County Life: Gender and Sports

concussionBessie’s Books and Other Things

The second week-end of September was sporting Nirvana if that is how you are inclined.  The Blue Jays were in a head to head series with the Boston Red Sox and were fighting to keep their place at the front of the American League East.  In football, my team (Buffalo Bills) and my husband Doug’s team (Oakland Raiders) played on Sunday. The U.S. Open held both the women’s and the men’s final on the week-end.  In addition there was golf, pro-soccer MLS and EPL, as well as numerous world cup of hockey exhibition games. Both my children went back to school leaving us for the first time with an empty nest and not a lot of obligations past watching TV and folding the odd basket of laundry, in much reduced quantities I might add.

My daughter has gone back to school to study pro sports, making me hyper aware of the current and historical issues surrounding pro and high level amateur sports.    There is a disturbing pattern with some current and retired football players with a prevalence of brain damage, brain injury, and trauma induced brain diseases including Alzheimer’s.  The movie Concussion starring Will Smith is based on the true story of the accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, and the uphill battle he faced in bringing the information to the public.

As more and more hockey and football players suffer health issues from repeated blows to the head, the safety of contact sports is challenged.  With this knowledge, what motivates people to take such a risk with their overall health?  LeBron James, the star forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sheds some light on why people would take the risk. “It’s a safety thing.  As a parent you protect your kids as much as possible…I needed a way out,” he said. “My kids don’t need a way out. They’re all right. I needed a way out when I was a kid. I tried to do whatever it took to get out. That’s my excuse.”  In essence, without the pressure of poverty his children are exempt from taking on the high risk behaviours he felt he had to.

The movie Race was shown by Those Other Movies in September, but if you missed it the library does have a copy as well as Concussion.  It tells the incredible true story of Olympic legend Jesse Owens.  In his epic quest to be the greatest athlete in history, Owens chooses to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he must overcome not only elite competition, but also the brutal racial climate of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. To me sports do seem to be a microcosm of real life, the fight for racial integration has been no less complicated in sport than it was in society.

Watching the media coverage of the recent Summer Olympics has brought to the forefront gender inequality when human achievement is being reported. How women are portrayed in the context of sports whether in the media or in movies about sports could fill a whole other article. Whatever your game, you can search for books and movies in our catalogue to broaden your perspective on it and other issues surrounding sports.

*Originally published on County Life, September 2016.

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