Mimetic Play: Why’s it Worth the Pain?

Risk, pain, and injury, have become accepted components of the sports realm.  Despite the fact that pain and injury from sports can be permanently detrimental to a person’s health, people continue to worship, watch, and participate in a variety of sports at varying levels of competitiveness.   Why?

To understand why so many people accept the seemingly barbaric concept of pain as part of sports, you need to explore the need that sports fill.  As Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning examine in their book Quest of Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process (2008), today’s society stresses the suppression of necessary exaggerated moments of excitement, energy, and expression.  They assert that these necessary exaggerated actions are released through the avenue of mimetic play. 

Private work and family matters, rest, catering for biological needs, sociability, mimetic play are all avenues of necessary leisure time, according to Elias and Dunning.   A few examples of mimetic play are general play, hiking, music, theatre, and sports.  Mimetic play is considered to be one of most important kinds of leisure time because it is the release for needed exaggerated actions.

Sports fill this niche for out bursts of exaggerated energy and emotion because they still fit within the structured aspect that today’s society craves.  Pierre Bourdieu explains “the space of sports is not a self-contained universe.  It is inserted into a universe of practices and of consumptions that are themselves structured and constituted in a system…sport consumption cannot be studied independently of food consumptions, or leisure consumptions in general” (1988:155).  Sports provide a perfect balance of structure and control, while at the same time allowing for variation and change, aka mimetic play. 

This need and drive for mimetic play comes out in many different ways in sports.  One example in which the need for mimetic play outweighs the pain, risk, and injury aspects of sports is in women’s soccer, particularly in relation to Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury (ACL).  After interviewing four collegiate women’s soccer players who had torn their ACL, three common reasons arose for why they continued to play soccer after such a difficult injury, showing their need for mimetic play. 

 The first reason was that soccer had become an integral part of their identity and community.  One interviewee stated “It’s (soccer) a huge part of my identity that I’ve had since I was six, it was really hard to realize I’m more than just the soccer part of me.”  For all four women soccer was who they were and participating in it they received extreme amounts of happiness, even going as far as say playing soccer again after an injury was “like a kid in a candy shop.”  The second reason was that they didn’t directly blame soccer for their injury, despite the fact that they did sustain the injury during their participation in soccer.  All four of those interviewed repeatedly insisted their injury could have easily happened outside of sports or non-sports related factors contributed to their injury.  The third and final reason that revealed a sort of need for mimetic play was the need to prove their strength and resilience through recovering from their injury and play soccer at the same level as before their injury.  One interviewee stated, “If I can play through the pain, I can probably work up to being a started again.”  In that pain wouldn’t even get in her way from proving she could play as a starter again.

Overall these women and the three reoccurring variables are a perfect example of how despite an otherwise natural instinct to stay away from risk, pain, and injury, many people still play sports.  It is interesting to think that instinctually people avoid risk, pain, and injury, but indirectly attract it because of other fundamental needs.


Proud to be Stacked

Super Bowl advertisements are almost as important as the game itself.  It is seen as a prime moment for companies to pitch their products to over 100 million viewers at one time.  Every second of advertisement time is coveted and a 30 second slot can cost around $4 million.  Advertisers work to nag audiences with their pricey few seconds by making advertisements that are as witty, funny, and thought provoking as possible.  This past Super Bowl, however, one of the possibly most thought provoking advertisements wasn’t shown.

Proud To Be, an advertisement created by the National Congress of American Indians, was not aired at Super Bowl XLVIII.  Some site claim the cost of advertising was too high; others say that the Super Bowl has rules against activism advertisements; and some claim it was never submitted.  While it is unclear exactly why the advertisement did not air, the message remains the same.   The advertisement shows a variety of clips and photos that depict what it means to be Native American with a voice over of words that are used as descriptors of Native Americans.  At the very end of the video the voice over says, “Native Americans call themselves many things.  One thing they don’t…” and then it slows down and shows a Redskins football helmet.

The advertisement was created by the National Congress of American Indians was made to promote a national campaign to end the use of the Redskins mascot for the Washington D.C. National Football League team.   The campaign “Change the Mascot” was launched by the Oneida Indian Nation to both raise awareness and change accepted racist mascots, particularly the Redskins, in the sports realm.

While the Redskins is one of the most prominent example of a Mascot that is typically seen as racist, there are hundreds of sports teams with mascots that can in one way or another be depicted as racist.  While there are some team mascots in the United States that do not depict Native Americans, there is a large number of sports team mascots that depict Native Americans or cultural aspects of Native Americans, many of which in negative, racist, or inaccurate ways.  Are Native Americans being stacked into the role of sports mascots?

Currently Wikipedia lists twelve American universities that currently have mascots derived from indigenous peoples, over twenty professional or semi professional teams, and over 300 high school teams.  Of the list of high school teams, over 200 call themselves the Indians.  It seems that just as those of certain races are seem to be stacked into certain sports, such as African Americans in Basketball, stereotypical Native American symbols and people seem to be stacked into the role as mascot.

While it appears that there is stacking of Native American figures and cultural aspects, there is one big difference between that and the stacking of certain racial groups into certain sports.  Players of certain races are continuing to be stacked in certain sports, but further creation of mascots representative of Native Americans has ceased.  In fact, possibly because of pressures and spread of awareness, the number of Native American derived mascots has decreased.  Over the past two decades, numerous high school teams have changed their Native American based mascots.  In addition teams such as Stanford, Dartmouth, Eastern Michigan are just a few of the many colleges and universities that have changed their Native American related mascots.   These changes however have been met with great resistance from dedicated fans and people who see the Native American based mascots as no longer racist, but rather just symbols of culture.  But where should society draw the line between a cultural symbol and the perpetuation of a racist mascot?


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MLB Aims International

Baseball is at home in the United States and always has been.  Either through playing little league growing up, gathering around a TV to watch World Series, or watching the game live with a hotdog in hand, baseball finds its way into the lives of every American.  Loyal fan base, love for the game, and this intricate connection with American culture make it seem impossible for baseball to become as bit of a hit anywhere else in the world.  While baseball has become popular all around the world and Major League Baseball (MLB) has signed players from Japan, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and many other countries, baseball has failed to take hold anywhere else as it has in the U.S.  But this may just change as the MLB aims its sights beyond the homeland.

The MLB has recruited and signed players from outside of the U.S. starting in the late 19th century and has since only increased this number.  The Dominican Republic has been one of the biggest producers of successful players that have gone on to be seen almost as prized possessions by MLB teams.  Baseball has in many ways become an integral part of life in the Dominican Republic and young boys fantasize about being signed by big shot MLB teams when they reach the golden age of sixteen.  While at first glance it appears that the Dominican Republic may be on the road to taking Baseball as an integral part of their culture as the U.S. has, the reality is very different.

While the baseball is an integral part of Dominican culture, as Alan Klein describes in his book Sugarball, baseball is just the cover of the unhealthy cycle of dependence on the U.S.  Boys often drop out of school early to start pursing a career in baseball, but not in their own country.  Baseball is seen as a way out of poverty for many Dominicans or at least a more advantageous career path.  A recent study done by Dr. Carrie A Meyer, associate professor of economics at George Mason University, found that the combined salary of Dominican baseball players in the MLB (roughly $292 million) was double the size of the countries profits from sugar exports.  Baseball in this way has been seen as a dream career path, rather than a commodity to the community.  While it seems as though baseball isn’t going to secure the same sort of cultural hold on the Dominican Republic, as is the case in the U.S., we might just have to keep a look out for our neighbors down under.

This weekend the Sydney Cricket Ground, having undergone a $2 million transformation into baseball ground, will house two exhibition games as well as a two-game season opener for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Lost Angeles Dodgers.  The MLB has recruited many players from Australia over the years and with this recruitment popularity of baseball in Australia has risen steadily.   Australia may just be the first stop for the MLB.  Stan Kasten, Dodger’s president, has states that his club is “committed to growing the game of baseball internationally” and is eager to start the season in “one of the greatest cities in the world.”  MLB Australian player Ryan Rowland-Smith said, “I’m just really hoping this will be a big thing in Australia and the reviews are good afterwards” in regards to this weekends games.  MLB Australian player Ryan Rowland-Smith said, “I’m just really hoping this will be a big thing in Australia and the reviews are good afterwards” in regards to this weekends games.

While there seems to be general excitement in the air over the games in Australia, some feel the opening should be held in the U.S.   The biggest criticism is the time difference.  Not only does the time difference disrupt players, but it also inhibits fans back home from watching the game at a normal time.  Opening games this weekend are set to air at 4:00 am Eastern time.  This forces fans to either get up at this odd hour or miss their teams opening game.  It will be interesting to see how future international locations of opening games will affect fan base both internationally as well as in the U.S.

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