Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Sports Jobs" and Social Relations

Versus Network will premier a new show tonight named “Sports Jobs.” The host is veteran NFL linebacker, Junior Seau, and the concept is a sporting take on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.”

Dirty Jobs has gained tremendous popularity, and a good bit of that is certainly attributable to the program’s grime, guts, and goop (I’ll admit, I had a little Dirty Jobs addiction for a while). However, shows like this also serve an important, even progressive function: they shine light on the labor that makes contemporary society “work,” and they provide a glimpse of social relations often hidden behind market exchanges. As the intro to dirty jobs explains:

"My name is Mike Rowe, and this is my job: I explore the country looking for people who aren't afraid to get dirty—hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Now... get ready, to get dirty."

I think Rowe has done a terrific job humanizing those individuals he works with on Dirty Jobs. He’s treated people with respect in jobs that few of us would jump at the opportunity to take up. In it’s own way, the show provides a place where everyday work can be appreciated and reflected upon.

Sports Jobs, however, will need to navigate an interesting tension between glamour and labor. “UFC cornerman” will put Seau in the best seat in the house and will literally make him part of the action. The job may lend itself more to “cool” than “confronting,” and—unlike many of the occupations on Dirty Jobs—it may be something many viewers would like to do. “Stadium construction” and “arena floor crew” may be just as interesting, but they also provide a great opportunity to connect our experiences as fans and spectators to the often hidden, working-class commitments that make those experiences possible.

In short, Versus has an opportunity and a responsibility. I’m excited to see a side of sports we rarely get to see “up close;” however, I’ll be equally excited if the show facilitates reflection on the social dynamics that make spectator sport possible.

--T.C. Corrigan

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