Sport & Society International Award for Excellence

The International Journal of Sport and Society offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Sport & Society Research Network.

Award Winner for Volume 8

Boys Will Be Boys: Assessing Attitudes of Athletic Officials on Sexism and Violence against Women

The purpose of this research is to explore how athletic officials identify and understand violence against women. Scholars theorize that hegemonic forms of masculinity that depict men as strong, aggressive, and dominant may be perpetuated by sports culture; thus, coaches can be an effective site of intervention for changing this culture. Therefore, it is important to determine how the influential relationship between athletes and athletic coaches can be used to promote healthy gender relations within communities. This study uses a qualitative approach to assess athletic coaches’ knowledge and beliefs on issues related to masculinity, sexism, and violence against women. This study showcases the logical fallacies athletic coaches use to justify the presence of violence against women in athletics. Furthermore, this research identifies athletic coaches’ conflict over the roles they play in their athletes’ lives. Due to limited and conflicting research in this area, it is important to offer insight into the ability of athletic coaches to act as mentors to athletes in order to prevent sexual and domestic violence and promote healthy masculinity.

This project began in the wake of several nationally publicized scandals involving sexual and/or domestic violence perpetrated by athletes. While the perpetrators and institutions that housed them were condemned, the athletic officials that supervised them were absent from that conversation. The goal of this work was to understand those who act as gatekeepers between athletes and institutions, athletic officials. With every breaking news story came a rush of institutions hoping not to be the “next headline”. As such, a wave of educational programs geared towards athletes became a focus of anti-violence work. Often, these programs were created for athletic officials to implement with their athletes. Yet, no one addressed whether athletic officials were willing or able to carry out these education and awareness efforts. In this work, athletic officials were asked about sexism, sexual/domestic violence, the degree to which they perceived these issues to exist in sport, and initiatives designed to target these issues. The value of this work is that it explores the ways in which the assumption, that athletic officials can/should be in charge of mentoring their athletes about anti-violence, is potentially problematic. Additionally, it provides evidence supporting the need for societal, institutional, and individual change in order for athletic officials to be effective in decreasing sexual/domestic violence incidents involving their athletes.

This project was well-timed when it began three years ago. Yet, as the years have passed, it has only become more relevant. As a current student at Michigan State University, the Nassar crisis has become a topic in my daily life. While the investigation is ongoing, early reports seem to implicate multiple athletic officials in the improper handling of cases of violence against women. Through the crisis at MSU, we have learned that this issue knows no bounds. Once thought of as an issue restricted to college campuses, Nassar’s abuse permeated to the highest level of sport, the Olympics. The issue is not merely individual or institutional, it is the foundation on which we have organized society and athletics. A patriarchal society that privileges men is aided and embedded by capitalism to create a structure that values power – those who have it and those who can acquire it. The MSU crisis acts as a microcosm through which we can view athletics as a whole. The way athletics are organized value masculinity and dominance over others. But, most importantly, the notoriety in athletics achieved through these values is rewarded monetarily. Performance based bonuses for coaches or an institution’s gained publicity through the staffing of a high-profile doctor, financially incentivize athletic officials at all levels to look the other way. Athletic officials are deeply rooted in a system that values winning over integrity and these officials stand to gain nothing, unless they win. Thus, work must be done to re-organize the structure of athletics and the systems that have allowed for violence against women to become commonplace.

Dessie Clark

Past Award Winners

Volume 7

The Rink and the Stage: Melodrama, Media, and Canadian Hockey

Taylor McKee, The International Journal of Sport and Society: Annual Review, Volume 7, pp. 1–11

Volume 6

Australian Football, Masculinity, and the Acceptance of Pain and Injury as a Career “Norm”

Deborah Agnew and Murray J. N. Drummond, The International Journal of Sport and Society: Annual Review, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp.9–23

Volume 5

Athletes with Disabilities: Where Does Empowerment End and Disempowerment Begin?

Deborah L. Rivel, The International Journal of Sport and Society: Annual Review, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.1–10

Volume 4

Discourses of Social Exclusion in British Tennis: Historical Changes and Continuities

Robert Lake, The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1–11

Volume 3

Black, White and Read All Over: Institutional Racism and the Sports Media

John Price, Neil Farrington, Daniel Kilvington, and Amir Saeed, The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, 81–90

Volume 2

Older Athletes’ Perceived Benefits of Competition

Rylee A. Dionigi, Joseph Baker, and Sean Horton, The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, 17–28

Volume 1

And the Crowd Goes Wild: Fan Participation as Epideictic Rhetoric

Jeremy Schnieder, The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, 253–62