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Deviancy alive in today's sport world

This is an excerpt from Deviance and Social Control in Sport, by Michael Atkinson and Kevin Young.


On April 21, 1980, Rosie Ruiz, a 23-year-old New Yorker, crossed the finish line as the women’s winner of the prestigious Boston Marathon. She not only won her gender category but also set the third fastest time ever recorded for a female runner (2:31:56). Those involved in the event remarked how fit Ruiz appeared, especially when she approached the winner’s podium relatively relaxed and free of sweat. Ruiz was a virtual unknown in the world of distance running, was not noticed as a front-runner during the race, and stunned the running world with her unexpected victory. However, spectators later approached race officials to testify that they had witnessed the runner entering the race illegally during the final mile and sprinting to the finish line.

Race officials of the Boston Marathon disqualified Ruiz from the race and soon after discovered that she had also cheated during the earlier New York City Marathon. Ruiz used the same tactic in New York, riding the subway from the starting line to a stop near the finish line. In a shocking repeat of Ruiz’s rule violation, the winner of the 1991 Brussels Marathon, Abbes Tehami, cheated to win the race by having his coach run nearly two-thirds of the race for him. Tehami leaped into the marathon toward its end and claimed victory. He was also later disqualified.

Justin Fashanu was the first player of African descent to receive a £1 million salary in British soccer. He shot to prominence as a promising young player in 1980 and signed an unprecedented deal with the Nottingham Forest F.C. Shortly after signing for Nottingham, however, rumors of his homosexuality affected coaches’ and teammates’ treatment of him. Amid alleged homophobic and racist taunting by Nottingham staff and supporters, several on-field injuries, and media hounding, Fashanu failed to perform as a player. He spent the bulk of the 1980s being transferred from club to club in the United Kingdom (Southampton, Notts County, Brighton and Hove Albion, Manchester City, West Ham United, Ipswich Town, Leyton Orient, Southall, Leatherhead, Newcastle United, Toquay United, Heart of Midlothian, and Plainmoor), North America (Los Angeles Heat, Edmonton Brickmen, Atlanta Ruckus, and Maryland Mania), Sweden (Trelleborg), Australia (Adelaide City), and New Zealand (Miramar Rangers).

Fashanu "came out" in 1990, becoming the first prominent player in English soccer to disclose a gay identity while still playing. Colleagues lashed out in anger, and his brother John publicly labeled him a poof (Marshall 1991). Fashanu spent the 1990s attempting to find a welcoming home in the professional game, but constantly met with open discrimination and hostility. Following allegations of sexual assault made in 1998 by a 17-year-old American male, Fashanu hanged himself in a garage in London. His life and death serve as a reminder that gay and lesbian lifestyles remain taboo and "othered" in mainstream sport.

Debates about the representation of aboriginal and indigenous peoples in sport surfaced in the late 1970s. For more than 100 years, and especially in the United States, Little League, school, amateur, and professional sports teams have used images of native peoples as team logos or mascots, including traditional native peoples stereotypically adorned with headdresses, feathers, war paint, and loincloths. Such teams have native-sounding names, such as Warriors, Braves, Chiefs, Tribe, Redmen, Savages, Redskins, and Squaws. Since the 1950s, every version of the Cleveland Indians’ baseball uniform has included their red-faced, smiling mascot Chief Wahoo. At different points in the history of the Atlanta Braves professional baseball team, the organization’s publicity and promotion staff used the slogan "Take me out to the wigwam" to boost ticket sales. At one point the Braves employed Chief Noc-A-Homa as a human mascot. The owners erected a makeshift tepee in the bleachers near the field, and each time a Braves player hit a home run, Chief Noc-A-Homa emerged and danced for the crowd.

Although largely unchallenged throughout the history of North American sport, the use of Native American icons and mascots came under intense scrutiny in the last three decades of the 20th century as aboriginal activists across the United States and Canada increasingly protested, "We are people, not mascots" (King 2004). While professional sports teams have to this point successfully defended their legal or cultural use of Native American mascots, U.S. colleges and universities have proven to be a battleground of controversy. The University of Oklahoma discontinued its use of the Little Red mascot, Marquette University stopped using its Willie Wampum mascot, Syracuse University terminated its use of the Saltine Warrior mascot, and the University of Tennessee discontinued the Chief Moccanooga mascot. Recently, the University of Illinois discontinued its highly controversial support of the Chief Illiniwek logo and mascot. This decision came after nearly two decades of intense lobbying by organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Education Association, Amnesty International, the Modern Language Association, the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. Similar stereotyping and use of exploitative native imagery at the Olympic Games have been studied by Forsyth and Wamsley (2005).

Tim Gmeinweser, a volunteer ice hockey coach of the Knights of Columbus Sabres (Edmonton, Canada), removed his 13- and 14-year-old players from the ice during a game against a team from New Sarepta, Alberta. Gmeinweser’s team was losing by a score of 7 to 1 during the second period of the game. Several of his players, including his own son, had been injured during the match, and he feared for the safety of the rest of his team. From his perspective, the violence in the game had escalated without effective control and intervention from the officials.

Anticipating the injury of more players, Gmeinweser called his players off the ice and forfeited the contest. In response, Gmeinweser received a 1-year suspension from the Edmonton Minor Hockey Association (CBC News 2003). Charlene Davis, the president of the association, remarked that "coaches, who are volunteers, can’t be made responsible for players’ safety" (CBC News 2003). Several weeks later, Kent Willert, head coach of the Knights of Columbus Thunder peewee ice hockey team (players aged 11-12), received a 1-year suspension from the Edmonton Minor Hockey Association for similarly removing players from the ice for safety reasons.

Consider that in a single month (July 2007), numerous athletes from a host of sports were identified as rule violators. Professional cyclist Michael Rasmussen of team Rabobank was fired from the team, removed from the Dutch national team, and dismissed from the Tour de France (while holding the leading yellow jersey late in the event) for repeatedly missing competition drug tests. National Football League (NFL) player Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons was arrested for operating an illegal dogfighting ring. NBA referee Tim Donaghy was accused by the FBI of gambling on games in which he refereed. The FBI filed reports that New York Giants’ professional football player Jeremy Shockey deliberately dropped passes during games in 2006 in order to win a fantasy league football pool in which he was entered.

 

 




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