McDonald’s New Course Will Examine Social and Political Issues in Professional Sports

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Are sports leisure activities that are freely chosen outside the influence of politics? Or are there broader forces at work?

Mary McDonald cites protests by Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Football League (NFL) athletes concerning police reform as the most recent examples of sports influencing and being influenced by issues beyond the playing field and resonating throughout popular culture. In a new course titled “The Politics of Sports” that will be offered in Spring 2017, MacDonald will counter the notion that sports are free of politics and invite students to explore the social, economic, and political issues that impact professional sports.

“My idea for this course is to examine similar recent events from sports and to think about their larger cultural significance,” said McDonald who is the Homer C. Rice Chair in Sports and Society in the Ivan Allen College School of History and Sociology.

“Fortunately, there is a fairly robust body of scholarship that helps us understand these timely and developing events and issues. This class will engage the theories and methods from the interdisciplinary field of sports studies to help us understand both related historical issues and contemporary times.”

The course description for “The Politics of Sports” is as follows:

Recently sports-related demonstrations such as protests by WNBA, NBA, and NFL players against unequal policing, brutality, and racial profiling have taken center stage within the sports world. Protests by athletes are not new and link to longer histories of sports as a site of political struggles. This lineage suggests that far from being a form of innocent play, sport is ensconced in social, cultural, economic, and political contexts and concerns. This course engages this history and contemporary state of affairs while offering an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of sports studies. Given that there is no one unchanging, universally recognized “canon” of sports studies, we will selectively engage key themes, which have historical and contemporary social relevance particularly as articulated through discourses of gender, race, class, and nation. These topics include (but are not limited to): historical studies of sporting activism; Black Lives Matter-inspired protests enacted by contemporary athletes; fan identifications and the politics of pleasure in sports; the global economics of mega events like the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup as well as the cartelization of professional sports; issues of sustainability and environmental concerns articulated via the presence of global golf networks and local sports stadium construction; and the practices and politics of Olympic sex and gender testing as well as the growing relevance of science and technology within sports. To assist our analysis we will engage historical and cultural studies, media studies, sciences and technology studies, and sociological analyses. The ultimate aim of this course is to encourage students to think about the intersections of sports and power as well as the diversity of disciplinary and theoretical conceptualizations which help to illuminate the salience of popular cultural forms including sports. 


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