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Panelists Address the Role of Politics in Sports

A panel of communications experts explored the various layers of politics in sports and how it relates to issues of gambling, domestic violence, and gender and sexuality in “Politics of Sports,” held Thursday, October 20, in Emerson College’s Semel Theater.

The discussion was hosted as a part of the Second Annual Global Summit: Politics, Sports, and Civic Engagement. Panelists included Mary Anne Taylor, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business; Caitlyn Jarvis, a lecturer in Emerson’s Department of Communication Studies; and John Fortunato, professor of communications and media management at Fordham University.   

The panel was moderated by Spencer Kimball, a faculty member in the Communication Studies Department and director of Emerson’s new BS in Sports Communication.

Fortunato started the discussion by talking about the efforts being made by various state legislatures on the issue of sports gambling. He talked about the scenario of gambling.

“The landscape has definitely changed. The daily leagues are especially becoming most notable in that way, and even technologically, we no longer have to go to casinos to bet. We can do it digitally from our mobile devices. Both of these have created hype,” he said.

While he spoke of politics within sports, Jarvis explored the politics between players and others. She said her master’s thesis was on the rhetoric of domestic violence in the NFL and the organization’s response to it.

Having been criticized for singling out the NFL for its domestic violence problem in her thesis, she still went ahead with her focus, not only because of its known domestic violence problem but also because during the 2014 season, it “was unable to properly address the problem, which led to a well-documented media firestorm.”

Talking about the response of the NFL to the accusation, she mentioned that “the NFL relies on the judicial system to prove guilt” and does not have an appropriate method to do that within the organization.

Taylor took this discussion a step further to explore how women are treated in sports. She highlighted the achievements of the U.S. women’s soccer team. She talked about the sexuality of players, and how they are treated because of that, in the field.

She said she has seen a change, in the media, on how the women and LGBTQ players are covered.

“There is not just coverage in relation to, sort of, the normative and expectation of sexualized performance of the team, and their husbands and their coaches, but also of queer women and their wives. So there has been a shift, a positive shift,” she said.

The Global Summit is a collaboration between Emerson and the Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, Spain. The four-day event drew academics and observers from around the world, and offered discussions on topics ranging from “How the Media Got Trumped” to “Adventures in Developing a Historical Superhero Video Game” to “Legacy of a War: Air America and Southeast Asia.”

The Summit began with an event centered around the final presidential debate.