Sports as a lens

September 4, 2020

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, sporting events and activities were brought to a halt however, individuals did not stop having conversations regarding sports. Sports conversations extend beyond simply discussing how to play the sport or how a specific team is doing and how they can improve their game, and can include topics such as gender, race, commerce and national pride. In a new class titled “HIST 109B: A Global History of Sports: Politics, Economy, Race and Culture,” which will be taught in person, Professor Avinash Singh (HIST/IGS/SAS) attempts to use the history of sports as a lens to discuss important and loaded issues such as colonialism, racism, civil rights, the Cold War, sexism and many other topics. In its description on, soccer, boxing, baseball and cricket are mentioned as the main sports to be discussed. In addition, the description highlights how sport is “the battleground for ideological and group contests.” 

In an email interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Singh explained that he was interested in this subject because it brings together some of his favorite interests, which include politics, history and popular culture. He grew up in India where politics and sport, cricket in particular, are extremely popular. He eventually realized that politics and sport are intertwined in many countries all over the world and was intrigued by this, so he decided to do research on this topic. He believes that the hardest part of teaching this subject will be the fact that not everyone is familiar with all topics covered in the class. “I imagine our conversations regarding cricket (a game most American students know little about) will be challenging, for example,” Singh wrote to The Hoot.

In terms of unique methods, Singh plans to use a multitude of audio-visual content since sports topics contain more taped footage rather than published articles. This will allow students to remain “engaged and entertained, something we all need in these grim times,” he explained. Professor Singh hopes that after students have taken this class, they will be able to look at sport through a new lens. 

“Even as COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement have underscored the unequal histories of our world, we are often blind to the ways in which these differences and systems of power pervade every aspect of our lives,” he explains. “Sport is one of the arenas in which we can both exploit and celebrate the athlete at the same time. These are the kinds of contradictions I hope to explore in class.” The way in which an athlete can be viewed as a puppet, in some sense, is interesting. In addition, the athlete can be exploited by companies such as NBC or ESPN in order to gain money and also celebrated for his or her performance by fans and viewers all over the world is an interesting dichotomy. 

Overall, this new class provides students with a way to understand how sport can be used to identify and analyze larger issues such as racism, sexism and many others. Although we often see sport as a distraction from our lives and a way to relax and have fun with others, it actually allows us to think critically about heavier topics that are extremely important and relevant to our lives. The next time you watch a basketball game and you are rooting for your favorite team to win, think about the various ways in which larger topics are prevalent within the game. You may come to some mind-blowing realizations. 

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