St. Louis Rams: Jocks for Justice

In response to the most heated and controversial issue in the US right now, the murders of unarmed black men by white police officers, protests have taken many forms.  Violent riots broke out in Ferguson, MO as after Darren Wilson had not be indicted.  After the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, Al Sharpton arranged a more peaceful protest, a national march in Washington DC.  Even those who didn’t physically participate in demonstrations still voiced their opinions via social media; the hash tag #blacklivesmatter began trending on Twitter.  While obviously looting stores and violent demonstrations don’t solve anything, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and should be allowed to voice this opinion if not inflicting harm on others.  However, last Sunday, when St. Louis Rams players made a grand gesture during player introductions, there was a lot of outrage. Continue reading St. Louis Rams: Jocks for Justice

With Time Comes Change

Stereotypes, perceptions, rules, what is considered socially acceptable, etc. all mold over time periods. During the Civil Rights Movement it was seen as okay to be racist because that was what was being debated. Now it is very unacceptable to see someone’s life as less important than yours because of the color of his or her skin. During Women’s Suffrage it was okay to not want women to be able to vote, but now if one were to express these feelings they are the minority group and therefore it is not seen as socially acceptable. Those perceptions have completely changed with the molding of society.

Not only do perceptions change but rules do as well. With new advances in technology, sports have changed throughout time. Ice hockey used to be played with “block of wood for a puck” and “all players [had to] play the entire game.” Nowadays a puck is made of “vulcanized rubber” and substitutions are allowed. So because rules have been altered is that not still hockey? Do changes result in a new sport, or is it close enough to the original that it can still be considered the same?

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Continue reading With Time Comes Change

Athletic Individuality

In lecture this week, we discussed the modern state of advocacy in professional athletics. We learned of Olympic athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith who, in the summer 1968, decided to raise their fists during the national anthem in an act of solidarity for the black power movement. We also learned of the incredible individuality of Jesse Owens as he chose to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany despite the tense racial atmosphere of the time. Many consider these two instances to be the defining moments in the history of political activism in sports, though, since, many examples of advocacy in sport have taken place.

Above, an image of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
Above, an image from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

As a follow up assignment to the lecture material, we were instructed to read “Where are the Jocks for Justice,” by Kelly Candaele and Peter Drier. This text argued that modern day athletes lack the same feeling of individualism held by athletes like Owens, Carlos and Smith (among many others). She attributed much of the silence among professional athletes to the involvement of unions and corporate sponsorship. College athletes, however, are not subjected to the same external pressure as professional athletes, and are thusly afforded greater freedom when sharing their views.

Such freedom was manifested in Evanston, Illinois, when earlier this year, the Northwestern Football team made a controversial request to the National Labor Relations Board seeking unionization. The athletes felt as though their role in collegiate athletics resembled that of employed professionals, making them eligible for union-employee benefits. While the University at large and the team’s head coach strongly opposed such efforts, the players ultimately decided that their rights and best interests would be better served under the management of the structure provided by labor organizations. In a statement offered by the University, it claimed that presence of unions would without questions “… add to tension in terms of creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ feeling between players.” This display of advocacy serves as a key example in explaining the fearlessness felt by college athletes.

Above, a picture of the University of Missouri's star defensive end, Michael Sam. Sam came out as gay in 2013.
Above, a picture of the University of Missouri’s star defensive end, Michael Sam. Sam came out as gay in 2013.

A similar testament to the individuality felt by college players existed at the University of Missouri. At the end of his final season playing for the football team in 2013, Michael Sam, the star defensive end, came out as homosexual. Sam had long been open about his sexual orientation with his team, but chose not to expose his secret with the public until after his last game as a college football player. As was later stated by the player’s family, Sam deliberately decided to announce his identity as a homosexual man in college because he felt, once in the NFL, outside pressure would prevent him from displaying such transparency. Among many other college athletes, Sam took advantage of his uncompromised independence and openly advocated for a cause he felt deserved increased attention.

While this type of individual advocacy doesn’t often find its way to the professional sports sphere—as made clear in “Where are the Jocks for Justice”—it’s not uncommon for professional athletes to express their views through social media. After Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, hundreds of professional athletes advocated for racial equality. NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant made clear that meaningless brutality directed towards young African American individuals should not be tolerated. Similarly, in recent days, many star athletes have flocked to Twitter and Facebook to voice their views on the controversial decision not to indict Darren Wilson (the police officer responsible for Mike Brown’s death). In each of these instances, it seems social media offered an easy escape route for advocacy. Rather than taking action and actively deciding to continue the cause for racial equality, the Internet provided a viable avenue for laziness.

Above, a riot in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin in  2012.
Above, a riot in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Personally, I think so much of what makes athletic competition (collegiate and professional) valuable is the scale of viewership it entices. Professional athletes should be held accountable for speaking their voices, no matter the consequence, for they have the opportunity to set an example for millions of onlookers. With the ever increasing ease of relying on others to conceive our own opinions, those in the national spotlight should be held responsible for vocalizing and acting upon their views. Social media is certainly an effective form of advocacy, but more must be done to make change.

Mike Brown and the St. Louis Rams

I’m sure we have all heard about Ferguson, Missouri over the past few months and especially the past week. Michael Brown,Ferguson,_Day_4,_Photo_26 an 18 year old, was killed on August 9th, 2014 by police officer Darren Wilson.  Many protests and riots have occurred across the country after Darren Wilson was not indicted on any charges stemming from his shooting of Mike Brown.

Continue reading Mike Brown and the St. Louis Rams

Burke and Football

Every Sunday for about 20 weeks, I sit on my couch for about 8 hours and watch the best sport alive, football. As a lover of the sport, I truly appreciate the game for its amazing plays, big hits and sophisticated defensive schemes that coaches employ. According to Mark Tracy’s article NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football, the NFL has adopted 3 new rules to help make the game safer: banning ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into oncoming defenders in an attempt to break free of the tackle, getting rid of kick-offs in the Pro Bowl, and eliminating tackling during preseason camps.

By implementing these rules, the NFL is taking away a tremendous amount from the game. Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, would also be against implementing such rules. In Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution in France, he states that slow and gradual change is the best way to yield positive results; revolutionary change is counterproductive and will lead to unrest and disorganization. The NFL is a game known for its physicality, a main feature that attracts so many viewers. Disallowing ball carriers to lower their helmets and taking away tackling from preseason camps takes away from the physicality that fans love to see. While these rules do improve the safety of players, it diminishes the sport as a whole. In addition, the NFL is taking away kick-offs during the pro bowl. Devin Hester was known for electrifying the crowds with his ability to return kick offs.

Devin Hester, the NFL's best kick returner, is getting set to return the kickoff. (via Wikimedia)
Devin Hester, the NFL’s best kick returner, is getting set to return the kickoff. (via Wikimedia)

They have brought excitement to the game and have created a new dynamic to the game. By taking it away, it will only make the game less exciting and appealing to fans. The NFL should not make such drastic changes to the game. Football players understand that the sport they play is a physical one that carries risk to their health. If all these rules are implemented, is it still really football?

A couple years ago, the NFL proposed a new rule that would punish teams for their players’ multiple flagrant hits, resulting in thousands of dollars of fines. Dubbed the “Steelers Rule”, players were outraged, calling football soft. In 2010, all pro linebacker James Harrison was fined $100,000 for his hits. He took out his frustration on twitter, saying “I’m absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots”.

James Harrison playing against the Baltimore Ravens.
James Harrison playing against the Baltimore Ravens.

James’ teammate Lamar Woodley was also disgusted with the new rule, stating, “Football is turning soft now. Too many fines. Too many penalties protecting the quarterback every single play. Defensive guys can’t be defensive guys no more”. As seen, many of the players already are unhappy with the current rules. Additional rules would drastically change the game, something Burke would be completely against.

Michael Sam: Creating Individuals of Conformists?

We make choices every day, including the decision of whether we want to conform to the ideals of society or make our own path. In the eyes of political theorist John Stuart Mill we must listen to the ideas of people as we grow up, but as we hit adulthood we must stray from the expectations of others and make our own decisions. These decisions create unique approaches to various situations and scenarios that might set new precedents or norms for society.

The world of sports is always changing, as controversial topics and debates affect all aspects of life for the public. Recently, Michael Sam has become a major figure in the NFL, but for his actions off the field rather than on it. Prior to entering the NFL draft Sam became the first openly gay player in the league, sparking debate over the issue of sexuality.

Mill would agree Michael is an individual, considering he went against societal norms and initiated another form of acceptance within one of the most popular pastimes in America, yet his actions have established another model for athletes in the future.

Michael Sam playing for the St. Louis Rams.
Michael Sam playing for the St. Louis Rams.

In November, GQ magazine named Michael Sam one of the 2014 Men of the Year. In the interview, Michael stated that he didn’t want this story to happen, claiming that the media portrays him as the gay football player rather than a football player who happens to be gay. Whether he wants it or not, Sam has become a role-model for other players in sport leagues across the United States. This began when Barrack Obama congratulated Michael, the Rams, and the NFL for taking an important step forward in the nations’ journey. Since then, a number of collegiate athletes from across the nation have come out publicly in a variety of sports. Looking at the way Missouri handled the situation with Michael Sam gives hope for others in his position.  Continue reading Michael Sam: Creating Individuals of Conformists?

Is the NFL communist?

Communist symbol
Communist symbol

With the current state of the NFL and agreement between players, owners, teams, and the league, the National Football League shows a glaring resemblance to institutionalized communism in the United States. With the salary caps, drafts, scheduling formulas, and equal revenue shares, many would believe that Karl Marx was the commissioner of the NFL before Roger Goodell. Although known as America’s “new” pastime, the NFL has been built on the model of a communistic and socialistic philosophy. Even though many right-wing conservatives and extremists would believe that equality and equal ownership is the best option for the league, they would revolt in fear if the same courses of action were established in society.
Continue reading Is the NFL communist?