There’s No “I” in Crew

Much attention has been brought upon the sport of crew this past year, after the highly successful 2013 release of Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown.  The book tells the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning rowing team, who hailed from the University of Washington in Seattle.  It is rumored that a movie deal is in the works.

I began reading the book during my second season as a coxswain for the Lewis & Clark men’s varsity boat, and despite having played soccer for thirteen years of my life, I had never been so athletically inspired by a piece of literature in my life.

I knew very little about crew when I came to Lewis & Clark, and was surprised to learn it was the first intercollegiate athletic event in the United States, when Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale raced each other in the 1850s on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

The first thing I realized about crew was that it is one of the most demanding sports I’ve ever seen.  Not only are the athletes subjected to the most grueling battles of strength and endurance on the water during races, they are also required to haul the boats to and from the water before and after regattas.  They suffer pulled muscles and hands full of blisters.

The second and most impressive thing I’ve learned about the sport is that it is THE ultimate team sport.  Being a soccer player, I thought I understood the definition of “team player.”  But crew takes “team player” to a whole new level.  A University of New Hampshire rower, Elizabeth Lyons, describes it, “”Everything you do in rowing is for something bigger than yourself.  We don’t just put our oars in the water together; we breathe at the same time. We are one.”  What this means is that no one teammate receives any individual recognition.  Many sports record stats, or who scores, or even an MVP, but it is impossible to draw these conclusions in the sport of rowing.  This is similar to the idea of sport in the medieval times, “In medieval football, there was room for everyone and a sharply defined role for no one. (Guttman, 37)  In crew, an erg score is the only form of record for one’s performance, however, an erg score is completely inaccurate to one’s performance on the water.  An erg cannot measure rhythm, technique, or the amount of water pulled on each stroke.  One can have a very good erg score, but have terrible form on the water.  

I believe that the lack of recognition for an individual might be a reason why crew has lost the popularity it once had.  Fans like to idolize, and many athletes like to be idolized, “There is no reason to think that the thousands who jammed the circus maximus in Rome to cheer on their favorite charioteer did not react as worshipfully as the contemporary millions who idolize Pelé, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer, and the other heroes of modern sport.” (37)  


Link to Elizabeth Lyons Source:





Now Name Another

The Master’s golf tournament was a huge success this year with Bubba Watson taking home the big $1,620,000 win for the second time in three years.  However, after the success of the world renown tournament, Golf Digest Magazine chose a rather interesting subject for the cover of their May fitness issue.  Not a golfer, not a caddy, but rather the girlfriend of golfer Dustin Johnson.  Her name is Paulina Gretzky, and she was featured leaning on a golf club wearing a sports bra and tight, white leggings.  Clearly Golf Digest took Michael Messner quite literally when he said “If a woman is conventionally attractive and athletically talented or she invokes patriotism, then she can be pulled to the center of sports symbolism.” (110)

Hundreds of disgruntled Golf Digest readers spoke out, tweeted and blogged, protesting the cover does not represent the good taste and dignity that golf is supposed to have.  Good taste?  I beg to differ.  The fact that Golf Digest came up with the idea to use a scantily dressed Paulina Gretzky to sell magazines isn’t half as offensive as the numerous ways the magazine and the sport of golf itself are to women, people of color and people of socioeconomic disadvantage.

The last time Golf Digest Magazine featured a professional woman golfer on the cover was in 2008 with a cover shot of Lauren Ochoa.  In fact, women are not fairly represented in this sport.  In 2010, there were over fourteen million more males than females participating in the sport.  But it isn’t just women.  It’s almost everyone who doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter profile of a prominent, upper-class male.  Golf’s primary purpose is to serve as an exclusive social club for affluent, white males to create leisure and business relationships.  There have been many instances around the United States of country clubs resisting the admittance of members on account of race and religion.  Just this year, the Dallas Country Club in Dallas, Texas admitted their first black member.  The Dallas Country Club is private, thus having control over whom they choose to admit.  People argue, sure people of color play golf, just look at Tiger Woods.  Ok.  I’ll give you that one.  Now name another?  

In addition to the sport lacking racial diversity, golf also lacks players who hold religious beliefs other than in Christianity, specifically, Jews.  Many Country Clubs and golf clubs have had a history of excluding Jews that have attempted to join.  It has only been recently that some clubs have started to admit Jews.  In fact, many Jews have had to start their own country clubs to elude bigotry in the past.

In addition to golf’s many discriminations, it also happens to be one of the least environmentally friendly sports on the planet.  Golf courses are made up of acres of heavily watered land, and thus take up a disproportionate amount of water.  Further, they are drenched in insecticides, which are harmful to the health of humans, and animals who ingest them.

In summary, I’m not a huge fan of golf, so congratulations to Golf Digest for figuring out a way to make the sport more interesting!



America’s Obsession with March Madness; What’s All the “Bracket” About?

March Madness is a very strange American societal phenomenon.  When the NCAA basketball tournament is underway, millions of Americans drop what they’re doing and spend hours upon hours watching grown men, bouncing a little orange ball, trying to throw it through a netted hoop.  Throughout the entire month of March, loud outbursts of male voices are commonplace in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across America.  By contrast, college basketball isn’t highly popular with viewing audiences throughout the regular season, but something happens on the first day of March Madness, and it’s about all anyone in America seems to talks about.  Many American corporations capitalize on the country’s obsession with the tournament by running advertisements directed at males, during the games.  It’s a very promising way to for corporations to build awareness for their brands among millions of American men.  Many of their commercials directly incorporate March Madness into the scripts.

 Just like before the Academy Awards, when movie fans fill out ballots predicting who they think is going to win in each category, the same is done for March Madness.  People fill in bracket sheets with which teams they think will win each game, beginning with 64 teams, and ending with one winner.  There is usually a financial reward for the person with the “best bracket.”  Before, during and after the games, people will reference their bracket sheet to see how their predictions match up with the final results.  In order to fill in their brackets, some people take hours analyzing the season records of each school, while others attempt to mathematically predict the brackets, however, none have managed to narrow it down to an exact science, “The nature and the largest common denominator of all games, has at the same time the advantage of placing their diversity and relief and enlarging very meaningfully the universe ordinarily explored when games are studied.” (Callois, 9)  A very common method of filling in the brackets is to choose by the team mascots, or even the colors they like better.  But the biggest badge of honor is given to those who successfully predict which “underdogs” will defeat which “power-houses”.  The reason a correct underdog pick is such a celebrated event, is because March Madness is a tournament that any of the 64 teams can win, on any given day.  A team you have never heard of, like Mercer University, can win their first ever NCAA tournament game against a basketball giant like Duke University despite the fact that “on paper” Duke is the better team.  For those who pick the underdogs, and win, there is an amazing sense of pride.  It’s so easy to pick a powerhouse school such as Duke to go all the way, the person who chooses Mercer to win the whole thing, and gets it right, will be the hero in their pool.

Underdogs that win the NCAA tournament are celebrated more than power-house teams upon returning home.  The reason for this may be that power-houses are expected to win and underdogs are not.  This is not unsimilar to how winning Olympians are celebrated in their societies. “In fact, the men who proved their physical strength, their agility, their courage and their endurance through their victories in the great festivals, of which those at Olympia were the most famous, stood a very good chance of gaining a high social and political position in their home society if they did not already hold one.” (Elias and Dunning, 123)  

If 2014 is anything like past years, March Madness will be chock full of upsets, land-slides, and hopefully a few Cinderella stories.