Friday, August 3, 2012
Monday, July 23, 2012
Those tuning into the spectacle won’t be told that 80 of the 204 nations participating in London have never won a medal, and another 51 claim less than 5 medals in Olympic history. Some nations have not won a medal for at least 40 years. But many wealthy nations have enjoyed much success with the U.S. winning 2,549 medals and various configurations of Russia/USSR and Germany winning 1755 and 1,698, respectively, since the modern games began in 1896.
Monday, June 18, 2012
As football in the United States has come under increasing scrutiny in connection with brain damage caused by shockingly high rates concussions and repeated sub-concussive head trauma, league official at all levels have either tried to defuse concerns or they have changed rules to reduce head contact that can cause brain damage among players, especially young players.
Apologists for football who cannot imagine life without regular doses of violent contact between males of all ages have defensively argued that accidents and injuries are a part of life and that young people can be injured while riding bikes or crossing the street.
Of course, hard hits to the head are not an inevitable part of riding bikes and adults have taken great care to see that children are safeguarded as they walk home from school. Parents religiously teach their children to cross streets so they will never be hit by a car. But when it comes to tackle football and the growing evidence that it involves regular head hits that can cause brain damage, these same adults and parents say that there is a need to reduce hits to the head and chances of brain damage.
Apparently, the elimination of dangerous head hits and the preservation of heavy contact football is valued enough to accept a reduction rather than an elimination of brain injuries. Violent contact, the apologists argue, is inherent in “the game” and valued by some players and most spectators.
But remember, we’re talking about brain damage here, not torn ACLs, stitches on a chin, or broken arms.
Parents who remember this are now beginning to ask why they should encourage or even allow their children to engage in an activity that involves regular hits to the head, sometimes with concussive force.
Think about it: if we see a parent regularly hitting a child’s head with enough force to occasionally cause a concussion, wouldn’t we intervene or call social services? In most states we are obliged to do the latter and a child protection worker or police officer would intervene. But if parents permit their children to play heavy contact football and attend games during which regular hits to the head are endured, they are seen as praiseworthy.
So if the officials running youth football programs change a few rules to reduce head hits rather create a game that eliminates them except as relatively rare accidents, does this meet our expectations for responsible action?
Would we approve of a child protection worker who told parents that regularly hit their 12-year old son on the head that they should hit the boy less often or only on weekends?
Or to use a less dramatic example, would we praise parents who allowed and even encouraged their children to play a bike riding game in which potentially concussive head trauma was inevitable?
Of course, few parents would approve of this game and even fewer would praise their kids and pay for the equipment needed to play it five times a week and another time on the weekend when they would watch and cheer for them.
Are parents really willing to suspend reason and the safety of their children’s brains simply to maintain the revered place of heavy contact football in U.S. culture?
We shall see.
In the meantime, is there anyone for replacing heavy contact youth football with incidental contact flag football?
This piece was provoked by a June 13th New York Times headline that read, “Trying to reduce head injuries, youth football limits practices.”
Monday, September 27, 2010
But for the people of South Africa, and certainly the rest of the continent, the 2010 Men’s World Cup did not provide adequate shelter, bring heat into homes, or put food on their tables. Nor did it reduce unemployment, provide support to underemployed day laborers in segregated townships, boost salaries of workers to meet the basic needs of their families, or reduce the socio-economic inequality that erodes the foundation of the young South African democracy.
For a few, mostly wealthy and well-connected South Africans, he flow of capital generated by the 2010 World Cup brought additional material advantage and political power. It also provided an opportunity to promote neoliberal ideas about the importance of individual responsibility as the way to solve pressing problems. At the same time, the pride and spirit created by hosting the Men’s World Cup were palpable to those consuming media representations of the event. But it didn’t take long for these feelings to be replaced by the desperation that was suppressed and repressed during Cup matches and festivities.
In this sense, there’s nothing so over as a World Cup—or the Olympic Games. Like other mega-events, the Cup leaves a combination of memories, exhaustion, and debt. People were sold the myth that everyone benefits from hosting the World Cup, but they quickly discovered that the event brought only a few of them temporary jobs and left their country with massive cost overruns and few resources to maintain social programs. The legacy that they expected was displaced by the harsh realities of layoffs and the absence of a social safety net.
Overall, the World Cup did little more than increase economic disparities in the population as a whole. Efforts to attract capital did not lead to programs and opportunities for underserved populations. When billions of dollars are at stake, people with power and influence position themselves to benefit from the flow of capital into a host city and region. However, the vast majority of people do not have access to that capital nor do they enjoy its benefits.
As unemployment has reached 33-percent generally, and over 50-percent for 15-34 year old blacks, conditions for have worsened for most South Africans. Public employees went on strike as they face job insecurity and anticipated cuts in public programs for the most socially and economically vulnerable South Africans. At the same time, factory workers making far less than the $57 per week minimum wage have struggled to keep their jobs in the face of industrial decline.
The desperation caused by worsening poverty is not softened by the presence of new stadiums or memories of vuvuzelas. This is a hard lesson to learn after having been seduced by the emotions that come with hosting such an event. Unfortunately, these seductions continue around the world with nation after nation learning that spending billions of public money to host major sport events is neither the best way to maintain democracy nor stiumlate overall economic growth.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Weber, Bruce, and Juliet Macur. 2010. A champion against cancer, under siege. The New York Times (August 21), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/sports/cycling/22armstrong.html
Here's my official response--going to the authors of the article and others who are contacting me and forcing me to respond to maintain a 30-year reputation as a good scholar and careful thinker.
Jay Coakley, Ph.D.,
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Wow! I'd forgotten about that interview—an hour-long call that took me out of my brother’s room at a cancer treatment center where he deals with the ravages of late-stage melanoma, the same cancer that killed my 32-year old son 10 years ago. It was a call from Bruce Weber, a New York Times writer with whom I'd never talked. I didn't know him, but I looked him up later. He’s done obituaries for years (good ones, by the way), and also did a feature article on Armstrong back in 2005.We had a nice long talk, partly about cancer-related issues. My goal when talking with journalists, which I do dozens of times each year, is to help them see their story in a larger perspective informed by what might be called a sociological imagination—that is, an ability to connect the biographies of individuals with larger social and cultural factors when making sense of what people do.
I see my conversations with journalists as reciprocal teaching and learning opportunities, and nearly always, that is what they’ve been. That’s why I took nearly an hour away from my brother to talk with Weber. Too bad, he didn’t listen very carefully or chose not to represent the spirit of my comments when he attributed comments and quotes to me.
First, and most important, Weber writes, "[Coakley] said that he had no doubt that Mr. Armstrong was guilty of doping, but that it did not matter. For athletes, [Coakley] said, the line between performance enhancement and medical treatment has become so fuzzy that it is impossible to discern." What I did say to Weber was that I had no doubt that Armstrong, like all elite cyclists who are contenders in the Tour d' France and other major road races, is taking some substances, legal or otherwise, that enable him to recuperate and consistently perform at a high level in a grueling schedule of training and racing. I made a point of saying that he may not be taking anything that is banned by the cycling federation and that he probably knew more about the physiology of training and performance and the effects of performance enhancing substances, including various chemical compounds that are not officially classified as drugs, than most top athletes in history, due to his treatment experience when he had cancer. I noted that he undoubtedly used that knowledge to assist him when participating in 21-day 2100-mile races up and down mountains.
I also explained that in elite sports today, the line between using medicine to treat injuries and using it to maximize training effects and performance is all but gone. Today, I explained, many people in sport medicine are focused more on performance than treatment—or they make no significant distinction between the two.
The "morality comment" attributed to me is taken out of the context of our long conversation (I never considered it an "interview"). I said to Weber that in the current culture of elite sports, athletes use many different and often new and even experimentally untested technologies to train and perform at a high level, and that the use of various substances that aid training and performance is not viewed in moral terms in this culture. I did note that athletes don’t see this increasingly normal part of their training as a moral issue. Instead, they see it as what they must do to maintain their identity as an elite athlete, honor the sport to which they are dedicated without qualification, and meet the expectations of all those who depend on them to perform well, including their families, teammates, support staff, and sponsors. I emphasized that the athletes who take these substances often are the ones who work the hardest, even to the point of literally wearing out parts of their bodies.
Finally, I did not so flippantly say that if Armstrong had told the truth, he'd be gone along with all the money he's raised for cancer research. Again, I put my comments in the context of elite sports and said that we in American society have created unrealistic norms that lead us to demonize athletes who use performance enhancing substances, many of which are now regularly prescribed to 50+ year olds who use them, like athletes use them, to maintain their edge (and their identities) in business, medicine, law, other occupations, and even in the bedroom. In the face of these unreasonable and morally self-righteous expectations, athletes are forced to deny part of what they must do to maintain their bodies and perform as is expected by all those who want to be entertained by their superhuman feats. In this context, if Armstrong had told the truth about what he was taking at any point in time, even if it wasn't on the banned substance list (as Mark McGuire did with androstendione, which wasn’t on MLB’s banned list when he took it), his career would have been over—and this would have destroyed his ability to raise money for cancer research.
Finally, I even sent to Weber material on deviant overconformity as it is meticulously explained in my book, Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies (10th edition, McGraw-Hill, 2010). Additionally, I told him that research published in Europe (in French) shows that many of the substances traditionally and currently taken by athletes have been developed by researchers working for national defense departments and the military in various nations in an effort to maximize the performance of soldiers expected to push human limits in the course of performing their duties. I even made the case that athletes have been socialized to see themselves in terms very similar to how soldiers see themselves—representing their communities, schools, nations and families as they do what they have committed themselves to do. Unwisely, perhaps, I disclosed to Weber that I take a substance that prevents debilitating fatigue caused by multiple sclerosis.
My point was that this drug is banned for athletes (Marion Jones lied about taking it, among other things, and went to jail), but it was developed by researchers seeking to find a drug that would enable soldiers to maintain alertness during tedious hours of piloting long range bombers and jet fighters or enduring long stretches of guard duty for which alertness is a matter of life or death. I went so far as to say that if I was on a 20 hour trans-Pacific flight I hoped my pilot would take the same drug when experiencing severe drowsiness, or if I was rushed to the hospital for heart surgery in the middle of the night I hoped my surgeon would use the drug if he or she was dead tired.
Please note this is the first time I’ve been misrepresented by a journalist for the New York Times, a publication that has excellent sports journalists. When I’ve talked with them many times in the past, they’ve always been sensitive to the spirit and context in which my comments are made and then represented them very accurately. I learned the hard way many years ago that talking to journalists who only want provocative sound bites is never a good idea.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
This NFL social influence campaign is a masterful response to the changing media landscape and its impact on sport media sponsorship patterns; it also is consistent with longterm trends that may eventually lead to an NFL network as the dominant channel through which people will consume NFL football in the US and possibly the world.
Marketing people have known for decades that their success requires that they develop a commitment to their brands as early in a consumer’s life as possible. Some corporations have tried to do this through the schools, but there is growing parental and teacher resistence to this strategy as manifested by drink machines in hallways, logos on buses and school walls, and branded fast food in cafeterias.
At the same time, Pepsi, a longtime Super Bowl sponsor, decided that they would not buy their customary ad spots for the 2010 Super Bowl; instead, they used the $20+ million dollars to develop a new media campaign to link Pepsi with local service projects created primarily by younger people whose beverage decisions are essential to Pepsi’s domestic market share and profits.
This move by Pepsi is among the factors that led the NFL to develop alternative strategies to link its brand with young consumers. Using the local network social influence framework refined by Obama’s campaign team in 2007 and mimicked by Pepsi and others more recently, this new NFLRush “celebrate your team pride” campaign is the NFL’s attempt to create supportive, peer driven networks among younger fans and their significant others. The total “awards” given to schools in this particular campaign cost the NFL about one-tenth of the income the league receives for one 30-second ad during the Super Bowl. But the potential payoff is mind boggling in Gramscian terms: establishing peer maintined message “outposts” in the heads of elementary school children nationwide. If it works, it will be the latest coup by pro sports to boost profits by coopting space in the public sphere.
The campaign appeal to parents is consistent with neoliberal definitions of parental moral worth; as the parents’ page for the campaign states: Let your child's teacher, school administrator or PTO/PTA leader know about this program so you can be a super parent [emphasis added] and your child's school can have a chance to be an NFL PLAY 60 Super School! (http://www.nflrush.com/footballfriday/ ). Similarly, as school budgets have been decimated by neoliberal policy approaches to public education, desperate teachers may be eager to join the NFL RUSH.
This campaign takes the cynical but effective announcement, “Let’s hear it for your (sic) Denver Broncos” to new and more lofty heights. To paraphrase Antonio Gramsci, an Italian political theorist who wrote from a jail when fascits controlled Italy in cell in fascist Italy (1928-1937): “It’s difficult to fight an enemy that has outposts in your head”—or the heads of your children and students.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
There’s always a need to regularly remind parents, coaches and other adults of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of youth sports. Here are six recommendations based on youth sport research over the past half century:
Don't: Use adult sports as models for organizing youth sports.
Do: Encourage children to play informal games, and facilitate informal games by providing children with time, safe spaces, and various indirect forms of guidance.
Don't: Use coaches of elite adult teams as models for organizing your own coaching. Bela Karolyi and Bobby Knight may be heroes to many for their ability to keep young athletes totally dependent and dedicated, but they are not good models for how to socialize children when it comes to anything that I would call positive character development.
Do: Use child-oriented teaching methods grounded in the realization that children are not little adults, and should not be treated as such.
Don't: Use an "Obedience Model" of coaching - based on:
-Providing constant and pervasive supervision
-Using established and non-negotiable rules for athletes on and off the field
-The use of sanctions to produce compliance with rules
-Encouraging athletes to look to authority figures for approval
-Emphasizing the consequences of failure to obey and follow rules
Do: Use a "Responsibility Model" of coaching - based on:
-Providing information for decision-making
-Enabling athletes to develop individual and team rules for on and off field
-Focusing on consequences of decisions and learning from mistakes
-Encouraging athletes to be responsible for their decisions
-Emphasizing an awareness of how decisions impact others and the overall context
Don't: Make underage children sign contracts committing themselves to long-term goals. Remember, it takes informed consent to sign a contract, and children cannot give informed consent no matter how talented they are in a sport!
Do: Help children take control of their own lives so they will be able to set realistic goals when they are ready to do so.
Don't: Use dominance over others as the measure of excellence.
Do: Use personal progress in the development of physical competence as an indicator of excellence. The goal should be to create achievement motivation, not the desire to feel compelled to beat others to feel good about self.
Don't: Emphasize external rewards as a source of motivation.
Do: Emphasize internal rewards associated with participation and competence as a source of motivation. Many young people today have never developed a deep love for the sports they play apart from all the perks that come with them. Such love is grounded in joy combined with a sense of personal achievement.