Critiquing and Creating Social Spaces

By Christopher Matthews

I was happy to be asked to write a blog post shortly after publishing this paper in Gender and Society. I remember sitting down at my laptop to start the process of translating my academic arguments into less opaque language. Part way through this process I realized that what I was writing didn’t have the impact that I was hoping for; the post was turning into a simplified summary of my paper. “Surely,” I remember thinking to myself, “a blog post should be more than this?” With some time I realized that my frustration was connected to broader issues related to the translation of research, public engagement and active scholarship.

There have been useful attempts within academia to begin developing impact of scholarship, that is, actually doing something based on research findings. One crucial element of this in the UK has been the significance that is placed on evidencing the impact of research in order to obtain funding in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Unfortunately, my research in boxing has had almost zero measurable impact when considered in this manner. This is why I struggled to develop what I considered to be an interesting blog post at the time, I wasn’t ready to start telling people beyond academia about my research, as I’d not done anything really significant with it yet!

My paper was based on ethnographic research I undertook in a boxing, martial arts and weight lifting gym in England (see Matthews, 2014, 2015 for more detail). The central critique I made in the paper was that while there’s lots of evidence of broad societal shifting in various ways towards equality there are social-cultural spaces that remain, and perhaps become increasing, resistant to such change. When my analysis is broken down to this level it becomes a simple idea, and it is, so while the paper makes a relatively significant contribution to academic knowledge, the obvious question follow; so what? Or what’s next? And this is why I feel the need to create not only critique.

boxing
Luke Jones at Bexhill Film Company

Boxing, as a cultural phenomenon, has a long history of being a site for difference, inclusion, diversity and challenging social norms. Yet, it is still dominated symbolically and quantitatively by certain men and narratives about manhood. The legacy of boxing’s historical roots in a powerful, aggressive and often violent masculine body culture still shape and frame contemporary experiences inside and around the gym. However, the rise of women’s boxing, perhaps highlighted most significantly at the London 2012 Olympic games, has made stories of female boxing fair easier to tell and live (See Woodward (2012) for a discussion).

 This Girl Can Box

England boxing and many boxing clubs around the country have made significant contributions to continuing this process. And while there is still much work to be done, many boxing clubs have become spaces where powerful, skillful and strong female bodies are presented, expected and respected.

Where boxing clubs in a general sense appear to be more resistant to change is in their ability to attract and cater for LGBTQI+ communities. In many cases this is not through any sort of open or even covert homophobia, but rather a lack of knowledge about how, and in what ways, it might be possible to break the symbolic association between boxing and certain images, ideas and stories of heterosexual men. For example, I spoke recently with a gay man who really wanted to try boxing, but when attending his local gym simply couldn’t walk through the door, as if there was a force field keeping him out.

 The clearest way of tackling this issue, is to create spaces where these ‘social force fields’ can be eroded. Indeed, there are some great examples of how this is already happening (London Gay Boxing Club, Velvet Gloves Boxing NYE). So I began working with my local gym, the Eastbourne Boxing Club (EBC), to explore the potential for starting an LGBTQI+ boxing class.

The first stumbling block is funding. One of the main reasons boxing clubs do not have such sessions already is that they believe, in most cases quite rightly I would suggest, that they simply won’t be popular enough to cover expenses. Most clubs simply don’t have the finances to enable them to take risks on sessions for groups that have not traditionally been associated with boxing. I was able to secure some funding from the University of Brighton’s Community and University Partnership Programme to help in this regard.

The next issue is to find coaches who can deliver boxing in a manner which is inclusive and considered. Fortunately the coaching team EBC is not only well qualified in the sport but they also hold progressive personal political ideals. They have been really interested in the idea of promoting boxing to the local community. I have also taken the England Boxing level one boxing qualification so that I can assist where possible.

As such, we found some free time at the gym organised free boxing classes for the local LGBTQI+ community. We are currently promoting these sessions with flyers and posters both on the internet and in hardcopy. Indeed, England Boxing has helps us with this post about the sessions.

I will conduct some research based on these sessions which will help develop my existing academic explorations of boxing, produce monitoring and evaluation information for the specific sessions while, also highlight best practice and areas for improvement. The goal is to combine this information with research from other similar projects to produce guidelines and suggestions for the national governing body and other clubs who are interested in doing something similar.

This is how I have attempted to create something based on my academic critique, and this is also why I now feel like I can produce this blog post now. Simply put, I have more of a story to tell about how my research is doing something in the world rather than sitting on a shelf in the library.

Christopher R. Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. He is a competing amateur boxer who has used his active participation as central aspects of his research. He has published on a variety of topics including men’s power, sports violence, health, gender and sexuality. Alongside Alex Channon he is the co-editor of Global Perspective on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World and the co-founder of the Love Fight Hate Violence campaign.

The Unconditional Love and Exploitation of the Black Male Athlete

By Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith

It seems every few weeks or so we have this conversation about Black male athletes who violently abuse their White wives and girlfriends (from Mitch Lee to Corey Batey to OJ Simpson to Lawrence Phillips to Ruben Patterson to Ezekiel Elliott and others), and the fact that they are almost never held accountable, in any meaningful way, for their violent actions.

These are certainly not the first or only cases, but they shine a light on a perplexing phenomenon we have been observing, researching and writing about: the unconditional love of the Black male body – as long as he can throw, run, catch, dunk and score in an athletic contest, entertaining fans and making hundreds of millions of dollars for White coaches, owners and athletic administrators.There seems no better American football player in red jersey and helmet holding ball against blacktime to have this conversation again than now, on the heels of the recent college football bowl game season and on the eve of the SuperBowl, games that have or may involve athletes who have been accused of acts of violence against women.

During the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017, several college football teams faced scrutiny for their protection of Black men accused of heinous crimes, including 12 football players at the University of Minnesota who are accused of gang-raping a White woman in October and a player at the University of Oklahoma, Joe Mixon, who is seen on video punching a White woman in the face, leaving her unconscious

During the last few days of January 2017, six federal lawsuits have been filed against Baylor University where, since 2012, 32 football players have been accused of committing 52 rapes (5 were gang rapes involving 10 players raping one woman).  At Baylor, most of the accused players are Black and all of the victims are White. Data from 2014 reveal that of all NFL players arrested, 55% were arrested for intimate partner violence and another 38% were arrested for sexual violence, in other words 4 in 5 NFL players arrested between 2000 and 2014 were arrested for acts of violence against women. Continue reading “The Unconditional Love and Exploitation of the Black Male Athlete”

Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys

By Sarah Winslow and Rebecca Joyce Kissane

In the next week, we will have crowned a new World Series Champion, thus ending the MLB season, NFL football is now in full gear, and both NHL hockey and NBA basketball are a few weeks into their seasons. If you’re one of the nearly 57 million people in the United States and Canada who play fantasy sports, it’s likely that your enjoyment of these events is accompanied by the excitement of drafting, monitoring, and competing with your fantasy sports team. But does this experience differ for men and women? Both men and women play fantasy sports, frequently competing against one another in a context in which the presumed physical differences between males and females are seemingly irrelevant, conditions that may make gender irrelevant as well. Yet, our research demonstrates that is not the case. Women are treated as outsiders and consequently challenge, to varying degrees and in varying and sometimes contradictory ways, how they are treated and perceived.

kissane_pic
Final “Bro League” standings, image by Grace Greene

In fantasy sports, individuals build virtual sports teams comprised of real athletes who accumulate points based on their performance in actual games. The majority of participants compete in fantasy football, baseball, and basketball, although fantasy sports leagues exist for a wide range of sports. Although recent attention has been focused on daily fantasy sports, with some states moving to declare these activities illegal, the majority of players—and those that we focus on in our work—currently play in traditional fantasy sports leagues like that depicted in the popular FX series The League; this means they create and manage their teams over the course of an entire sports season and compete against other managers doing the same in a virtual league.

Despite its skyrocketing popularity, there is a dearth of research on fantasy sports, and little serious attention has been given to how gender operates in this space. We know that since the 1972 passage of Title IX, women’s and girls’ participation in athletics has substantially increased, female athletes have become cultural icons, and a few women, like baseball player Kelsie Whitmore or NBA assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman, have made inroads into male-dominated sports. Yet, we also know that women’s sports still receive less attention from fans and the media than men’s, female athletes are often treated as sex symbols, sports largely remain sex-segregated, and women in sports still garner lower financial rewards and hold fewer positions of power than men do. As an example of the contradictory position occupied by women in sports —simultaneously celebrated for their accomplishments and cast as outsiders and publicly denigrated when they veer too far into what has historically been men’s domain – on October 6, 2015, two-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning softball player Jessica Mendoza, already a regular analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” made history when she became the first woman to call a nationally-televised MLB playoff game. Touted as a major step forward for women in sports, the event was also swiftly met with what can only be described as sexist, misogynistic backlash. Continue reading “Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys”

Coaching and Masculinity: a “natural” combination?

By Catherine Bolzendahl, Vanessa Kauffman, Jessica Broadfoot

Olympic fever has hit! As we all marvel at the power, precision, and grace of the athletes, a more disturbing commentary has also emerged, one that diminishes women athletes’ accomplishments, defines them by the men around them, places them in tired tropes of sex objects, or infantilizes them as “girls.” Some journalists, in combination with a robust social media discussion, are calling this bad behavior out. But should we be so surprised?

According to past research, no. In our work, we see this as a more pervasive issue, and women’s collegiate coaching is a prime example. When Title IX was enacted in 1972 approximately 90% of women’s teams were coached by women; in 2014 that number dropped to 43%. Women comprise only 23% of head coaching positions. Why are women coaches – especially of women’s teams – being left out? We talked to several women and men coaches of women’s and men’s teams and many of their own explanations suggest a view of fundamental and “natural” differences between men and women.(The data collection process involved in-depth interviews by the third author in the fall and winter of 2008 of 21 collegiate coaches from a single Division I University. The final sample was comprised of nine females, three of which were head coaches and six of which were assistants, and twelve males, made up of nine head coaches and three assistant coaches. The Division I University from which the interviews were obtained reflects the nationally skewed proportion of men and women coaches, particularly in regards to head coaching positions.) Continue reading “Coaching and Masculinity: a “natural” combination?”

Striking Goals for Pay and Prize Parity in Sport

By Cheryl Cooky

Cross-posted with permission from The Society Pages here.

In March 2016, the United States women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the complaint, the U.S. women’s national team is paid less than their male counterparts, despite having the same work requirements. In fact, as the American women won the 2015 World Cup and returned home to ticker tape parades, media appearances, and sold out crowds, the team struggled with low compensation and access to the resources they had so clearly earned and deserved. The U.S. women’s team earned $2 million from FIFA in their World Cup win; the U.S. men’s team received $9 million for their 2014 World Cup performance, despite being eliminated in a very early round of the tournament.

By the end of May, the U.S. Senate had passed a unanimous resolution (S.Res.462) urging the United States Soccer Federation to “immediately eliminate gender pay inequity and treat all athletes with the same respect and dignity.” Around the same time, the women’s team asked a federal judge for permission to go on strike against the U.S. Soccer Federation, two months before the team’s scheduled appearance at the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. Their absence from the Olympics would be glaring and significant—not only for U.S. soccer, but for the Games.

This is not the first time the U.S. women’s soccer players have spoken out against unequal treatment. Last summer, in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, several players complained to FIFA that the women’s games were scheduled on artificial turf, while the men’s games were scheduled on natural grass, the ideal surface for the game. The women also took issue with FIFA’s unequal distribution of prize money. Continue reading “Striking Goals for Pay and Prize Parity in Sport”

Raising the Ceiling and the Floor: the fight for fair pay in women’s soccer

By Rachel Allison * 

As a new season opens for the National Women’s Soccer League, five of its star players, who are also members of the national team, are in the news after filing a federal wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer. The five players – Carli Lloyd of the Houston Dash, Becky Sauerbrunn of Kansas City FC, Alex Morgan of the Orlando Pride, and Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe of Seattle Reign – contend that they are paid a fraction of what players on the men’s team earn, even though they have had greater on-field success and drawn larger television audiences for their big matches. As a scholar of women’s soccer, Rachel Allison applauds these players’ campaign for greater pay equity. But she also notes that the fight for fair pay has to include their teammates in the NWSL, who take the field for poverty-level wages. 

Soccer
Alyssa Naeher takes a goal kick for the Boston Breakers in the 2015 NWSL season (Victor Araiza/Flickr)

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) begins its fourth season this coming weekend. With a new team, the Orlando Pride, starting this season, the expanded league will open play with ten clubs. Seattle Reign FC enters the season defending the NWSL Shield, having finished last year at the top of the league standings, while Kansas City FC looks to win the league playoffs for the third year in a row.

Though still a fledgling association, the NWSL will hit a longevity benchmark not enjoyed by either of its two predecessor leagues in women’s professional soccer. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS, 2009-2012) each folded after three seasons. What has distinguished the NWSL’s operations is the involvement of soccer federations in the US, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Major League Soccer (MLS).

The season kicks off amid conflict between U.S. Soccer and the league’s star players who are members of the national team. National team players brought attention last year to unequal, unsafe field conditions, calling for elimination of the “grass ceiling.” More recently, players have turned to the issue of compensation. Within an ongoing legal dispute between U.S. Soccer and the player’s union, five well-known members of the national team filed a complaint of wage discrimination on March 31 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The hashtag #FairPlayFairPay summarizes their argument: women’s players on the national team are required to perform the same job, but for far less than their counterparts on the men’s side. The debate currently unfolding is whether U.S. Soccer, as a nonprofit organization, can take revenue into account in determining compensation for players on the men’s and women’s teams, and if so, how it does this. The likely outcome is a substantially improved compensation package for the women. Continue reading “Raising the Ceiling and the Floor: the fight for fair pay in women’s soccer”