The collection of articles in this introductory unit is intended to open students to different approaches to understanding sports as an area of intellectual inquiry. Staying open, discovering questions at issue, considering multiple perspectives through research on those questions, and then developing written arguments to help an audience identify and unsettle assumptions are signature learning goals in WR 123. The articles in this unit provide examples of how sports can be a platform in which engaged writers and scholars investigate political and cultural values. Each article models a method of inquiry that reveals the oft unacknowledged complexities that undergird surface conflicts reported in sports coverage. In doing so, each article raises its own rich questions about how culture shapes sports and sports, in turn, shapes culture. Reading the articles in preparation to engage in ethical argumentation requires students to think about each article in its specific context as well as how, when read together, the articles point to a related series of questions that can be explored more in depth in individual research projects.

Mia Fisher, writing in a sociology-based journal, considers football as a site to investigate the nexus of political structure and masculinity in the familiar context of the NFL. Clifford Geertz’s classic ethnographic article uses the cockfight as an entry into investigating how gender and relationships are structured in an unfamiliar culture. Erica Rand and Claudia Rankine bring a critical social-justice focused lens to their respective investigations on gender and power in figure skating and tennis. Read as a cluster, identity, as a powerful social construct revealed by  individual’s experience in sports, emerges as a site of inquiry. Jere Longman and Taylor Barnes along with Malcolm Gladwell use investigative journalism to raise culture-related questions about soccer and football and address the connection between sports and violence. Longman and Barnes on its own offers students the opportunity to see how an extreme act of violence in a rural Brazil soccer game reveals as much about structural inequities and poverty as it does about the less surprising and more oft investigated connection between sports and violence. Gladwell’s discussion of repetitive brain trauma in football brings another kind of violence to the discussion.

Read as a unit, the articles offer a window into how power and economy are implicated in sports, which, in turn, makes the argument that sports is indeed political. With this new insight, students can engage in classroom discussion and use exploratory writing to begin to explore how those same themes might be at play in their own experiences with sports and current conflicts sports about which they might be aware. This exploration might begin by asking:

  1. Which academic disciplines are interested in sports and what methods do they use to explore sports?
  2. What assumptions do authors of sports-related articles make about their specific audience’s relationship to sports? How do these assumptions affect rhetorical choices?
  3. Do sports have the power to transform culture, or do they merely reflect it? How can sports impact our understanding of social justice issues?
  4. Where does responsibility lie to address conflict in sports? How are sports governed and who has the power to make changes?
  5. What cultural power do individual athletes have, and what role does identity play in the opportunities and privileges athletes have within their respective sports and cultures? What responsibilities do individual athletes have?


“Commemorating 9/11 NFL-Style.”

Fischer, Mia. “Commemorating 9/11 NFL-Style: Insights Into America’s Culture of Militarism.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 38, no. 3, June 2014, pp. 199–221, doi:10.1177/0193723513515889.

“Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.”

Geertz, Clifford. “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” Daedalus, Vol. 134, No. 4 (Fall 2005), pp. 56-86.

Geertz visits Bali on an ethnographic mission and discovers the intense psychic bond Balinese men have with the birds they use in cockfighting. This thorough investigation into culture-bound traditions raises questions of how sports of all kinds stands in for our sense of community status.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article.

“Offensive Play.”

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Offensive Play.” The New Yorker. 11 Oct. 2009,

This essay by public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell was a watershed piece of journalism on the now infamous repetitive brain trauma debate in football. Gladwell elegantly positions research and player accounts in relation to his central question of whether violence is inherent to the game, or something we can overcome.

“ A Yellow Card, then Unfathomable Violence, in Brazil.”

Longman, Jere and Taylor Barnes. “A Yellow Card, then Unfathomable Violence, in Brazil. New York Times, 13 Oct. 2013.

Longman and Barnes look at local soccer culture in rural Brazil and find the rampant effects of poverty in a community forgotten by government and law enforcement. In this case, soccer played as catharsis tips into deadly violence.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article.

“I Wanted Black Skates: Gender, Cash, Pleasure, and the Politics of Criticism.”

Rand, Erica. “I wanted black skates: gender, cash, pleasure, and the politics of criticism.” Criticism, vol. 50, no. 4, 2008, p. 555+.

In this academic article, Rand makes a broad argument about how pleasure ought to be studied, considered, and celebrated as a category itself, as well as how outside factors including race, class, gender, sexuality, economics, shame, and more affect our ability to grant ourselves pleasure. She uses her experience taking up figure skating as a lens through which to discuss these issues.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article.

“The Meaning of Serena Williams: On Tennis and Black Excellence.”

Rankine, Claudia. “The Meaning of Serena Williams: On Tennis and Black Excellence.” New York Times, 25 Aug. 2015.

In this critical race theory-driven piece, acclaimed poet and public intellectual Claudia Rankine examines the investment people of color have in Serena Williams’ greatness and how Serena shoulders the mantle of representing Black Americans. This essay questions the different standards of winning and good behavior that a black female champion is held to by various stakeholding communities.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article.


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