Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sport and Society Conference

University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada
8-10 March, 2010

The 2010 Sport and Society Conference will address a range of critically important issues and themes relating to the Sport and Society. Plenary speakers will include leading thinkers and practitioners in the sports, as well as paper, workshop and colloquium presentations by researchers and practitioners in all fields of sport and kinesiology.

The deadline for the next round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 11 February 2010. Proposals are reviewed within two weeks of submission. Full details of the conference, including an online proposal submission form, may be found at the conference website.

This year's conference features the following plenary speakers:

*Robert K. Barney, University of Western Ontario, Canada.
*Richard Pound, Director of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and
Paralympic Winter Games
*Patricia Vertinsky, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
*Barbara Evans, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

For more information you can also contact:
Prof. Keith Gilbert
School of Health and Bioscience
University of East London
London, UK

Friday, January 22, 2010

Leach, the James gang, and ESPN

No doubt by now you've heard of the controversy surrounding former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach and Tech football player Adam James, whose father Craig (a former college star himself) works as an analyst for ESPN. We don't necessarily have to rehash the entire episode, but if you need to fill in the details ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer (yes, that Don Ohlmeyer, the former sports leader at NBC) provides a detailed recap.

The main question Ohlmeyer addresses is whether ESPN's handling of the issue, and its broadcast of the game, was fair and balanced. The network apparently got thousands of complaints that it went overboard to protect Craig James and portray Leach in a negative light. Ohlmeyer concluded that such conflict of interest cases are extremely difficult to handle, especially on a live television broadcast. But he adds that, "News decisions in these cases must not be resolved by asking "What's permissible for the employee?" but rather "What's fair to the audience?", implying that ESPN may have gone too far in siding with James. (ESPN also came in for criticism of its soft handling of the Steve Phillips story last fall. The network fired Phillips after he admitted an affair with a co-worker).

ESPN has become so large and ubiquitous that these problems are bound to crop up from time to time. And Ohlmeyer correctly notes there are no winners in a conflict of interest situation: "Cover those stories too much, and it might appear self-serving. Cover them too little, and it's deemed a cover-up. That's the reality and the curse for ESPN."

But actually there is a winner here ... ESPN. The network's almost non-stop coverage of the controversy in the weeks leading up to the game made for terrific ratings. The low-level bowl had 8 million viewers for the game between Texas Tech and Michigan State, an increase of 23% over the previous year. It was also the highest-rated game on ESPN, the 2nd-most-watched non-BCS game, and the 7th-most-watched game of all 34 bowls.

With those kinds of numbers I'm sure ESPN feels it handled the situation just right.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ESPN/SEC internships--February deadline

For students in the SEC, ESPN is offering some internships for the coming summer. The internships are for New York and Bristol, CT and run approximately from June 1 to August 7. ESPN advises that the positions are strictly for students studying communications, journalism and television broadcasting. There are also a handful of internships available in sales, marketing, finance, technology and digital media. Keep in mind the application deadline is February 15.

Application materials and other information can be found at the ESPN website. If you have any questions you can contact Joe Franco at

Friday, January 15, 2010

CFP and etc.

A couple of things to pass along before the (long) weekend ...

The International Workshop on Modern Sports in Asia: Cultural Perspectives invites research submissions. The workshop will be help April 29-30 at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore. The deadline for submission is February 22. For more information you can go here or contact Dr. Younghan Cho of the Asia Research Institute,

Also, the following comes from Katherine Lavelle at Northern Iowa--

I'm looking to put together a panel on fallen sports figures in the media for this November's NCA. I would like to focus on the past couple of months (Tiger, Mark McGwire, some of the collegiate coaches like Leech who were forced out). I am writing a paper about Gilbert Arenas. If you would like to submit a 75 word abstract to me by February 5th if you are interested, I would be happy to put together the rationale. Please email all abstracts to:

Katherine L. Lavelle
Director of Forensics
University of Northern Iowa

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nice Guys Finish ... ?

(Wednesday update: As it turns out, McGwire may still not be telling the whole truth. Sad).

Objectivity and impartiality are two tenets of journalism that often get pushed aside when it comes to sports. Sports journalists have their favorite teams and players just as other fans do, and often the line between professionalism and boosterism can get very blurry.

We learned that lesson again Monday when former baseball slugger Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids during his record-breaking seasons in the 1990s. Now that McGwire has become hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals he felt it was time to come clean. In a prepared statement, McGwire acknowledged using steroids throughout the 1990s, including his record-breaking season of 1998, when the home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the sporting world and returned interest to a game many thought was ruined by the strike of 1994.

Much reaction to McGwire's statement from the sports media was congratulatory, fawning and obsequious. The pharse that kept popping up was "good guy;" McGwire was a "good guy" who did some bad things, but now that he has admitted what he did we can all move forward. McGwire's former manager in St. Louis, Tony Larussa, said he was encouraged by McGwire's announcement and added that no matter what McGwire had ever done at least he "didn't lie about anything."

So because McGwire is a "good guy" (which to sports reporters means he wasn't openly hostile to them) he gets a free pass on what is the biggest baseball scandal of this generation? I wonder how Barry Bonds feels about that? Bonds was never considered a "good guy" by the sports media, and for that he has taken a beating in the sports media, even though his steroid use (at least, purposeful use of steroids) is still alleged.

Since his retirement in 2001, McGwire has had every opportunity to fess up, including his awkward testimony before Congress in 2005. Yet for all those years Mark McGwire remained silent. Not admitting to steroid use and his weak excuses before Congress ("I'm not here to talk about the past") are not the same as lying, but it's pretty close. As McGwire's admission reeks of self-interest. As mentioned, he's starting a new job with the Cardinals. And what about the recent Hall of Fame vote? In his third year of eligibility, McGwire got just under 24% of the baseball writes vote; far short of the 75% needed for induction. Is it just coincidence that McGwire's change of heart took place less than a week after voters rejected him yet again? Surely, McGwire figured coming clean will help him in future voting.

Some might argue that all this is about race; that McGwire, the popular white hero, is forgiven while Barry Bonds, the surly black star, is not. Others might say it's about forgiveness; that America is a forgiving nation and that we should give McGwire a break. For our purposes, the real issue is about fairness, and especially fairness in the sports media. Sports reporters should not have a double standard--one set of rules for nice, polite, "good guys," and another set of rules for everyone else. If McGwire, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi cheated, then treat them all the same--as cheaters. Thankfully, at least some in the sports media get that point.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New book: Field Guide to Covering Sports

Our friend and sometimes contributor Joe Gisondi has a new book coming out this spring. It's called a Field Guide to Covering Sports, and it offers practical advice for those fans interested in taking the journalistic leap toward covering sports. The book will become available in March, but you can get more information about pre-orders and/or exam copies here.

Joe continues to teach at Eastern Illinois University and writes an informative blog aimed at helping students and journalists do a better job covering sports. We wish him well with this new publication.

On a completely unrelated note, the Feb. 1 deadline is looming for abstracts for the Third Sport, Race and Ethnicity Conference, July 15-18 in the West Indies. There is more information here about the call and other particulars of the conference.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Interesting announcement this week that ESPN is going to create an all-3D channel to begin in the summer. Perhaps encouraged by the success of sports programming in HD, ESPN figured an even better picture would attract even more fans.

But a 3D channel will require consumers to get special (and expensive) new receiving sets, some of which could cost upwards of $4,000. And don't forget the stylish glasses you'll need to make the effect work.

In many ways, 3D is at the same place HDTV was several years ago--the promise of a better picture that will mean lots of expense for both content producers and audiences. But unlike HDTV, 3D does not have the weight of government mandate behind it. The FCC is not forcing broadcasters and consumers to switch over to 3D programming. More importantly, 3D has failed to gain much traction in the media world throughout its history, proving to be little more than an interesting novelty that is often not worth the hassle. Master salesman Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, couldn't even give it away for free. The Cowboys recently experimented with 3D on the monstrous scoreboard at their new stadium with poor results.

Whether or not a 3D sports channel has staying power remains to be seen. ESPN certainly has the money to make a serious effort with this, but all signs suggest it may turn out to be another ESPN Mobile--a good idea on paper, but not in America's living rooms.