Posts Tagged ‘sports’


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?


Teaching Social Adaptation through Sports

March 17, 2009

A number of sociologists suggest that some socialization research identifies competitive team sports as an avenue to teach social cooperation under pressure through productive competition. Others might suggest it underscores the need for membership in a social collectivity. Many sociologists would identify the resulting social skill set and understandings as important for young people’s adaptation to complex societies.

The above perspective is based in part on a foundational sociological concept called the “generalized other.” This refers to a person’s ability to understand what society expects of her based upon her understanding of overarching values and norms within society as a means to achieve goals and objectives. These social insights help her to determine where and how she fits into society.

What do you think about the above interpretation of sports? Do you have an opinion you want to share? If so, respond to one of the talking points below:

1. Some might argue a key assumption in the analysis of sports presented above is a basic principle: “it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Otherwise, people’s behavior would be organized under a set of rules. Anomie or confusion would result—preventing the participants from being taught stable forms of social cooperation. What do you think is most important in school athletics: following the rules or winning? If you answered “following the rules,” what do you think is preventing such an environment from developing? If you answered “winning,” what changes have occurred in society in the last 100 years that supported this view? Why?

2. Can you think of some positive effects that sports might have upon society, other than providing a medium through which to teach social cooperation?

3. What other social institutions teach cooperation or productive competition in society today? How?

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Social Status: Do we take it too seriously?

February 13, 2009

Many sociologists study people’s social position relative to others as a predictor of their behavior. Someone’s social position or location is often referred to as “status” in sociology. Generally speaking, there are two types of status: achieved and ascribed. Achieved status occurs when we do something to warrant the status. This can be based on demonstrated talent or abilities, such as a baseball player hitting a world record number of home runs. We don’t have to do anything to acquire an ascribed status—society simply assigns us that position. Examples of ascribed status could be “old man.”

Let’s apply the idea of status to Michael Phelps. Phelps won eight swimming medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Recently, a photograph of him supposedly smoking a pipe often used to consume marijuana was published on the Internet. Kellogg’s® has since declined to renew his contract. Phelps has also been suspended from the USA Swimming Organization for 3 months. The New York Times quoted a released statement from the USA Swimming organization that said: “We decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and hero.”

Discussion Questions:
1) Sports figures have been a traditional source of inspiration for America’s youth. What values and norms do organized sports convey for young people? How important a role do you think this plays in the American assimilation process?

2) Can you discuss behavior issues of other sports stars? Are such controversies uncommon among athletes today? Do you think this might offer insights into whether sports figures reflect the real or ideal cultural aspects of America?

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The Social Function of Sports

January 26, 2009
"My girls never quit."

The coach of the losing team was quoted as saying: "My girls never quit."

Some sociologists hold that because sports are a product of society, they can often reflect larger elements of the society that spawned them. Some believe particular sports teach important principles, rules, and values that form key life skills. For example, how to learn from defeat or encourage self-discipline and drive through the rewards of deserved success.

But such approaches may cause problems in society as well. Some have been argued that winning is stressed over lessons of self-improvement or social cooperation. In other words, how well you play the game takes a second seat to victory. An example of this might include a recent high school basketball game in Texas where a team won by a score of 100 to 0.

The coach of the wining team reportedly explained that forfeiting the game would not have helped the losing team, recalling the wining school had experienced a similar loss and benefited by the experience. Officials from the winning school apologized for the dramatic disparity in the score. The coach of the winning team disagreed with that decision. He was fired.

Do you have an opinion about this issue? If so, please select a topic below and respond to it:

Topics for Discussion
1) What do you think are some of the social purposes of sporting events?
2) Do you think competition is a good medium through which to teach life values? Why?
3) Do you think the score should have been “curved” or the game stopped at some point? Why?

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