Communication studies professor rethinks America’s favorite pastimes
Considered among America’s favorite pastimes, sports competitions offer opportunities to escape social divisions and bring people together. Sports journalists argue that when people of different backgrounds watch a game, their gathering transcends differences in race, class, gender or ethnicity, said UNC Charlotte communications studies professor Daniel Grano.
In his new book, “The Eternal Present of Sport: Rethinking Sport and Religion,” Grano argues the opposite, that sport's religious qualities can actually activate political disruption and change.
The communication studies researcher examines elite, or professional and collegiate level sports, as a form of religion in the United States. These televised events are the highest level of competition for top athletes to vie on a global stage.
Sportswriters often claim that “when we see great athletes accomplish world records [they have] transcended the normal boundaries of what we consider to be human,” Grano explained.
These “transcendent” performances presumably break cultural and social boundaries but also bring public attention to inequitable investments in training and performance enhancement from wealthy nations, as well as exclusions according to gender and ability.
“The Eternal Present of Sport: Rethinking Sport and Religion” identifies similar problems within elite sports — examples include the NFL concussion crisis, NCAA pay for play and the use of performance-enhancing technologies.
Grano describes the current climate of elite sports as a period of significant change yet recognizes that political and social inequities could deepen within sports organizations.
“Politically, things are in the air. Elite sports can either progress or regress. I think things will become more progressive along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, class and nationalism,” said Grano.
As influential athletic organizations cling to power, the public becomes more concerned with the problematic ways they conduct business.
“We will start to see meaningful changes in policy. The ability for these organizations to operate as they have in the past is being compromised. I see that as a positive,” Grano said.
Note: This story was updated on June 16, 2017