Thursday, May 14, 2015
May 14, 2015: Semester Conclusions: Football Debates
[As another semester winds to a close, a week’s series on some of the moments that have stood out to me and what conclusions I’d take away from them. Leading up to a weekend post on some of my summer and fall plans. Share your spring follow ups or summer/fall plans in comments, please!]
Two distinct but complementary sites for a campus-wide conversation.
Throughout the Spring 2015 semester, Fitchburg State’s Center for Conflict Studies hosted a series of presentations, panels, and conversations focused on football, and more exactly on issues of violence and other controversies linked to that hugely popular sport. I’ve blogged about football in Super Bowl series each of the last couple years, and have engaged briefly in those series with many of the issues that became part of these campus-wide conversations: concussions and brain trauma; rape and sexual violence; racism; the exploitation of college athletes. As much as I hope for this space to be conversational and communal, though, the truth is that it’s always framed and driven at least initially by my own interests, ideas, and perspectives, and so these semester-long Fitchburg State conversations about football and its debates added a great deal to my own perspective in multiple ways.
One way was through those conversations that were planned, such as a late April roundtable discussion of the highly controversial question, “Should football be banned?” The roundtable featured the kinds of interdisciplinary voices and connections that represent the best of Fitchburg State as a scholarly community, with presentations by philosopher David Svolba, Director of Athletics Sue Lauder, sociologist G.L. Mazard Wallace, exercise physiologist Monica Maldari, and my English Studies colleague Kisha Tracy. But besides the value of putting these voices and frames in conversation, the roundtable also allowed each presenter to develop a particular part of his or her identity at compelling length: Monica, for example, talked about how her discipline and her knowledge impacted her family’s decision not to let their young son play football; while G.L. highlighted how we can’t discuss football without addressing the issues of ethics, race, work and labor, and social obligations that form key parts of his teaching and scholarship.
Alongside those planned conversations, however, and offering an importantly complementary window into attitudes about and perceptions of these issues, were more impromptu debates that sprung up online. The most interesting such debate came in the wake of the aforementioned roundtable, in emails to the entire university community, and featured three voices: a Fitchburg State assistant football coach, who had not been able to attend the roundtable but offered his impassioned defense of the sport and its value; a Fitchburg State hockey coach, who had likewise attended and argued for the value of the roundtable itself as a layered scholarly conversation; and one of the event’s organizers, who followed up both emails in hopes of keeping the conversation going beyond that event and this spring’s series. These messages reminded us all that there are individuals, in our community and in every one, directly impacted by such debates and their potential outcomes and effects—the players most especially, in every sense, but lots of others as well. But they also made clear that in our 21st century moment, important public conversations don’t have to and can’t happen simply in individual places and times; they have to continue online, and I’d love for you to share any responses to help this one continue here!
Last conclusion tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this semester conclusion? Ones of yours you’d share?