, many universities are spending millions to upgrade athletic facilities, not necessarily because they are structurally unfit, but because their rival schools have enhanced their facilities.

“There seems to be an arms race with regard to improvement in facilities and coaches’ salaries, at least in the major sports at large state universities,” Kern said. “This spending is not likely to decline as any individual university that stops spending finds itself at a competitive disadvantage against its rivals. What is really needed to stop this is some sort of rule that constrains spending that applies to all schools. Robert Frank has a nice analysis of this issue in his Knight Commission report of collegiate athletics.”

Frank, an economist at Cornell University, concluded in his 2004 Knight Commission Report that after extensive research, “The empirical literature seems to say that if the overall net effect of athletic success on alumni giving is positive, it is likely to be small.”

Still, while Frank and other economists profess that athletic success has little effect on donations, it should be noted that athletic success is believed to contribute to school loyalty and a student’s enjoyment while on campus.

“Students seem to be demanding more and more amenities associated with their college experience and sports in both participant and spectator forms appear to be a part of that,” Kern said. “Most students don’t seem to want to attend ‘no-frills’ universities that would eliminate these sorts of things and just stick to the basics of instruction.”


“No Goal” Jabulani – is it all in the ball?

June 17, 2010

Although players will forever complain about new game balls, the Jabulani has been at the epicenter of this year's ultra-low scoring World Cup.

Without a doubt, the first round of World Cup soccer has been rather light in the goal-scoring department. According to the BBC, compared to other World Cup events at this stage of play, it has been 80 years since there have been so few goals. Although conditions have been a bit soggy during the South African winter, players and managers are raising a fuss over the new ball, the Jabulani.

Every World Cup, new game balls are designed, utilizing the latest advances in technology. The problem is, however, that this year’s ball might be over stabilized, causing the ball to keep it’s “lift.” However, according to the ball manufacturer, Adidas, the Jabulani is equipped with “air grooves” that “allow the ball to be handled more accurately than ever before.” Additionally, the ball underwent extensive testing in Loughborough University in England, the Adidas football laboratory in Scheinfeld, Germany, and in wind tunnels. Also involved in the testing were Adidas partners AC Milan, FC Bayern Munchen, the Orlando Pirates, and Ajax Cape Town, who all made suggestions for improvement during testing.

Pictured is a breakaway photo illustration of the paneling design of the Jabulani.

So why are players suddenly complaining now?

First, in case you haven’t been following the World Cup, it seems that every hard shot taken from 30 meters out seems to fly over the posts. As if to culminate this statement, an announcer for the Nigeria v. Greece match said, “Oh dear, it seems that you just can’t shoot this ball from far out or it will hang in the air every time,” referring to Uche’s sail-away shot that looked more like a rugby kick. Also, I’ve seen on at least two occasions where the announcer has claimed that an oddly flying shot was a result of a deflection off of another player, then retracted the statement after an instant replay.

Looking at scoring highlights, it certainly seems that a vast majority of the goals are scored close in: Argentina appears to be doing better with headed goals and deflected shots. USA scored a fluke off of a handling error from England’s goalkeeper. Switzerland upset super-favored Spain with a bungling, tumbling goal. Greece upset Nigeria with a goalie’s mishandled, low-angle shot (and ultimately most likely because of a red card, but that’s another story). It also appears that high crosses—passes from one side of the field to the other—seem to sail past their target on many instances, forcing the wings to sprint down their prey.

But can the ball really be to blame? After all, if the ball is out of control, wouldn’t that force the goalies to cope with harder shots to deflect? Adidas also claims that the Jabulani is made for “stability in all weather situations.” If this is true, then we shouldn’t put too much blame on the modestly wet and cool conditions.

Also mentioned by BBC blogger David Bond is the oft-repeated complaint that the European soccer season is too long. As if to accentuate this point, I should point out the successes of Asia’s teams—Japan and South Korea won their openers, and North Korea put up a much better fight than expected—showcasing the much different season that Asian teams face.

Also mentioned in a passing statement by Argentina’s coach Maradona was a passing missive against the hybrid turf in South Africa’s stadiums (which doesn’t really explain why the ball flies so far in the air).

But whatever the reasoning may be, there is no disputing that it’s difficult to pinpoint any other consistent factor that has been responsible for such a low number in goals from some of the world’s best long distance strikers.


Female Student-Athletes and Sporting Violence

March 25, 2010

Elizabeth Lambert was suspended indefinitely after her aggression on the soccer field vs BYU

Last year, Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount sucker punched Boise State’s Byron Hout at the end of a hotly contested football game after Hout mouthed off. This month, Baylor’s Brittney Griner decked Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle after a Lone Star shoving spree during a women’s basketball game. The events were remarkably similar: a college athlete overreacted with a swinging fist during a tense game. The only difference is that Griner’s actions seem to accent a growing trend of violence and aggression in women’s athletics; something that the public eye is finding both a novelty and a blight.   

A recent New York Times story highlighted some of the more recent high-profile events attributed to over-aggressive female college and high school athletes: New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert slammed her BYU opponent to the ground by the ponytail; women’s basketball rivals Georgetown and Louisville threw some pre-game punches; and a Providence, R.I., high school girls’ soccer game erupted in fights on the field and in the stands.  

Whether or not women are becoming more violent during sporting events, the real question is “why?” 

Dr. Jack Watson, chair of the Department of Sports Sciences and an associate professor of sport and exercise psychology at West Virginia University, said that in order to get a better understanding of why women athletes may be trending towards violence, we should take into account the very nature of women’s athletics today compared to a generation ago. 

“We’re putting more pressure on women’s sports,” said Watson. “It used to be about merely having a coach, but now there is a lot of competition and we’re putting more money into coaching, and coaches need to win.” 

West Virginia University professor of sport and exercise psychology and psychologist for the school’s athletic department, Dr. Ed Etzel remarked that student-athletes, regardless of sex, are influenced by role models and media outlets.

Watson echoed the sentiment: “It’s all a form of societal learning.”

In the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the following excerpt appeared in the article “Aggression and Violence in Sport,” which was published in 2003: 

[A] recent article in Referee Magazine . . . presents the view that poor sportsmanship at the professional level has led to similar problems among high school athletes. Mike Pereira, Director of Officiating for the National Football League (of American Football; NFL) is quoted as saying, “The pros and college sports have a huge impact on the play of the game at lower levels.” 

One could argue that college sports are on a “lower level” just as much as high school sports; both collegiate and high school athletes, male and female, have access to the same media outlets that broadcasts MLB brawls and WNBA scuffles. And both male and female student-athletes seem to respond similarly, if recent events are any indication of what is to be commonplace. 

“If [students] see a particular modeling of behavior in the media by peers and others in professional sports, they begin to change what they see as acceptable behavior,” said Etzel.

As students adopt new attitudes toward what is acceptable sportsmanship behavior during competition and training, they carry those attitudes with them as they become new parents. While this is old hat for men, the territory may be new for most women.

“We’re now seeing children born to moms and dads that were post-Title IX kids,” said Watson. “We’re into the second generation of females now.” 

Because of the inroads laid by Title IX and the work of countless women, female student-athletes now have unprecedented access to sports—and increasing competition—when it comes to sporting activities, and they are working as hard as their male counterparts. Watson observed that women are spending as much time in the gym as men, but their determination extends well beyond training. “Women are just as competitive as men on the court,” he said. 

Brittney Grimes was handed a two-game suspension for her punch that broke Barncastle’s nose. LeGarrette Blount was punished by a season-ending suspension, but was reinstated late in the season. The Oregonian reported that Blount’s incident dropped his NFL stock, and he went from “probably a second round draft pick to pretty much undraftable.” 

Although Grimes’s and Blount’s punishments were drastically different, repercussions and penalties for violent and aggressive behavior vary greatly. Lambert, for example, was suspended for the season after her hair-yanking fiasco. But how should athletic organizations find common ground when punishing violence and aggression?

“I have a radical idea,” said Etzel, “Perhaps we should consider these behaviors as crimes as they would likely be seen off the court and on the street?”

** 

Dr. Ed Etzel is the editor of Counseling and Psychological Services for College Student-Athletes and is coauthoring a chapter in a forthcoming handbook on sport and exercise psychology with Dr. Jack Watson; these books and the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology are published by Fitness Information Technology and are available at www.fitinfotech.com.