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!



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.


Chihuahua into a Pit Bull

Forrest Griffin is one of the godfathers of the modern UFC, he is what brought me to the UFC. At his is prime he worked over all fighters that came into the octagon against him. Now that he is retired, he is advocating the use of testosterone replacement therapy in the UFC.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission recently banned the use of testosterone replacement therapy, due to the fact that it was making an uneven playing field for fighters. Griffin said that TRT is seen as a way for lazy people to get better, while he sees it as a way for you to improve yourself. He goes on to say that TRT doesn’t automatically make someone a better fighter; it helps you to improve yourself. The best thing that he had to say is that no matter how much TRT you it “…ain’t gonna turn a Chihuahua into a Pit bull.”

What he means by this is that if a fighter does end up using TRT, he still is going to have to know how to fight.  TRT doesn’t give you superpowers and you will not become the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world by using TRT. You would still have to go and train and fight all the time. You will not cannot, turn a timid Chihuahua into a ferocious pit bull just by giving them TRT.

Even though Griffin’s statement most likely fell on deaf ears, he is still completely correct in what he has to say. TRT, like any substance is going to drastically change a athletes ability to compete, you won’t be able to take a no name fighter and pump full of TRT and expect him to go and win a belt. It’s not logical to think like that, every champion had to work for what they earned and TRT isn’t the reason behind their belts.

Like Griffin said, you can’t turn a Chihuahua into a pit bull.


Rousey vs. Mcmann

Like in all sports the UFC’s referees can make a major difference to the outcome of a fight, it can keep a fight more interesting or it can ruin it. Long time referee Herb Dean might have ruined the women’s bantamweight championship fight between Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey and Sara Mcmann in February.

Dean called a quick end to the fight after Rousey kneed Mcmann in the side. The knee dropped Mcmann to the ground and as soon as she hit, Dean called the fight. He said that Mcmann was unable to continue the fight. Even though she was able to get up unassisted and walk to the center of the octagon.  

The mixed martial arts community went into an uproar over Dean’s decision. They said that the fight was ended so quickly because it was two women fighting and if that it had been two men, they would have been allowed to continue fighting.

Mcmann was quoted saying that, “the referee is there to protect the fighters; that this responsibility is paramount.” Even though the referee is there to protect the fighters, the fight was called extremely fast.

If the UFC wants to keep its current audience paying to watch fights, they are going to have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. The audience wants to Mcmann overcome a brutal strike like that and be able to keep fighting. You can still protect fighters and allow this to happen. Some of the greatest fights in the octagon have happened after a fighter received a blow that made the whole arena cringe and recovered enough to win the fight. This is the type of thing that keeps fans coming back to the octagon. People will not want to watch if the fight ends after one cringe worthy blow happens.   

The real question with this fight is if Herb Dean is justified in his decision to call the fight or if he should be reprimanded for the call. Whatever is the outcome of this, one thing is certain, there needs to be a Rousey vs. Mcmann 2. And it needs to happen as fast as possible.


Sexing the Stop: Rousey vs McMann


Rip City Goes Wild

Peter McCormick

Sports & Society Blog Post #3

Rip City Goes Wild

            Damian Lillard made the shot of his career to beat the Houston Rockets propelling the Blazers to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The reaction from the people of Portland was tremendous.

Portland is fairly unique in the sense that it is a large city but only a one (big) sport town. We have and love the Portland Timbers but soccer is not on the same scale as basketball, baseball, or football in the U.S. Basketball is returning in Portland and it is a big deal. When asked about the shot, Lillard said “The most exciting thing was just to see how everybody reacted to it. You got to see how valuable that game was, how much it meant to everybody, how much it meant to see that ball go in and to win that game—from the fans to the coaches to the training staff to the ball boys to our team. That’s what made me feel the best about it.” Lillard saw the reaction Portland had and loved it. We haven’t had a big moment in Blazer history for a long time.

Geertz wrote that “cockfighting is a part of ‘The Balinese Way of Life’” (1972: 2) and basketball is the same for a Portlander. Just like cockfights brought the whole village together, Portland rallies to support to the Blazers at the Rose Garden. This is why the resurgence of basketball means so much to the city and why Lillard’s shot was so significant. He became an instant legend. His shot mirrored Brandon Roy’s buzzer beater against the Rockets in 2008 and Lillard’s teammate LaMarcus Aldridge said “he’s definitely in the Brandon Roy category for me” when speaking on Damian. This is huge praise since Brandon Roy helped the Blazers start being competitive again and is worshiped as a hero by Portland.  The Rose Garden is considered one of the toughest stadiums to play at because the Blazers play incredible at home with their fiercely loyal, and loud, fans.

People like to be a part of something bigger than themselves and sports often create that opportunity. Portlanders are proud to be a part of Rip City.  The phrase Rip City was first said by announcer Bill Schonely in a first season game against the Lakers. He didn’t know what caused him to say it but the term stuck. Now it is a tradition and honor to be a Rip City member. While the blazers haven’t been good for a while, Portland fans have to stay loyal since there is no other comparably sized team in Portland. That dedication paid off when Lillard made that shot and Rip City went wild.



Confidence Pays

Peter McCormick

Sports & Society Blog Post #2

Confidence Pays

            Richard Sherman, a talented cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks football team, has been all over the news in recent years. In addition to his skill, he’s known for his cockiness and trash talking both on and off the field. He had an infamous post-game interview after clinching the win in their NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers where he insulted one of the opposing team’s receivers.

Sherman just extended his contract on May 7th with the Seahawks signing a $57.4 million over 4 years deal with $40 million guaranteed. This makes him the highest paid corner in the league. I believe a large reason why he is now paid such a large figure is due to his explosion in the media which seemed mostly negative at the time. Sherman knew exactly what he was doing.

Giulianotti wrote in Sport a Critical Sociology (2005) that “massive volumes of capital are entering sport, notably from media corporations” (pg. 29). The more Sherman got his name in the news, the more money was generated around him. Sherman knew the attention would eventually pay off even if it was hard to bear for a while. After his tirade claiming to be the best corner in the world while insulting another player, Sherman received a flood of hate mail in every form of media. Guttmann listed equality as one of the main qualities that separates modern sports from primitive ones meaning that “theoretically everyone should have an opportunity to compete.” (2004: 26). Unfortunately, many people wished Sherman kicked out and people hurled racial slurs and racist comments his way. Some African Americans stated that they thought he had made blacks take a step backwards from the civil rights movement and were disgusted with his behavior.

However, Sherman never backed down. He stood by his claims to be the best through all the flak he got and continued to put up numbers to back it up. He went on a talk show with a popular sports analyst, Skip Bayless, and laid into him for not recognizing Sherman amongst the top corners. When talking to Bayless, Sherman said, “I’m better at life than you.” He received a lot of negative attention from that media appearance as well since it is almost unheard of for that personal of an argument to take place between and athlete and a show host.

            Plenty of people did speak out on Sherman’s behalf though, and many people ended up supporting Sherman. He was listed in Time’s annual list of most influential people and invited to the White House correspondent’s dinner at which President Obama jokingly gave his own rendition of Sherman’s tirade. I think Sherman artfully created his image and knew he had the talent to back up all the attention he would receive. He funneled that attention into money. From the Seahawks blog, “Richard Sherman declared himself the best corner back in the NFL. Now he’s getting paid like it.”