Men’s Basketball v. Women’s Gymnastics

Last week, I was able to attend the men’s basketball game against the Syracuse Orange. Throughout the entire game, the two teams were basically neck in neck and it was anyone’s game. Vibrant electricity was pulsing through the crowd and the cheering for the Wolverines was making the ground quake; specifically, the noise from the student section stood out immensely. The student cheering section for men’s basketball games in the Chrisler Arena is commonly known as the “maize rage.” Through the encouragement of the maize rage, with less than a minute remaining, Michigan’s Spike Albrecht managed to break the tie by scoring a 3-pointer, thus putting the Wolverines back in the lead. The maize rage went crazy in wild cheers and song supporting their team. It was truly an incredible feeling to be apart of. Just as Giamatti writes in his Take Time for Paradise, I can attest that “The spectator, seeing something he had only imagined, or, more astonishingly, had not yet or would have never imagined possible, because the precise random moments had never before come together in this form to challenge the players, is privy to the realized act of imagination an assents, is mastered, and in that instant, bettered.” The ability to be apart of the maize rage was something that allowed for a bond to form not just among the spectators, but also between the spectators and the team. Through our cheering on the team, we formed a bond with them that motivated them to push themselves harder and eventually resulting in a Wolverine victory. Continue reading

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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.

Free Labor?

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The last saturday in August could arguably be the most anticipated day of the year, Why? It’s the first weekend of the college football season. College football is a multi- billion dollar establishment that has 125 Division-1 football programs who compete every Saturday. These are some of the best athletes in the country putting their bodies on the line each and every week for the greater good of their team and the satisfaction of winning the game. This barbaric and violent sport is filled with collision that grasps the attention and excitement of die hard college football fans every weekend. These athletes put their bodies on the line and usually become public and national figures, where their faces seem to be everywhere. The universities sell their jerseys, put their names and faces on billboards and ticket stubs, but won’t allow their student athletes to receive compensation for their likeness. The university makes millions of dollars off their students athletes, but won’t share the wealth with the ones who bring in the wealth. If the athletes are being treated and exposed like a professional why aren’t they being paid like one?

In Eric Dunning’s “Dynamics of Modern Sports,” he gives a reason as to why athletes compete. Most will say because they want to be win and be champions, which is very true but there are three reasons that stood out from Dunning’s piece; he said money, fame & recognition, and opportunities. Dunning explains how the idea of professionalism emerged in the 19th century. He uses the example of how surgeons were not seen as doctors, they were low ranked because the competitiveness for the job was not that serious until the 19th century. Since the need for surgeons increased the competitiveness for the job increased also, so professional regulations needed to be established. Dunning explains that professionalism is a trajectory, between competitiveness and seriousness. As competitiveness increases, seriousness increases, so as the competitive aspect emerges, the amateur ethos emerges. Similar to surgeons, college athletes are becoming professional because the high competition level, demand for entertainment, and the revenue they generate every weekend. College football is no longer an ametur sport like it was back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but they are still being defined and treated like they are.

The idea of college amateurism has been debated since the late 19th century. Charlie Mitchell, Heavyweight boxer (1886) said, “In fact I should like to hypothesize the amateur ethos was articulated as an ideology in opposition to the trend towards growing seriousness and that it received its most explicit and detailed formulation when, as part of the trend, the modern forms of professionalism sports began to emerge’’ (LaVaque-Manty). So, he supports Dunning’s idea that as the competitiveness and seriousness increase the professionalism aspect will then emerge. Athletes recognize this issue but the ones who control the money have not (the colleges).

Division 1 colleges across the country

Division 1 colleges across the country

College institutions need to adapt to the idea of Dunning’s philosophy and apply that to their student athletes. Division-1 competition is the highest caliber of competition the United States’ universities have to offer. The best athletes from around the world are all put on one team and are expected to compete and perform at a high level against the world’s best. College sports, especially college football attracts the national spotlight. Millions of people watch while thousands attend them and the universities are making a significant amount of money off of everyone. It is unjust for universities to be selfish and not share the wealth with their athletes who are becoming professionals.

Witnessing Play

Michigan Hockey (via wikimedia)

“Ahh!” screamed the player as he fell to the ice in pain.  I gritted my teeth and watched in morbid curiosity, a player for the opposing team had just been hit in the neck by a slap shot. I sat in the spectator section at the Michigan versus Wilfred Laurie hockey game and to my astonishment the player quickly recovered and continued to play. Only a moment before he laid on the ice gripping his neck.  The student section continued to scream and cheer on as if nothing had happened.  I was also surprised at the chants I was hearing, most were fun, some were a little strange and then a couple were quite vulgar. Never had I seen a group of people yelling and screaming in such a manner, football is one thing but hockey was on a different level.

I had a similar feeling while I was at the Michigan versus Maryland girls’ field hockey game.  I was surrounded by parents of opposing players and they too were getting very caught up in the game.  They were screaming at the referees and players as loud as they could.  At times I almost felt embarrassed for these parents.  But I realized that this is exactly what A Bartlett Giamatti was writing about in his book Take Time for Paradise.  These parents and students were living through these players.

via wikimedia

The students at the hockey game and the parents in the stands cannot compete on the level of those in the game so they instead chose to play vicariously through the players.  And to them that’s what they were watching- play.  But it was most certainly not play for those in the game, as they were competing not playing.  In Johan Huizinga’s 1938 book Homo Ludens, he defines what play truly is.  One part of his definition is that play is contained, it does not spill over into the real world and does not have any consequences. For those competing this is most udoubtedly not the case.  If that hockey player doesn’t get up after getting hit in the neck and is then unable to play, he is cut from the team and he loses his scholarship and can no longer afford an education. If those on the ice or field do not play well or make too many mistakes then they are benched, they can be cut by the team and they too may lose their ability to afford an education.  There is no situation in which something as serious as what I have just mentioned can occur for those in the stands.

In my political science 101 class we talked about things that we consider play that do not fit into Huizinga’s definition.  One student came up with the games that the Ancient Aztecs played in which the losing side would be sacrificed to the gods.  Similar to the ice and field hockey game, the presence of such a consequence transforms what was once play into competition.

These players have extra stress put on them to play well.  The fans do not have such stress so, as Giamatti writes, these people are living in utopia, or a world without work, stress, or any other worries. They don’t have to worry about their scholarship or the physical labor of playing the sport and can thus become completely enthralled with the play aspect of the competition. The spectators are in a state of perfect bliss and enjoyment. So when that puck hit the player’s neck, there were an infinite amount of terrible things that could have resulted from it, but we fans just kept on cheering.

Activism From Professional Athletes

Where Are the Jocks for Justice” by Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier took a look into Adonal Foyle’s battle to change the current political system. When most athletes were spending money to rebuild playgrounds or schools, or visiting sick children in the hospital, Foyle was running a grassroots group called Democracy Matters. Democracy Matters wanted to educate children about politics, push them to vote, and bring pressure to change the current political system. Foyle clearly wanted to make a change in society and earned a lot of praise for his battle against the political system. However, not all professional athletes have been given the same praise. Continue reading

Consequences of Actions from Professional Athletes

Where Are the Jocks for Justice” by Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier took a look into Adonal Foyle’s battle to change the current political system. When most athletes were spending money to rebuild playgrounds or schools, or visiting sick children in the hospital, Foyle was running a grassroots group called Democracy Matters. Democracy Matters wanted to educate children about politics, push them to vote, and bring pressure to change the current political system. Foyle clearly wanted to make a change in society and earned a lot of praise for his battle against the political system. However, not all professional athletes have been given the same praise. Continue reading

Are Sports Political?

We have all heard someone say it at one point or another. Sometimes, it’s when their kid doesn’t get any playing time, and the parents want something to blame. Sometimes, it’s when a call is made by a referee that is highly challenged and makes half of the gym rage with anger. Sometimes, it’s true. “Sports are political.”

Sports have a history of being linked with politics, and political gestures. Max Weber wrote “Politics as a Vocation” during the after effects of WWI on Germany and the Bymar Republic. At this time, Germany was experimenting with democratic sorts of governments, whether it be living for the government, or living from the government. Merriam-Webster defines “vocation” as a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action. Behind all political decisions is the possibility of force. So, we come across a question. What makes a good politician? Well, often three things are looked at:

  1. Judgement – This is not sterile excitement (rather, excited about an issue). It is commitment.
  2. Passion  – This is not sterile excitement (means-ends rationality). It is the ability to be strategic.
  3. Responsibility – This has no good intentions. There is concern for the future and what comes next.

With a good politician comes political ethics. First of all, the ethics of conviction (what Weber does not want in a politician). These are absolute and act-oriented (ex. “under no circumstances will I do…”). On the other hand, however, are the ethics of responsibility (what Weber wants  in a politician). This focuses on being flexible and future-oriented.

Many athletes have learned to us their athletic platform to take political stances. For example, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow uses his platform to express his faith and love for God. While he was a collegiate football quarterback, he would paint bible verses on his face. When he reached the NFL, however, they did not give him this freedom.

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In an article called All Sports Is Political:The Dave Zirin Interview, Dave Zirin (one of the most famous sports writers in the world of sports) spoke on sports and politics. His views on the mix of the two are very different than most sportswriters. “I think there are many cases where owners and head coaches make it clear that politics are divisive in the locker room, it undermines the idea of team, and that sports and politics should not mix. Also, in much of the mainstream sports media, the message is often contradictory. [The media] tend to decry the modern athlete who just says “We play one game at a time,” because that athlete doesn’t give them good copy, but they’re also the first to jump on an athlete if they dare say anything political or out of the mainstream. Now not every sportswriter does this by any stretch, but that is the general overriding ethos.”

Sports are more often than not related to politics, whether it is something Weber would agree with or not.