Pizza, Pop and Politics examines right to recreation
Mike Dugan | Thursday, February 21, 2019
NDVotes hosted another discussion in its Pizza, Pop and Politics series Wednesday, featuring presentations by associate professor of American Studies Annie Coleman and professor in the Program of Liberal Studies F. Clark Power on the political history of sport.
Beginning her presentation with a reflection on a reading recently used in a class she teaches titled “Sports in American Culture,” Coleman said people enjoy sports because they are “very upfront and straightforward.”
“We read an article … by a couple of socialists who are trying to figure out how they can love sports — or why we love sports so much and why socialists can love sports — and also why capitalists love sports,” Coleman said. “The takeaway that they argue … we like sports because sports seem to be a separate playing-ground, a place of fair competition where you know the rules, you know who you’re playing against, you know how to score.”
Coleman said sport offers a clear contrast against the current status of the job market, in which the rules are not always very clear.
“This [fairness] is contrasted, perhaps, by the situation you might face after you graduate and you go on the job market and you’re trying to figure out, ‘Who am I competing against? What are the rules? Who are they looking for? How do I get this job?’ That’s a lot more frustrating, because it’s hard to tell,” she said. “This ideal of sports — of ‘unmystified competition’ — has a lot of appeal.”
Access to and recognition of sports are historically related to the power of one’s own group, Coleman said.
“Sports have been deeply in-meshed in relationships with power since the beginning,” she said. “One way of thinking about it is thinking about who gets to define what sports are and who gets to play them — it’s typically groups with cultural, social, political and economic power.”
Power said the role of sports and recreation changed near the beginning of the 20th century, taking a more prominent role in the life of typical Americans.
“In the 18th century, recreational programs were for the leisure class,” he said. “At the turn of the century, welfare and philanthropy paid for the construction of sports and recreational facilities and programs for all kinds of children.”
Power, who also works as an advocate for increased public funding of recreation programs, particularly in urban areas, said modern-day recreational sports can be framed as a political issue.
“This is a political issue in a way, it is a human rights issue in a way; there is a legitimate right to play,” Power said. “I mean, apart from the health benefits, and the prescription of character, how about just play for the sheer fun of it? Or should that just be for some kids? If some kids deserve to play in safe places and some kids deserve to play other places in other places, too bad?”
Power said increased public funding for recreational sport ought to be made available, contrasting the effects of older models of public recreation funding with those of modern ones.
“At one time in our history, we did it; we as a people did it,” Power said. “That was a political act — tax people and build playgrounds, and put sport in schools. What’s happening today? We’re not funding the playgrounds, and we’re not funding the school activities. And, who is paying for that? Who pays, if it’s not the state? It’s your family, and if your family can’t afford it, then it’s ‘too bad.’”