Structural Violence in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup

The World Cup will be occurring in Brazil this summer, and as almost any company would do, Brazilian t-shirt company Sergio K is planning to capitalize on this event. Their idea, it seems, is to print slanderous t-shirts about players on other teams that are playing in the World Cup, and as such have sparked a lot of controversy. Some of the shirts are quoted as being “harmless”, even though printing a shirt on which one player is referred to as a “loser” still seems like a waste of time and money. However, it is the shirts which refer to players as “faggot” and “gay” that are calling people to action. One shirt the company released calls Argentinian player Diego Maradona a “maricon” which is slang for “faggot”. The other boldly offensive shirt says simply, “C. Ronaldo is gay”. According to the owner of the company, Sergio Kamalakian, since the controversy began, sales of the shirts have only increased and they are now sold out. Furthermore, he has been cited as being unapologetic about the shirts, stating they are “inoffensive”.

What these shirts, and their subsequent controversy, has illustrated is both the issues surrounding sexual identity in athletics, but also the issues surrounding the consumer nature of professional athletics, especially events such as the World Cup. As we saw in the video we watched in class a couple of weeks ago, many areas of the world are much more open about their discrimination than the United States is. In Europe, for example, multiple black players have walked off the field after being taunted with bananas and other racially charged vulgarities. Furthermore, due to the heteronormative nature of most Western cultures, gay, lesbian, and transgender professional athletes face a lot of difficulties, if they’re even given the opportunity to make it that far.

What exacerbates this issue even further, however, is the consumer nature of Western society, professional athletics in general, and internationally recognized sports events. Sergio K was utilizing this consumer culture surrounding events like the World Cup, the Olympics, the Super Bowl, etc., to communicate a negative message about LGBT community members and further the structural violence perpetrated against them daily. Shockingly, despite the fact that Brazil legalized gay marriage last year, 44% of the world’s anti-LGBT violence occurs in Brazil. While Sergio K did not see anything wrong with the shirts, whose intentions were only to morally debase the players from other teams, the 292 LGBT community members who were killed in 2013 alone could probably have benefitted from more positive reinforcement of the LGBT community. The country can pass as much legislation as they’d like to promote queer equality and equal rights for all, but the small scale actions are what truly matter. The fact that Sergio K thinks that by printing that other players are faggots or gay, they are implying that it makes them less of an athlete, and subsequently enforcing and renewing anti-LGBT attitudes worldwide.

While Sochi, Russia got away with passing anti-LGBT legislation just before the 2014 Winter Olympics, Brazil and all of those watching and buying World Cup related paraphernalia must consider the consequences of their actions. The structure cannot be changed unless everyone is complicit and active in the change. The sales of these shirts should be stopped, and the voices of LGBT athletes and advocates alike needs to be looked for, listened to, and heard.

Based on article from Thought Progress: 

http://thinkprogress.org/sports/2014/04/18/3428350/brazilian-company-sells-world-cup-shirts-calling-star-players-gay-faggot/

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The Future of Collegiate Athletics

Shabazz Napier’s claim that sometimes he and his fellow UConn athletes go to bed hungry due to not having an income to live off of in college has caused widespread debate over the unionization and payment of collegiate athletes nationwide. This past March students at Northwestern University in Illinois petitioned for recognition as employees of the school and an ability to unionize. The goal of this petition was to seek better medical coverage, concussion testing, and the possibility of being paid. Shabazz himself is a supporter of the petition and has been cited as calling the legislation “kind of great” (Ganim). The biggest thing that is being critiqued and scrutinized in the entire debate is the NCAA, the big corporation controlling collegiate athletics. The debate that has come up reminds me greatly of that which we saw in the beginning of class with the controversy between NFL players and the company itself. The NCAA is the NFL of college and, just its professional counterpart, is stirring up controversy due to players’ conditions. Shabazz’s comment about going to bed starving was a startling and harrowing insight into the difficulties that many collegiate athletes face. While they may be receiving scholarships to attend the school, tuition is far from the only cost of a college education.

Civil rights historian Taylor Branch attended a national convention of campus athletic directors and addressed the claims of “amateurism” as the reasoning behind not paying college athletes: “Imagine this: suppose the university were to say we’re going to have amateurism for all the students on our campus, so we can be consistent. And that means that you can’t get a job at the campus bookstore if you’re an undergraduate, that you can’t be paid as a teaching assistant if you’re a graduate student. You’re an amateur” (Hruby). Thinking about it this way, not paying college athletes seems incredibly unfair. While agree that there are a number of confounding factors to take into consideration in this debate, Branch’s comments are not ridiculous. Many students, especially those in college on considerable scholarships, require jobs to supplement their income (or lack thereof) at school. By denying the athletes the ability to be paid for their service to the school, the colleges are preventing them from having this extra (or only) income. This is especially important given the time that they devote to their sport and their team, which would make it impossible to hold a job, on or off campus, during the season.

This is not to say that college athletes should walk away with the six-figure paychecks seen in the NFL, NBA, and other professional athletics associations. Shabazz himself states, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” (Ganim). To say that they are being reimbursed enough by their college scholarships is like denying the validity of the entire enterprise of Federal Work Study. Many, if not all, of the students receiving Federal Work Study are also receiving scholarships from the federal government and specific institution. However, this is often not enough, because, as mentioned previously, tuition is far from being the only expense students face in college. Although going about determining what to pay students for their college athletics would be incredibly difficult, it is something that more than just one school in country should be looking into doing.

Sources:

Ganim, Sara. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/07/us/ncaa-basketball-finals-shabazz-napier-hungry/

Ganim, Sara. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/us/northwestern-football-union/index.html?iref=allsearch

Hruby, Patrick. http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/61573892/

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Sports, Celebrities, and Politics

For many in contemporary American society, the dream is to become a celebrity or famous in some way. Some will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this, committing violent acts so as to gain infamy. However, for many others, the idea is to cultivate a talent and utilize this talent to achieve great success. This type of celebrities can be of a number of different type; there are sports stars, actors, musicians, and many other possibilities. These iconic figures become role models to young people, especially in sports, where for many it is a chance to move out of an underprivileged situation into a better one in which they can provide for themselves and their community.

This situation makes professional athletes ideal candidates for sponsors of certain companies, products, or messages that are being advertised to a large group of people. One recent instance of this was LeBron James being enlisted by the White House to promote Obamacare. Not only is the scope of the audience which LeBron has access to incredibly vast, but it is also an audience which may not have previously been paying attention to Obama’s recent policies. The spheres of sports and politics (not the politics in sports) can sometimes share avid fans, but for the majority of sports fans, politics may not be their top priority.

Obama’s administration is aiming to get 6 million people signed up for Obamacare by the end of March, and are currently at about 4.2 million. LeBron is not the only name in professional athletics enlisted in the Obamacare cause. Magic Johnson, the Baltimore Ravens, the Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney have all been public supporters of the law recently. The White House claims that by reaching out to people through sports, they may “reach communities that stand to benefit from many of the law’s new programs and the young adults that it needs to enroll in the exchanges for the law to succeed” (Waldron). The use of professional athletes for advertising is definitely not limited to the White House or politics. Many chain food companies, such as Subway, make use of professional athletes in their advertisements. Why are these athletes such a good choice in sponsorship?

Relating back to the Bourdieu article that we read for class recently, sports are often viewed as a means for people of lower classes to attain social mobility to more upper class positions in society. “A sporting career, which is practically excluded from the field of acceptable trajectories for a child of the bourgeoisie – setting aside tennis or golf – represents one of the few paths of the upward mobility open to the children of the dominated classes” (Bourdieu 832). Because the concept of being a sports star is something that is more accessible than some other means of gaining success and status, professional athletes can act as role models and be something that youth and adolescent working class people alike can aspire to.The commercialization of not only the sports events and teams, but specific individuals points to the larger move of our society towards commodification of most forms of life.

This post was based on this article from ThinkProgress: http://thinkprogress.org/sports/2014/03/14/3406101/white-house-enlists-lebron-james-to-help-obamacare/

Here is the video PSA featuring LeBron, and the one featuring Magic Johnson as well:

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