Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Doping down the homestretch: A tale of Manure and the Masses

Last night I learned that during the course of the year, the sport that is the "most watched/attended" behind major league baseball is…horse racing! I would have guessed the NBA, given the length of the season and the number of teams, but nope…horse racing. This is troubling for a couple of reasons. First, as a former Division I distance runner, I don't get why so many people would rather watch horses run in circles while only hardcore, scrawny runner fans watch distance events live or on television! Hell, we are lucky to see a few laps of an Olympic 10,000 meter race. Second, and more seriously, horse racing has recently been exposed as a sketchy business, not just for PETA folks, but for anyone who cares about "fair play" in sport or…well…the welfare of the disposable heroes of the assorted golden derby sweepstakes. For over 20+ years, scholars in sport philosophy have written on the ethics of using animals in sport, from hunting to dog fighting to horse racing. We know that for years the practice of doping horses was common, and that many people made serious bank on the hooves of animals that were discarded when their bodies finally gave in. Of course, that sounds a bit like any number of former NFL players, doesn't it? The NFL players, though, had some degree of agency. Emphasis on the some. Combine the animal abuse with the well documented issues of the jockeys' eating disorders and various forms of self-abuse, and I wonder how far away we are from an NFL or WWE level of scrutiny?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/29/sports/jockey-club-backs-legislation-to-give-us-anti-doping-agency-oversight-of-sport.html

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sweet(16) N' Sour: Drinking the March Madness Kool-Aid

Volunteer Deflation
For the first time in years, the University of Tennessee men's and women's basketball teams have both qualified for the "Sweet-16" round of their respective NCAA tournaments. I don't watch basketball much, but every year I check in to see how my alma mater is faring in the annual March festivities that rake in millions for everyone except the players involved. There is a lot of news today regarding the NCAA and unions, professionalism, coaches faking their resumes…the usual really. But I am thinking of the recently released data from the University of Central Florida (courtesy of Richard Lapchick and colleagues) regarding graduation rates. This information comes out every year at this time. Sort of a needed but often unwelcome squirt of lemon on the tournament that, lest we forget, takes place before, during, and after most athlete-students' spring breaks. Now, the news for the UT women is pretty good, as it is for most of the women's teams actually. In fact, the UT women were one of 21 teams with a 100% graduation rate (990 APR). But for the men, Ole Rocky Top sagged a bit with a 60% graduation rate (still reasonable 973), and a notable graduation rate of 43% for African-American players vs. 100% for White players.


Now to put this in perspective, the overall graduation rate for UT athlete-students is 75%. So, given the women's numbers and the overall numbers for UT athletes…something is going on. Oh, lest anyone think this is a unique occurrence, the UCF report's data show that for all men's teams in the tournament, White male players graduate at a 24% higher rate than African-American players do. Of course, the numbers are a bit skewed given the possibility for different numbers of students from these racial groups. This needs to be said. However, there are clearly racial and gender differences between the two UT teams, and that is troublesome, or should be, for fans interested in college sport. If the NCAA's exceedingly proud ads declaring that "There are over 380,000 student athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports" are at least partially true, then some of the male Vols better cheer while they can. Fans of both Tennessee teams should feel much more comfortable while watching the "Lady" Vols, and knowing that win or lose, at least they will probably have something to hang on their walls after the nets are long gone.

Full report: http://www.tidesport.org/Grad%20Rates/The%202014%20Division%20I%20Men's%20and%20Women's%20Basketball%20Study.pdf



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ripped or Ripped-Off: The Ab(sense) of Ab-Sense

1991: "Light" referred to the scale, as I thought i was heavier.
Guess I wanted to get to 130!

For decades, women have been told that their bodies are not acceptable, whether because they can "do more" or because their partners would like them better if they did something to change themselves…however and in whatever way they were "supposed" to. In class this week, I talked about how my college teammates and I used to somehow gauge our fitness levels by how many ribs we could see. Six pack plus a side of ribs, Tennessee style. We were distance runners, and I was bulimic. I was 2+% body fat and I consistently wrote "Fat!" and "Loose weight!" in my training log. Now, I was not in the very tough, differently gendered situation many female athletes are in.  But it was, quite simply, a purging situation for a while. Looking back, it is still troubling to remember how normal it felt to puke up whatever "extra" I had eaten that day. So…fast forward 20+ years. For a bunch of reasons, and as a result of interrelated social factors (e.g., media images, masculinity, changing notions of aging, etc.), I am…susceptible isn't the right word...but I do find myself looking at Sly Stallone's body at his age, the bodies of 40+ WWE wrestlers, and the host of commercials aimed at guys like me, and my abs, my biceps, my wrinkles, my sexual prowess, my hairline, and wondering…what the hell am I doing wrong? Women have Oil of Olay…what am I using? Let's be honest though: After 40, your abs just have to be functional, not ripped. It serves no actual purpose. Yet today before I left for work, I made sure my "belly," which is what I call any adipose tissue I have, wasn't visible with the shirt I had set out to wear. People can be morbidly obese, and others can starve to death. Getting ripped means nothing. Repeat. Repeat again. Ad nauseam.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Old Man Take a Look at My Life…or The Decline of Running in Jamestown, NY

http://www.jhsrecords.com/athlete/63/Ted_Butryn

This summer is my 25th high school reunion. Class of '89. Many moons ago, I weighed about 45 pounds less than I do now, and had…zero gray hairs, a mean mullet, and minimal stress. I mean, I lived with my parents, went to school, bought Rush and Ozzy cassette tapes, worked at Lena's Pizza, drank Busch beer on the weekends, and most importantly…ran track and cross-country. At the time, I thought I trained hard, although I learned differently when I got to the University of Tennessee (the "Big Pond" as they say).  But in Jamestown, I felt in control. I won a lot of races, pushed my teammates to improve, and interacted with a racially and culturally diverse team that I still have fond memories of. I recently found that someone compiled a list of running records for my high school, and although not quite accurate where yours truly is concerned (I actually ran a 4:31 mile, but who's counting at this point?), I was both thrilled and crushed to see that my times still hold up. As I found out at UT, I was a VERY small fish! So, how can I still hold the school record in a couple events 25 years later? What happened in my town, home of Lucille Ball and 10,000 Maniacs/Natalie Merchant…and the birthplace of NFL commish Roger Goodell? Running for JHS was a source of pride. I'm not saying that guys since haven't been proud, but I find myself longing for a guy to demolish my records. Was it soccer that leeched away some of the running talent? Was it the lack of jobs in Jamestown that ultimately led to families settling elsewhere, thus reducing the distance prospects? I'm not sure, but I hope that in the next few years my records fall, while the spirit of my mullet remains.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Working to Redefine the World of Pro Wrestling

Ivan "Polish Power" Putski
So...we are back in the blogging business after a loooooong break. Many things to cover in the world of sport, politics, and pop culture, and a good place to start is the recent launch the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) network. The network takes full advantage of new media platforms and offers professional wrestling fans the opportunity to experience a vast array of matches (and some unfortunate original programming) from the recent and distant past. At 10 bucks a month, a price that includes all of the PPVs for the year (a 6-month contract required), it is an absolute steal for fans of one of the most enduring, and at times maligned, forms of popular culture in American history. As my friend and colleague Dr. Larry DeGaris (Sport Management Professor at the University of Indianapolis) and I have said, despite the scripted nature of wrestling, there are many things that mainstream sports could learn from the wrestling business. UFC fighters clearly attempt to borrow from classic wrestling promos, for example. We also argue that the cooperative nature of wrestling matches provides an interesting alternative to the hypercompetitiveness we see in "real" sports. Wrestling is much like ballroom dancing. It works best when one person takes the lead, the other follows, and both work together to produce a smooth, athletic final product. Ego is necessary, but too much of it will screw up the match. There is no "I" in bodyslam, you might say. At any rate, the WWE network, while ambitious, is at the very least an indication that the peculiar and provocative practice of pro wrestling will be around a bit longer, and I hope that people dive off the top rope into some of the incredible vintage matches available on the network. We can learn a lot about how our spectacle culture evolved by watching the history of pro wrestling. Somehow we went from cringing at the thought of a simple headbutt or elbow to expecting fire, thumbtacks, ladders, and even the now standard blaring entrance music. Simpler times were often simply parsimonious. Hit most people with an elbow, and no ridiculousness is needed. Larry would just call it logic.

Here is an example of how to talk people into buying tickets to a match: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lvxZTy28zQ

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bruce Jenner-as-Olympics: Extreme Fakeover

There was a time when we though our Olympians were...natural, just like we thought our corn flakes were unprocessed, and...well hell we didn't even know what "genetically modified" corn was. Blood, sweat, tears, and "eat your Wheaties." I ate them growing up in the late 70's, although I did gobble up a @PopTarts411 once in a while! So watching the Olympic Trials for track and field this week, I saw 1976 Gold Medallist Bruce Jenner (now known more for his role in the Kardashian "reality" scum-spectacle) interviewed. His transformation mimics that of our elite athletes. His nose job, eye job, face lift, and all-around extreme martianesque makeover is symbolic of where the sport was in his era vs. what it has become. In both academic and public spaces we quibble, and sometimes vehemently argue, about how much testosterone women may possess for them to compete...as women. Of course, seldom is there mention of how little a man might have to qualify him for the women's division. The point is that, like Bruce Jenner's face, elite athletics has become tough to watch at times, but like the clearly brilliant audiences who remained glued to the latest Kardashian escapades, I still watch...if just for the presence of a wrinkle in time.

P.S. Don't forget to follow my new Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/DrTedsportcult

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We are back in business for summer 2012!

Hello my friends! After a long absence from the blog, we are back up and running again. I have a slew of entries coming your way this summer, all related to sport and popular culture, of course. I am sure the Olympics will come into play as well. Oh, and I've decided to enter the twitterverse as well, so be sure to check that out and "follow me" as the kids and hipsters say: @DrTedsportcult

Ok, back in a bit, and if you are new to this blog, feel free to explore the older posts! Cheers.