Trinity professor discusses ‘Sports as subversive activities’

By on September 28, 2005

Sports are an integral facet of contemporary society because they are
intertwined with the profound human need for play. Athletic events
provide illustrations of heroic deeds, examples of connection
and integrity, and an endorsed distraction from the trials of the
commonplace routine. It is not in question that sports are directly and obliquely infused and influenced by modern culture. However, assertions regarding sports as subversive enterprise are a topic attached to much debate. On Thursday, Sept. 22, in the Clarice L. Buckman Theater, Trinity College philosophy professor Drew A. Hyland addressed this
topic to the venue full of students and faculty in a speech titled “Transgressing Boundaries: Sports as Subversive Activity.”

Professor Hyland is an authority on this topic as he has authored over
30 articles and three books and was also a member of Princeton University’s basketball team in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

“Sports have been praised for instilling values of the cultural status
quo such as their backing of corporate capitalism, teamwork and competitive drive,” Hyland said. “However they have also been criticized for displaying dehumanization, mindless obedience to authority, sexism, racism and the alienation of opponents.”

Hyland completely acknowledged that sports do for better or worse function as a type of “cultural police.” Conversely, he feels that limiting reflections on whether this is good or bad causes the subversive or rebellious nature of sports against the cultural norm to be overlooked.

Professor Hyland discussed many different philosophies of sport. He touched greatly upon the theory taught by numerous coaches, to never be satisfied with the present situation as there is room for constant improvement. However, Hyland pointed out that in many sports, specially at the recreational level, winning is not always the ultimate goal.

Hyland used skiing as an example to express that when a person venntures onto the slopes intending to exceed their previous skiing skills,
winning [as in corporate capitalism] is not the root of their ambition. A
skier prefers to hone their craft as the sport is only that much more
enjoyable once mastered. No matter a persons age the hope is always to
perform at their fullest capacity. This point is often true with many sports
played at leisure.

Another subversive position that Hyland found within sports is the mere
fact that athletes spend substantial amounts of time learning skills that are irrational to use in everyday life. “Are we not rejecting the demands of our instrumentalist culture by indicating that there is more to a life of quality that mere calculations?” Hyland asked.

The event that was free and open to the public, was the annual Alfred P.
Stiernotte lecture in philosophy. The Stiernotte lecture was enacted in 1984 to recognize Dr. Stiernotte, a beloved 16 year faculty member of Quinnipiac University. For each specific year a board of faculty members collaborates to discuss different divisions within philosophy that would be interesting and applicable for the Quinnipiac community.

“This year, in part because of the large new athletic facility that we are
building on the Sherman Avenue campus, the committee thought that a lecture of the philosophy of sport would be appropriate. We [the committee] selected Professor Hyland because he is one of the leading authorities in the country on the philosophy of sport,” said David Valone, director of cultural programs in the College of Liberal Arts, on why Professor Hyland’s particular lecture was chosen.

These types of programs are exactly what Hans Bergmann, Dean of the
College of Liberal Arts feels will strengthen the philosophy program at Quinnipiac. Bergmann feels that when the time is right the school would like to add full-time faculty to the philosophy department.

Hyland elaborated on his stances by commenting on competition and the
presence of racism and sexism in sports. He feels that competition in
sports teaches constructive ways for competition to be handled and how to deal with it untroubled rather than to find it offensive and isolating.

While it is not claimed that racism exists inherently in sports games, Hyland said that, “Although racism does not rise first in sports, they can harbor racism, even minority success stories.” However, he does believe that sports are subversive to racism based on the fact that on the court, athletes play because they thrive on competition.

Athletes want a teammate, not based on their race, but on who wants to
reach the shared aspirations. “In athletics, teammates are chosen in an appropriate way, based on talent. Any sport calls us, if we are only listening to judge players by the criteria of their excellence, if only humans could always be judged in this way,” Hyland said.

Due to the fact that most sports games have been invented by men, to
display many traits such as strength, size and speed that are commonly
referred to as masculine characteristics, conclusions concerning whether
sexism exists among sports have been argued as both true and false.

“Women’s participation can undercut stereotypes. The delicate sex has destabilized many stereotypes with their success in such sports as boxing and body building as they experience the same joys men have,” Hyland said.

Professor Hyland’s speech was elevated but thoroughly enjoyed by those who attended. “He was very interesting,” said Quinnipiac sophomore business major Ashley Romano who enjoyed the talk. “He seems to have done a lot of research and has a very strong sense about his points. Because he was a sports player I feel like his opinions were not biased and I would love to be in one of his classes.”

“Sports have been used as a model to examine culture. Therefore it is raised as a plausible possibility that sports do have the attractive encouraging subversive element,” Hyland said. Hyland’s research in this field, and other research like it, is vital as the future of the world of athletics continuously evolves with new technologies and rules. Therefore, exploration into the deeper sense of sport can engage both players and spectators in positive interaction with the world of athletics
that are a central part of human culture.


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