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Posts tagged ‘Education’

Sport Ecology: all it is, and all it could be

Madeleine Orr* & Walker Ross**

*Madeleine is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. She currently teaches in the Sport Administration program at Laurentian University in Canada.

** Walker is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina.

As PhD students, we often answer the question: “what’s your area of specialization?” It’s a reasonable question: it’s important have a clear and consistently personal brand on the job market. But, what if your research doesn’t fit into one of the established ‘sub-disciplines’ of sport management?

When we met in 2017 (via Twitter posts on sustainability, of course), we compared notes and realized we both got the same ‘what’s your specialization’ question, and that answers such as ‘I study sport and the natural environment’ or ‘sport sustainability’ didn’t seem to satisfy the inquisitor. Perhaps the better answer is ‘sport ecology’, as this term is broad enough to include the full breadth and depth of the relationship between sport and the natural environment.

We’d like to use this blog to advance the understanding that the relationship between sport and the natural environment is complex and dynamic, ever-present yet ever-changing, meriting a subdiscipline of its own. What it comes down to, is that sport’s relationship with the natural environment is about more than just recycling and turning off lights.

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Concept Art for Forest Green Rovers’ proposed stadium in UK, made of sustainably sourced wood a caption

For example, sport ecology would encompass research on:

  • Weather and environmental conditions of sport,
  • Sport in natural versus artificial environments,
  • Impacts of climate change on sport,
  • Methods for making sport more environmentally sensitive and sustainable,
  • And more…

As a starting point, it is important to recognize the fundamental relationship that sport has with its environment. Many sports developed out of social-ecological connections in their places of origin. Think of golf (from Scotland), ice hockey (from Canada), or surfing (from Polynesia). Changes to the planet’s ecological state, coupled with rapid globalization and commercialization, have and will continue to alter where and when sport is played and enjoyed. For example, who would’ve guessed there would be indoor alpine skiing facilities in Dubai, or irrigated golf courses in the Nevada desert? These changes present new challenges which complicate the previously taken-for-granted relationship between sport and the natural environment. It follows that a sport ecology sub-discipline should develop in response.

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Caption: Heat exhaustion at the Australian Open, January 2018

We’re not the first to work in this space – we stand on the shoulders of giants: Brian McCullough, Tim Kellison, Sylvia Trendafilova, Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, Jonathan Casper, Cheryl Mallen, Haylee Mercado, Kyle Bunds, Greg Dingle, and others. These scholars have contributed substantially to sport ecology. There have also been contributions outside of sport management from geographers and natural resource scientists. Importantly, practitioners have been working in this space for decades: ski resort managers can tell you their job has everything to do with knowing and adapting to snow patterns; most college and NFL football games have a meteorologist on site (or at least, on call) to warn of storm activity; the golf industry has entire conferences and organizations dedicated to turf management.

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Recreational skater on melting ice in Edmonton, Canada

Here is some broader context for sport ecology:

  • The term ‘ecology’ combines ‘eco’ (environment) and ‘logy’ (study). The emphasis on ‘study’ in ecology is important: we are scientists and our work, first and foremost, is to understand.
  • Sport ecology would follow in the rich scientific tradition of human ecology, a derivative of geography and ecology, and would be related to recreation ecology (Marion, Leung, Eagleston, Burroughs, 2016; Monz, Pickering and Hadwen, 2013), tourism ecology (David, 2011), and business ecology (Abe, Bassett & Dempsey, 2012).
  • In the sport industry, associations and conferences have emerged to address issues related to sustainability and climate change. Examples include the Green Sports Alliance and the Sports Environment Alliance. Many major leagues and organizations, including the NHL, NFL, PGA Tour, and the NCAA, have launched green initiatives. There is even a ‘Green Sports Day’, recognized by the White House in 2016.

We are still working to define the boundaries of the sport ecology sub-discipline (we’ll get there – currently working on conference presentations and academic papers) And we would love to hear your input. Please, get in touch with us to discuss!

Diversifying the Face of the U.S. Sport Industry – A Call to Educators

by Dr. Jörg Vianden (University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse) and Dr. Liz A. Gregg (University of North Florida)

Sport is a white, male-dominated, multibillion-dollar industry characterized by a severe lack of racial and gender diversity among its leaders. In all levels of collegiate and professional sports, white men represent the upper echelon in leadership, front office, and coaching positions.

The lack of diverse sport management undergraduates and alums perpetuates the underrepresentation of diverse sport industry leaders. Among sport management majors, women typically represent fewer than one third of all students, while African Americans represent one tenth (Hancock & Hums, 2011). Faculty in sport management are also overwhelmingly white and male (Jones, Brooks & Mak, 2008). This may negatively affect racially minoritized students who struggle to connect with the program’s exclusively white faculty.

Diverse environments in sport organizations and academic programs prepare future professionals for the workforce, reduce stereotypes, and encourage collaboration and cultural understanding (Brooks, Harrison, Norris, & Norwood, 2013). Yet, women and people of color struggle to advance in the sport industry because of dubious hiring practices, sexual and racial harassment, work-life balance constraints, a lack of role models, and the tight network of white men who limit the advancement of minoritized sport industry professionals. (Click here for full references)

The Straight White College Men Project

The Straight White College Men Project is a qualitative study sampling 180 college students with traditionally privileged and oppressed identities at 13 institutions of higher education around the country. The study explores how participants view their own campus diversity efforts, how they conceptualize privilege and oppression relative to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and how they articulate their own perceived responsibility to enact social change. For the purposes of the Sport Management Education Journal article (Vianden & Gregg, 2017), we asked 22 heterosexual white male participants at a Southeastern university about their thoughts on how they could foster diversity in the sport industry.

Emerging Themes

  1. Perceived barriers: Toxic masculinity, male dominated culture, resistant or racist team owners
  2. Roles of women in managing sport: Women should fit specific roles in the sport industry, such as marketing
  3. Hiring policies in sport: Meritocratic ideals about who should be hired, affirmative action rules, increased competition for positions if more women or people of color were recruited
  4. Responsibility for change: Advocacy easier by current sport leaders versus those professionals fresh out of college, remaining open minded to learn about diversity without concrete commitment to enacting social change

Key Takeaways: First, participants sensed a bit of resignation about fostering diversity initiatives. Comments such as “that’s just the way it is” or “not much will change” speak to this resignation, but also to privilege and acceptance of the status quo. Second, participants painted a narrow view of diversity in sport. To them, diversity meant women and African Americans and some participants held stereotypical views specifically about women. Third, participants could not articulate or commit to having individual or collective responsibility to make sport more diverse.

Tips for Sport Management Educators

  1. Name White Male Privilege in Sport

Use white male hegemony in the sport industry as points of departure for classroom discussions. Interrogating white male privilege in sport helps both students and instructors raise critical awareness and foster commitment to social justice and equity.

  1. Infuse Diversity in Sport Management Curricula

Sport management as a major program of study has a captive audience of students who need to learn about diversity, but who seldom select such coursework unless required. Sport management programs have the ability, perhaps the obligation, to offer more diversity content in its curricula. Start with one required course, or establish learning outcomes in each course that target the understanding and application of issues of power, privilege, and oppression in sport.

  1. Inspire Responsibility in White Men to Stand up for Diversity

White male sport management students will one day hold the leadership roles in which they could affect sweeping change. Given this context, sport management educators must inspire white men to express their understanding of the roles they play in a fast-changing U.S. and global social environment. White men in sport must recognize how their privileges have the potential of keeping their peers from minoritized social groups without the opportunity to advance in the field.

Additional References
Brooks, D.D., Harrison, Jr., L., Norris, M. & Norwood, D. (2013). Why we should care about diversity in kinesiology. Kinesiology Review, 2, 145–155. doi: 10.1123/krj.2.3.145
Jones, D. F., Brooks, D. D. & Mak, J. Y. (2008). Examining sport management programs in the United States. Sports Management Review, 11(1), 77–91. doi:10.1016/S1441-3523(08)70104-9
Hancock, M. G. & Hums, M.A. (2011). If you build it, will they come? Proceedings of the North American Society for Sport Management Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference, London, Ontario.
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