Men’s and Women’s Basketball

The Michigan men's basketball team plays in front of a packed arena.

The Michigan men’s basketball team plays in front of a packed arena.

I am an avid sports fan and during my first semester at the University of Michigan I attended several men’s basketball games including the Hillsdale game and the Syracuse game. I also attended a woman’s basketball game against Cornell. My experience at the men’s games versus the women’s game was very different. On a Tuesday night for the Syracuse game the arena was packed and the crowd was electric the entire game. The student section, known as the Maize Rage, cheered, jumped and chanted almost the entire game. Students had lined up hours in advance of the game in freezing cold temperatures to ensure that they got a seat on the bleachers of the student section. The entire crowd would roar almost deafeningly loud during big plays, especially toward the end of the game as Michigan sealed the victory over a very talented Syracuse team. After the game I could relate to Bartlett Giamatti’s description of a spectators experience from his book Take Time for Paradise. He explains how spectators are intrigued and excited by sports because they create a series of events that has never been put together before, which can lead to an exciting ending. I left the game feeling excited after cheering on the wolverines to victory. Continue reading

A Spectator’s Take

Texas v Michigan

2014 Men’s Basketball Team

Since getting to school, I have attended numerous Michigan football games, a few men’s basketball games, and a women’s basketball game.

I really wanted to see how different the same arena would look when occupied by a women’s versus a men’s team, especially because I wrote my recent essay on the gender discrimination that we see in the sports world. Women athletes have faced discrimination all throughout the past and we definitely see the impacts of that today. The difference between the two basketball teams is a perfect example of the discussions we’ve had in class about the influence of gender roles on sports.

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Miracle and Taylor Branch

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USA winning the 1980 gold medal

On November 13, I went to the showing of the movie Miracle on North Quad. This movie documents the 1980 United States men’s hockey team, winners of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The coach at this time, Herb Brooks, is attributed to a lot of the success of this team by inspiring both physical and mental strength in his players. This movie is a great example of the intense lives of athletes. It demonstrates inspiration, hard work, teamwork, mental toughness and it will inspire all who watch it.

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team. 

Viewers are inspired by the US team because they all came from different places and had been previous rivals with each other. They had to learn to put aside their differences in order to become teammates and play well together. In the movie, there is a well-known scene after a game in which the team lost. Coach Brooks punishes the players for not playing up to their potential by forcing them to skate hours into the night. The players could barely stand up and the coach’s assistants were telling him to stop but Coach Brooks did not let them give up. Brooks was pushing his team to their limits. He knew they needed to be pushed to see what it takes to be a champion. He kept asking the players who they played for, over and over. Finally, one player came forward “I play for the United States of America!” and Coach finally ended the drill. He wanted to get across to the team that they are all playing for a common goal and that there is a necessary mental toughness for this game. Coach Brooks stated from the beginning that he wasn’t there to be anyone’s friend but instead to coach a championship team.

I play for the women’s lacrosse team here at the University of Michigan and our coach constantly reminds us that we are playing for the Block M on our chest. We have to earn the right to wear it because it is such a privilege. When we first stepped onto campus we were given a plain white t-shirt and blue shorts with no Michigan or Block M anywhere on them. We had to earn the right to play for Michigan each day through our workouts. Every day we pushed each other to be better. The team becomes your second family. That is what Coach Brooks of the USA Hockey Team did as he made them to skate for hours. I can relate to this feeling because our conditioning sessions feel impossible but afterwards we know we accomplished so much. In order to become champions, you must push yourself to your limits with your team at your side, giving you great motivation, just like the USA Hockey team. If you do not push yourself to your limits, you won’t get better or see results.

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

On November 14, I was fortunate enough to go to Taylor Branch’s talk about athletes and how the NCAA affects them. Taylor Branch is a huge advocate for the rights of student athletes everywhere. He is an author and a speaker, and has spoken to many audiences and has written and co-written many books. He has written many pieces on sports, particularly the effect of the NCAA and the life of athletes. Right now, he best known for his pieceThe Shame of College Sports” published in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic. This article talks about the NCAA and their strict rules and regulations it has on student athletes and universities. This article was interesting for me because he argues that all the scandals in the media surrounding college athletes cheating are not what we should be focused on. Instead, “the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves”. He compares overworked employees in the workplace to overworked collegiate athletes, saying it is unjust for one to be paid and not the other. It is interesting how in the workplace it is exploitation for an employee to not be paid for the success and hard work they’ve done. However, for a student athlete it is exploitation if they are paid or compensated in any way for the long hours, tough workouts, revenue brought to the university, and success they have while at the university.

I agree with some of what Branch says during this talk and I question whether collegiate athletes would push themselves harder if they were getting paid. However, I also believe that the NCAA put these rules in place to make sure that young athletes first receive an education before they decide to perform their sports professionally. Branch talked about the scandal at UNC. The UNC Athletic department created classes for student athletes that didn’t even physically meet. These classes were considered ‘fake’ but the students were still awarded the credits needed to be eligible and to graduate. UNC purposely made these classes to allow student athletes to focus on their sport, however this obviously took away the educational experience. On this note, a big point of conflict that Branch highlighted during his talk was that if student athletes got money, the “student first” would be lost. The NCAA wants student athletes to put the student first and get the education needed for their life after college. Again, as a student athlete I know the pressure that is put on athletes to perform at their best. Practices and workouts are very demanding. It is hard to sit through class and not worry about the excruciating workout that you next. It is also challenging to keep focus in an 8:30am class after a 7am morning lift. Despite not being paid for playing lacrosse at Michigan, being a student athlete has helped me learn to prioritize my time, and I believe I push myself to the fullest everyday, with the help of my teammates and coaches.

Exploitation in College Athletics

Ed O'Bannon (via Grantland)

Ed O’Bannon (via Grantland)

In their 2004 article for The Nation, Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier describe athletes speaking out against injustice. Some of the influential professions mentioned include Adonal Foyle and Steve Nash of the NBA, as well as Tiger Woods and Billie Jean King. Candaele and Dreier argue that there is a lack of athlete activism today, and I would agree that this is true. While recent events have inspired protests from athletes, like members of the St. Louis Rams, there are few athletes willing to speak out. College athletes are usually even less apt to speak out, because their futures often rely on scholarships that can be taken away.

(via USA Today)

(via USA Today)

Earlier this year, in April, members of the University of Northwestern football team broke that trend. They made an effort to unionize their team, and take their treatment into their own hands. The effort is still very much ongoing, and is being fought by the NCAA. There has been plenty of controversy in recent years over the NCAA treatment of players. Schools and the Association profit heavily off of the use of player names and likenesses, but the players themselves never see any of this money. We read earlier in the semester about Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

basketball player suing the NCAA over the continued use of his name and likeness. The Northwestern players represent a different situation, and a change in tone. They are current student-athletes taking aggressive action against what they see to be an injustice. Previously, most athletes to speak out on any institutional issue have been former players like Ed O’Bannon, or the NFL players suing the league over head injuries.

According to the Grantland article we read about Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, athletes are more or less required to help their institutions profit from the use of their images. It is hard to argue that this is not exploitation. In fact, exploitation is defined as “the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.” By this definition, the NCAA is surely exploiting its student-athletes. They make sure that athletes create revenue for them, and they do this by playing their sports. While some have stood against it, there are too many who have not. Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier’s call for more athletes to stand up is as relevant as ever. The more athletes to call for justice, at any level of sport, the better off everyone will be.

Do Sports Evolve?

Every sport has a specific set of rules, and in general, these rules are not supposed to change. Sports and games are considered to be constant. No matter where or when you are playing the game, it is supposed to be the same set of rules. But as society and culture evolve over the years, do the sports we play change with it? In his article in The New Republic, Marc Tracy discusses the recent rule changes in the NFL and explores whether or not they affect the integrity of the sport of football. However, I believe Tracy overlooks that almost all sports have been altered and changed since their creation.

In his article Tracy suggests that if a game changes too much, it is no longer considered the “same” game. He points specifically to three rule changes in the NFL, all of which are designed to increase player safety. But Tracy argues that if we go too far in that direction, we might lose the core foundation of what makes football football. But Tracy writes the article under the assumption that sports are not supposed to change. He recognizes that while these few changes alone may not jeopardize the sport, if changes like this continue, football may lose its core definition.

I would argue that these changes don’t jeopardize the sport, because it is natural for sports to change with time. If we look at any sport that has been around for more than one hundred years, we can see a vast difference between how the sport is played now versus how it was played when it was first created. For example, Major League Baseball has undergone a number of rule changes since its creation in 1869. Throughout its existence, MLB has altered the rules of the game to better suit the interest of the fan base. The period from around 1900 to 1919 was considered the “dead-ball era” in baseball because games were extremely low-scoring. Because the games were so low-scoring, interest in baseball declined because it was considered boring when no one scored. Major League Baseball reacted to this by changing a number of rules to favor hitters and allow for more runs to be scored. For example pitchers were no longer allowed to spit on the ball to make it harder to hit, and baseballs were changed more often so that they stayed harder and were easier to hit farther. Another important rule change in baseball was the addition of the designated hitter. In 1973, the American League allowed pitchers to substitute a hitter so that they didn’t have to hit. Because pitchers are generally worse at hitting, this was another rule that was meant to encourage more scoring. However, some of these rules seem like they jeopardize the integrity of baseball. Hitting is perhaps the most defining quality of the sport, and the designated hitter rule allows a player to participate in the sport without ever having to pick up a bat. But just because the rules are different doesn’t mean it is a different sport, it just means the sport is evolving.

Sports can evolve for a number of different reasons. Baseball decided to change the rules because they were losing fans and wanted to increase scoring. In the NFL, player safety has become a hot topic that has determined many rule changes. Some sports don’t even have to change rules for the sport to evolve. Sports like golf and tennis have changed dramatically simply from the changing technology in equipment. Tennis racquets have changed dramatically over the past several decades which has changed the nature of the sport. Tennis players can now hit the ball much faster. The 10 fastest serves ever recorded have all occurred in the last four years. Golf has experienced a similar change as golf equipment has gotten more advanced. Nike’s new golf commercial shows how much golf ball technology has changed over the years.

Perhaps sports simply change naturally with time. There is no “right” way to play football. It has changed continually since its creation, and it will continue to change as our society changes. Today we are more aware of the problems with player safety in sports, especially with full-contact sports like football, so we act accordingly. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s bad to change the rules of football in order to protect the long term health of its players, and that’s exactly what has happened. It is natural for sports to evolve, and it doesn’t hurt the integrity of the sport.

GTA = Play

This past week Target, the retail company, made a huge mistake in Australia. Following a terribly misinformed petition on Change.org by “female survivors of violence” that demanded the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V be taken down from the store’s shelves, Target complied – soon followed by K-Mart. As of right now the petition has a total of 47,350 supporters, a number apparently large enough to force a retailer to remove an award winning and well established video game that has been out for more than a year now from sale. The game (for that is what GTA is, a game) “encourages players to murder women for entertainment.” According to the creators of the petition “the incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘health’ points.” While one, you don’t actually gain health by killing a woman in the game, it’s also important to note that by no means are you restricted or given incentive to kill one gender more than the other. In all honesty, after first hearing about the petition I couldn’t help but think it was a joke.

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Gender Norms In Sports

There are gender norms today that exist in athletics. One gender norm that shows in athletics is women sports are inferior to men sports. Women are not as physical as men. Women sports are more feminine and more sexualized than men. Their sports are not as popular. Unlike in male sports, they are more physical and more popular than women sports. In women sports, there is less competition. ESPN only shows women sports if it’s a big game or a championship game. Unlike for men, basically every game is televised.

The National Women’s Law Center explains Title IX as “the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics program.” In today society in general equal rights and women’s rights are important and they are politically very hot topics. In sports, women rights have gradually increased over time because of Title IX.

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