Archive for the ‘Sport and Society’ Category


Why is the Iroquois lacrosse team stuck in NYC?

July 16, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

It’s an exciting time for sports.  The World Cup just ended; the Tour de France is nearing its midpoint, and the British Open is this weekend.  There’s another world-class sporting event going on this in Manchester, England: the World Lacrosse Championships.

painting: "Ball Play of the Choctaws" by George Catlin

Lacrosse is by no means a major sport, either in the U.S. or around the world.  It is one with an interesting history, however.  Lacrosse was invented by the Iroquois and Huron tribes in what is now New York State, possibly as early as the 12th century.  Today it is played at all levels by both men and women.  Including, of course, those thirty elite teams who were to have traveled to England this week to compete.

There is one team missing from this week’s competition in Manchester – the team representing the Iroquois Nation .  The players on this team are all members of the Iroquois tribe; they live in both the United States and Canada (as the historical territory of the tribe includes lands on both sides of the modern geopolitical boundary) and hold travel documents issued by the Iroquois Nation.  Native American/First Nations tribes are in many ways treated as separate entities from the nation-states within which they exist; one element of this is that they can, for example, issue their own license plates for cars and their own travel documents.  Therein lies the problem, however.  The British government initially said that it would not issue visas to the players unless the United States government guaranteed that it would allow the players to return after the competition.  This is quite standard, and on its face seems pretty ridiculous.  Why wouldn’t the United States allow the players to re-enter the country?  The problem is, of course, that the tribal travel documents do not live up to the standards required by the recently-implemented Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the law which requires anyone entering the United States to show either a passport or, at some borders, an enhanced driver’s license (prior to this law it was possible to enter from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean with only a government-issued ID).  And so the State Department declared that it was unwilling to guarantee that the United States-dwelling members team would be allowed back into the country.  It did offer to issue them United States passports, but the team declined – they were traveling specifically to represent the Iroquois Nation, and they were going to do it using their tribal travel documents.

This is where the story stood a few days ago.  Eventually the State Department relented and agreed that the team would be allowed back into the country.  The team did not make it to Manchester for their first scheduled game (which was to be played yesterday), however.  Once things were resolved on the American end, the British government decided that it thought that allowing them to travel on their tribal passports was too great a security risk.  And so there are 34 elite athletes cooling their heels in New York City waiting to find out if they will be able to make it to England in time to play Japan on Saturday night.

All of this is a very long-winded story to raise a number of more sociological (and historical) questions.  The relationship between the United States government and the Native American tribes has always been troubled; it is a history of rampant exploitation, internal displacement, and treaties negotiated in bad faith.  From the perspective of the Native American tribes, this incident is just another in a long line of abuses.  From the perspective of the U.S. government, it is a case of not making exceptions to rules that were put in place to keep out terrorists.  Probably no State Department official really thinks that the Iroquois lacrosse players are terrorists, but at the same time they hold the traditional bureaucratic line of “rules is rules.”
What does this tell us about the ways that modern governments relate to indigenous populations?  How can homeland security be balanced with respect for the Iroquois cultural identity?


Sport and Society

January 29, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

That’s a quote made famous by former Chicago Bears linebacker Michael Singletary, current head coach of the San Francisco 49’ers of the National Football League (NFL).  Singletary’s quote speaks to the innocence of spontaneity, play, and competition.

While we are early in 2010, we have already witnessed major sporting events here in the United States.  It has become tradition at the beginning of each year for the college bowl series to kick high in to gear, signifying the end of the college football season and the crowning of the national college football champions.  During the first few weeks of January, college football dominates the sports world in the United States.  But as soon as that ends, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl are front and center.

As I write this week’s post, I’m taking in the Winter X Games from Colorado (might I recommend watching it in HDTV; fabulous!).

In early February, the “Super Bowl” of auto racing hits Daytona Beach, Florida as the NASCAR season begins.  This year alone after these major sporting events, consider what remains: the NBA All Star game, the Winter Olympics, the PGA and LPGA majors, the World Cup in soccer, and playoffs in every major professional sport.  The list could literally go on and on.  This is not to mention the role of sports in the elementary and secondary schools and in the backyards and streets throughout the United States and the world.  We begin engaging in sports soon after birth, and come to know and love our favorite athletes and teams as we move through adolescence and adulthood.

Are we naturally drawn to sports and leisurely activity?  What is it that influences someone to play baseball versus soccer, basketball versus volleyball?  What is the difference between high culture and pop culture, and how does social class and social position influence us into the types of sports we engage?  What role do sports play as part of our culture?


Performance Enhancing Drugs

January 15, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

This week, we all learned something that many people had simply assumed to be true: Baseball player Mark McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs. He was, in fact, using steroids during the 1998 season, when he long-standing single-season home run record broke the (currently held by Barry Bonds, who is also suspected of juicing).

The place of sports in society is something that sociologists are naturally interested in. Leisure activities, which of course includes sport, can tell us many things about values, about social relationships, and about social organization more generally. There are a number of academic associations (NASSS, ISSA) as well as academic journals (Sociology of Sport Journal, International Review for the Sociology of Sport) devoted to the topic.

But back to the specific case of performance-enhancing drugs. We have seen it across the spectrum of sports: baseball, bicycling, track and field. The question is, why do we care? Why does it matter to us if elite and professional athletes are taking drugs to make them perform better? If the point of sports is to entertain the audience, aren’t they enhancing our enjoyment by enhancing their performances?

What impact do you think doping in elite sports has on society more generally?