Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is more required of black male superstar athletes?

Yahoo! NFL blogger Doug Farrar summarized an interesting article did on Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who is an outspoken supporter of same-sex couples having the right to be married. Kluwe definitely adopted a clear position on what is a contentious issue in American society today.

Many athletes refuse to wade into political battles for fear of losing endorsements, popularity, etc. (Farrar did mention the Baltimore Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo as a supporter of same-sex marriage, while Kluwe’s former Vikings teammate and Ayanbadejo's current teammate center Matt Birk opposes same-sex couples having the right to be married.)

Toward the end of the article, Farrar touched on the backlash that Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan receive for staying apolitical.

This raises an interesting question: Why should prominent black male athletes be the ones who have to speak out? I have heard scant calls for Peyton or Eli Manning to take social stands. Nil for Aaron Rodgers. Same goes for last year’s National League MVP Ryan Braun.

There is a romanticization in mainstream media with Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith? These men, along with many women, have gone against the grain to say what’s in their hearts and change the social landscape.

But why do LeBron James and other black male stars have to carry this legacy and not prominent athletes in general?

I write this warning of a little buyers’ remorse: Perhaps if more athletes do speak out, those “social activists” may not like what they hear.

-- Steve Bien-Aimé

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Remember the little moments" - John Amaechi talks to a PSU audience

Former Nittany Lion and NBA player John Amaechi visited the Penn State campus on Monday night to discuss the role of sports in the society.

"People have a hard time believing that I'm a psychologist because of the way I look," Amaechi said, signaling at his body. As a 6-foot-10 black man, people often have a hard time believing that currently his professional life is not being an athlete.

His opening stories subtly pointed to the stereotypes people hold about black men.

Amaechi, who is originally from Great Britain, talked about his upbringing and the influence his mother had on his values and his career aspirations. He also fondly recalled the importance of Star Wars, a movie that came out when he was 7 and inspired him.

Once Amaechi gave up on his dream to become a Jedi, he quickly turned to another, perhaps a slightly more realistic one: to play for the NBA. 

The first step in this process was coming to the United States to play at a high school level.

"I didn't realize sport was quite serious in America," Amaechi recalled as he expressed his confusion over terminology such as "preseason," "wights," and "individual practices."

He soon learned from his coach how serious sport actually was. Amaechi remembered his coach saying, "I hope you are enjoying this year, because this is the last time you are playing for fun."

In fact, as a varsity athlete at Penn State, Amaechi was very much aware that his performance had a much larger implication than just his own success. He knew that his coaches' jobs were on the line -- and that people's careers depended upon his play on the basketball court.

But, he had another issue to consider when playing for Penn State and that was whether to come out to his teammates and be openly gay. He names two reasons as to why he chose to remain silent about his sexuality.

One was that he felt that being gay on the Penn State campus at the time "didn't feel like a good idea." He recalled talking to Rene Portland, a former women's basketball coach, and feeling uncomfortable about people who she considered to be "different," as Amaechi put it.

The other reason he decided not to come out was that he was worried about his future career in the NBA. Amaechi said he wasn't "that good" and that he was convinced, at the time, that as a "not that good" player, he would not be offered an opportunity in the NBA as a gay man.

"I regret that I didn't come out while I was at Penn State," Amaechi said. "I knew there was a choice."

He choose the NBA.

As a former professional basketball player, Amaechi is concerned that athletes are not prepared to deal with the responsibility put upon them to serve as role models for kids.

"Sports doesn't teach people how to be good giants," Amaechi said.

He said athletes pick and choose when they want to be treated like "giants." An example would be when athletes are around people who don't ask for their autograph and adopt this "Don't you know who I am?" attitude demanding preferential treatment. When it comes to being socially responsible and answering questions about social issues, athletes, however, opt out.

The solution, Amaechi suggests, is to re-shift our focus upon the "little moments of interaction."

"Sport when it's great, attends to details," he said.

These details can be as small as giving a hi-five to a child, or making eye-contact with a player when coaching them, or reaching out to a family.

"In those little moments, we make people feel better," Amaechi said. And that, he suggested, make sports and psychology interact.

Most importantly, it is being consistent in the decisions you are making.

"You can't be a part-time person of principle," Amaechi said.

Amaechi seems to have found his way of being as close to a childhood dream of being a Jedi as he possibly could. But, as a retired NBA player, he emphasized that the success tied to performance on the basketball court and the fame passes quickly.

"One day nobody will care about these great sweeping moments," he said. But what people will remember are the "little moments."

He told a story of playing in a gym during his basketball career and seeing two kids -- brothers -- there. He came up to them, talked to them a number of times and a few months later brought them to his camp in England. To his surprise, one of the children asked Amaechi to adopt them.

Years later, one of the children asked him: "Do you know why we picked you to adopt us?" Amaechi thought they chose him because he was a famous basketball player. The kid responded: "Nah, you weren't that good," and added, "We picked you because you remembered our names."

Amaechi cherishes these little moments and strives to bring many of these into life through his work as a psychologist and activist in different organizations. He believes that the development of young athletes to become attentive and responsible human beings lies in early education and, particularly, the NCAA's power to prepare the athletes for success beyond their athletic careers.

Amaechi strongly believes in the power of sports to teach principles and values that make life better. He acknowledges so by recongizing the positive influence his coaches have had on him.

Yet, when asked about who taught him the values he holds so dearly now, he names a person who had nothing to do with sports and who barely saw him play.

"Most of my values come from my mom," Amaechi said. "I mean, I used to think she was a Jedi. That tells you something about her."

John Amaechi is an author of a memoir titled "Man in the Mirror," which was published in 2007.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Friday, October 12, 2012

PSU hosts workshop on national pastimes

What is a national pastime? Can a nation have more than one national pastime? Is a "pastime" national based upon spectatorship or participation, or both?

These are some of the questions that the acclaimed scholars will be addressing during a two-day workshop hosted by the Pennsylvania State University.

This morning, Mark Dyreson, Professor of Kinesiology, open the "The Lives (and Deaths) of American National Pastimes" workshop addressing the early tensions in the development of the function and cultural significance of national pastimes in the United States.

Additionally to the faculty from Penn State, the workshop welcomes scholars from the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Purdue University and George Mason University, among others. 

On Friday, the workshop will encompass lectures on how basketball, baseball, and football became constructed as "national pastimes." The scholars will also address the role of the media in this process of construction, as well as the relationship between law and the emergence of these activities.

To close the first day of the conference, John Nichols, Professor Emeritus at the College of Communications, will offer a commentary.  He will be addressing a talk titled "Intercollegiate Sports as National Pastimes -- Why American Football Became the Dominant College Sport" by Ronald Smith, Professor Emeritus of Sport and Exercise Studies, at 4pm.

The workshop continues on Saturday at 9am with sessions on horse racing and prize fighting. In closing, the scholars will address how social identity -- based on gender and race -- allowed for/limited access to "national pastimes."

Marie Hardin, Associate Director for Research at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism will be commenting on Jaime Schultz's and Andrew Linden's talk "Women and National Pastimes," which begins at 11am.

The workshop is held at 110 Henderson Building. On Friday, the sessions end at 5pm, while on Saturday, they conclude at 1pm.

For updates, go to @CurleyCenter on Twitter and check back to our blog.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Recap: Past presidents disagree with sanctions

A panel including past presidents unanimously disagreed with NCAA sanctions placed upon Penn State late this summer, levying $60 million in fines, drastically cutting scholarships and keeping the team out of bowl contention for the next several years.
But they also agreed on this: Nothing can be done, and Penn State needs to move on.
“My heart goes out to you. This was a very unique situation and I hope it never happens again. No one has ever fired a president or athletic director over a football issue,” said Gene Corrigan, NCAA president from 1995 to 1997. “No one has certainly literally killed a football coach over one either.”
Corrigan and others spoke on the future of the NCAA to a crowd of about 500 on Thursday night in the State Theatre.
Penn State R. Scott Kretchmar, former NCAA faculty representative, drew applause when he expressed his disagreement with the level of the punishment by the NCAA and the level of evidence to support the punishment.
“Draconian penalties need to be supported by a high burden of proof. The evidence is not all in. Trials didn’t even happen yet. What happened to due process?” Kretchmar said.
Thomas O’Toole, assistant managing editor/ sports of USA Today, expressed his shock when the NCAA sent a letter to Penn State asking questions about the scandal.
“When I heard about the story, I thought there was no way the NCAA would or should get involved. When I heard the NCAA sent Penn State a letter, I was stunned,” O’Toole said.
After the panel had expressed its scrutiny of the NCAA’s involvement, university Board of Trustees member Anthony Lubrano addressed the panel.
“What can we do?” to address the sanctions, Lubrano asked.
Cedric Dempsey, NCAA president from 1994 to 2003, was the first to speak. He was blunt.
“There’s nothing you can do. You gave up your rights and therefore, your options,” Dempsey said.
According to the panel, Penn State would have had a case against the NCAA on procedural grounds, but since Penn State forfeited its right to appeal, there is nothing that can be done to overturn that decision.
Corrigan was even more blunt: “Bury it and move on,” he said.
Amanda Hommer is a student in the College of Communications. She can be reached at