Friday, September 21, 2012

What should the discussion be on performance-enhancing drugs?

After reading about how the Twitter-verse was all abuzz Thursday regarding the rumors surrounding New York Yankees star Robinson Cano and performance-enhancing drugs, it would seem appropriate to discuss doping in sport. (USA Today reported that Cano has not failed any drug test. A discussion about Twitter and journalistic ethics will be saved for a future blog post.) 
While the Cano rumors are false, the impact of performance-enhancing drugs on sport cannot be ignored. Within the past 30 days, Major League Baseball suspended two prominent players for doping, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency moved to strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France victories.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs at one level can be traced to sport’s place in the global society. It is extremely capitalist in nature – extreme competition where there can be at most a few winners and plenty of losers. The resources (read money) go to the winners. There is a constant push for innovation. Innovation is a positive thing, but it can easily become warped as can be seen with doping in athletics.

The reward for doping seemingly outweighs the substantial health risks for some athletes. Opportunities for scholarships or multi-million dollar contracts provide big temptations that overwhelm a few competitors.

The genie is not going back in the bottle. For those who decry the win-at-all-costs nature of sport, there is too much money behind it to eliminate it from its prominence. The billions of dollars in ticket and merchandise sales, the billions spent on TV commercials, and the media industry created on the backs of the athletes are strong indicators that the capitalist nature of athletics is here to stay. ran a strong series of articles analyzing doping from a variety of perspectives: whether testing should even be done, the dangers to youth and society’s hypocrisy when it comes to cheating.

Jen Floyd Engel’s piece on hypocrisy is truly thought-provoking. Why does society place different levels on cheating? Some rule-breaking is OK, but others are not. This sliding scale indicates a society that encourages the bending or breaking of rules or norms to get ahead.

Maybe the discussion needs to shift away from improving PED testing to an honest discussion about why people permit violating some rules and not others.

But are capitalist societies destined to have cheaters because of the potential rewards? Are there any societies that do not have cheaters?

-- Steve Bien-Aime

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Support of women's sports: "The right thing to do"

A cross-generational panel set the stage for a lively conversation on Tuesday night at the Pennsylvania State University's All-Sports Museum. Once you managed to find your way through the labyrinth of photos, videos and quotes from the school's past, you arrived to a full room to go back to another moment: The enactment of Title IX.

Martha Adams, former chair of the Penn State women's physical education committee, recalled the pre-Title IX days when women had, so called, "play days" to enhance their skill levels and, through sports, socialize with women from other institutions.

In the 1960s, a few years before Title IX was written into law, the women at Penn State began asking why they didn't have varsity programs. So the efforts began. Adams said that some of the policies that were in place at the time, "today are laughable." She was quick to credit the faculty and the administration for the support they have given to the women's sporting initiatives.

"We have come a long way of doing the right thing," Adams said. 

Representing another generation was Sue Scheetz, who moved up the ladder at Penn State from being an assistant lacrosse coach to head coach to, later Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator.

Scheetz talked about her early involvement in sports and the efforts to push for opportunities for women in sports. "You can't get everything done at once, but you can get something done at once," Scheetz said.

She pointed out that one issue about the legislation is the myths. As a former lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology, Scheetz said she was "amazed at the number of students who didn't know what Title IX was or had misconceptions.

The third member of a panel  is a person whose mere presence at Penn State is historical. Coquese Washington became the first female African-American head coach in the school's history.

Washington said that she never would have thought she could have a career in athletics. Now, however, the young women she recruits tell her they want to be professional basketball players, or work in other sport-related fields, such as physical therapy or sports media.

The panelists agreed that the lack of women in leadership positions is still an issue in athletics.

"Young women don't see anybody who looks like them," Washington said.

She also added that women's basketball coaches are placing emphasis on creating a pool of good assistant coaches who could eventually advance in athletics.

Scheetz concurred with these initiatives.

"We need more women who are successful, who will serve as role models for young female athletes," Scheetz said.

But gender equity in sports might face some challenges in the near future. Scheetz is worried that the financial challenges will make non-revenue sports difficult to sustain. That said, the panelists are hoping for continued support of women's sports.

If for no other reason, but because it was, and still is, "the right thing to do."

-- Dunja Antunovic

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Joe Posnanski talks about "Paterno" at Penn State

All Joe Posnanski wanted to do was to “follow the truth.”

Posnanski’s book Paterno debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestsellers list upon its release. On Friday afternoon, he spoke at Penn State about the biography, Joe Paterno, writing and the challenges he faced in the process. 

After the Jerry Sandusky scandal became widely covered by the national media in November, Posnanski's job became difficult as his interviews got canceled or postponed. What he tried to focus on at the time was to write the best book he could. “It was not going to be about the scandal,” Posnanski said. “It was going to be about his life.”

Responding to a question from an audience member, Posnanski was quick to acknowledge some of the quality reporting on the scandal, but he observed that the media narrative seemed to be going one way.

“I fear it’s because it’s very very difficult in today’s media world to fight against the tide and I think it used to be different,” Posnanski said.

He also said that under the time pressures, it is hard for journalists to be nuanced. Because it’s a complicated story, he wanted to include the “inconvenient facts” in his book that might not have made it into the media coverage.
Posnanski expressed his frustration with journalists who called the Freeh Report “exhaustive” considering that the “key members” were not interviewed.

“It’s like writing an ‘exhaustive’ book on the Beatles without talking to the Beatles,” Posnanski said.

However, he does not consider his book to be in conflict with the report because he said he did not make conclusions. 
Posnanski, an award-winning sports journalist began working on his book in November 2010, when after a year of “absolutely nots,” Paterno’s family called him and told him that Paterno would agree to have the book written about him. Posnanski moved to State College and began interviewing people who knew Paterno.

Based on his travels promoting the book, Posnanski feels that the conversation is changing and people are starting to ask questions.

“Time does change the dynamics very significantly,” Posnanski said. “Emotion will be taken out of it as well.”

One of the most common questions people ask him is to make a prediction on what the story will be like in a year or a few years.

“I don’t know,” Posnanski said. “If I did, I would bet on Super Bowls. But I do believe that time is going to play its part of the story.”

The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism organized the talk as a part of the “Conversation Series,” which has previously attracted visitors such as Mike Breen, Bob Costas and Jim O’Connell. The “conversation” was hosted by Malcolm Moran, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and Director of the Curley Center.

To see the video of the full conversation, visit Curley Center’s website. To see Twitter updates from the talk, visit @CurleyCenter.

The next Curley Center event will be a panel discussion titled “The Future of the NCAA and Its Membership” on Wednesday Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the State Theatre.  For more information, see this news release and look for updates on Twitter.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Athletes don't need to be vocal activists

Nation sports editor Dave Zirin does a fantastic job of chronicling the nexus of sport and politics in his documentary “Not Just a Game”.

The movie adroitly highlights the manifestation of dominant ideologies in American society and how they are reflected in sport. However, I must take issue with Zirin’s implied assertion that prominent athletes should be activists for change. More specifically, my criticism is with the way Michael Jordan is portrayed.

Zirin bashes Jordan for not loudly agitating for social progress; Jordan instead chooses to maintain a financially vibrant corporate image. One of the documentary’s main examples for Jordan’s perceived indifference is his refusal to endorse “African-American” Harvey Gantt, a Democratic Senate candidate, who ran against Republican incumbent and “opponent of civil rights” Jesse Helms.

The answer Jordan gave was “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” As cynical as that answer sounds, it cannot mask the bigger question that needs to be posed to Zirin: Why should Jordan endorse Gantt or anybody else? It is implied since Gantt is black and Helms is an “opponent of civil rights” that Jordan naturally should back Gantt.

This sort of commentary is highly problematic. Why do commentators assume that certain (read: black) issues should automatically determine how blacks should vote? For all women, should issues on reproductive rights automatically dictate how they should vote?

As for Jordan’s nonendorsal of Jesse Helms, what would Zirin say about James Meredith? Meredith, whom The Clarion Ledger says is the "first known black" to attend the University of Mississippi, worked for Helms in 1989. Is he less of an icon because his politics do not comport to Zirin’s views of what activists should be?

It is also not fair to compare Jordan to that of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos or Tommie Smith. The world they lived in during their athletic primes and the world Jordan lived in during his are radically different. Ali, Carlos and Smith were competing in the throes of both the civil rights and anti-war movements. Lots of blood was shed and many lives were lost in the battle to transform U.S. society.

This is not to say the 1980s and 1990s were a halcyon for civil rights, but societal attitudes were certainly different. The fervor from the previous generation had calmed considerably. There is no doubt the courage displayed by Ali, Carlos and Smith is legendary and paved the way for Jordan and others today, but why should Jordan, LeBron James or Tiger Woods be compared to them?

Athletes are placed in prominent positions in American society, right or wrong. Wanting them to effect positive change is a noble effort, but who gets to define what is “positive?” Issues are contentious because passions run strong along all (not just both) sides.

Maybe some notable individuals would rather work through charities or some other means to improve society. One need not have the podium or the loudest voice to help people.
-- Steve Bien-Aime

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

AAUW holds event for Title IX

Title IX celebrated its "official" signing date birthday over the summer, but the education initiatives about the legislation are far from over.

To set the tone for the new academic year, the State College chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) organized a short, yet informative lecture on Title IX on Monday evening at the Schlow Centre Region Library.

Peg Pennepacker, the athletic director in the State College Area School District, drew upon three decades of her experience in public education to talk about the challenges of Title IX in K-12, and primarily high school education.

Pennapacker highlighted a number of issues she runs into as a Title IX consultant to schools. One is that students, parents and school administrators are often under the impression that Title IX has no implications outside of athletics. "Title IX is not a sports law; it is an education law," Pennepacker said.

She also emphasized that Title IX does not require the cut of men's and boys' sports, which is another common myth about the legislation.

In light of the recent news that a Texas high school is planning to spend $60 million dollars on a football stadium (see earlier blog post), Pennepacker also talked about the rules that apply to high schools in regards to funds from boosters. She clarified that as long as the institution receives federal funding, it is the schools responsibility to ensure there is no disparity in participation opportunities under Title IX.

The presentation was concluded with a legislative update in the State of Pennsylvania: a new section is to be added to the Pennsylvania Public School Code, which would require schools to make the data of their interscholastic athletics opportunities publicly available. You can read the bill and the article here.

A particularly significant of this Article is that, additionally to reporting participation per gender and ethnicity/race, schools will also have to disclose the total value of non-school support (boosters, alumni, etc.) and indicate how these funds are distributed per team. The Article comes into effect in 2013, while the non-school support fund reports will begin in 2015.

For resources about Title IX compliance, see the AAUW guide or our earlier Title IX blog posts. 

-- Dunja Antunovic

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sportista: New book looks at female sports fandom

If you had to describe female sports fans, what would you say about them? How do they consume sports? How do they talk about sports? How are they “treated” by the traditionally male sports culture? What are the media outlets that serve their interests? 

Not sure where to begin answering these question? No worries. A new book is here to offer some answers. 

Andrei Markovits and Emily Albertson from the University of Michigan wrote a book titled Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States, which attempts to fill the knowledge gap about women fans, or in other words, women as consumers of sports. 

The introduction starts with the observation that the democratic and participatory nature of sports fandom, though inclusive on a number of levels, has systematically excluded women. The particular focus of the book is on “sportistas,” whom the authors describe women who are “immensely passionate and knowledgeable about sports” (p. 5). 

The book lives up to the promise of beginning to fill the gap about female fandom. But it does much more than that. It carefully contextualizes the experiences of female fans within gendered relations and norms that shape the US sports culture and continue to position women as inferior to men in their sports-related experiences. 

This context also provides a glimpse into women as athletes, media subjects and sports journalists to draw parallels as well as distinctions between their experiences and the experiences of women as fans. These experiences, while not mutually exclusive, might not overlap.  

In fact, one of the most important agendas of the books seems to be to delineate doing sports and that of following sports with a particular attention to how these behaviors are gendered.

To get to what I would consider the most intriguing discussion of the book, you have to be patient and wait until the very last chapter in which the authors discuss the promises of sports media outlets targeted towards women, more specifically espnW. Here, they introduce another distinction when they say: “To cater to the female athlete is not to necessarily to cater to the female sports fan; ‘women sports fans’ are, as we know, not necessarily ‘women’s sports fans’” (p. 222).

If there is one thing you want to get out of this book is this one: sportistas, hard-core female fans, are out there. They have to constantly prove themselves, they lack credibility, their knowledge is questioned and--or perhaps because--they are perceived as threats to the male domain of sports. But they are there and their experiences are important to examine. Despite the challenges that sportistas face, the authors write: "Being a sportista offers much-valued social currency and provides distinction that is immensely positive and pleasing" (p. 218).

We are yet to learn more about the female fans. Sportista is a great start.

The primarily scholarly work, spiced up with the authors’ personal anecdotes, makes for an enjoyable read that questions assumptions not only about the female sports fan, but ultimately the very organization of sports in the United States.

-- Dunja Antunovic