Making the cut

Social and cultural factors bring certain sports into the spotlight over others

According to Marty Clark, PhD ’12, the reason the community gravitates towards football is that it represents traits we value most in society, like teamwork.
According to Marty Clark, PhD ’12, the reason the community gravitates towards football is that it represents traits we value most in society, like teamwork.
According to School of Business professor Monica LaBarge, a lack of accessibility in communities makes sports like fencing lesser-known to the public.
According to School of Business professor Monica LaBarge, a lack of accessibility in communities makes sports like fencing lesser-known to the public.

I was 14 when the tendonitis in both my knees began to ruin my grand pliés.

Forced to acquire a new exercise regime, I began playing for my high school’s field hockey team. I cherished the sport, but upon my entry to Queen’s realized the lowprofile field hockey and other competitive sports seemed to have.

“A sport can only grow if it’s got support,” Mary-Anne Reid, head coach of the women’s varsity field hockey club said.

Numerous other sports, like the varsity field hockey club lost varsity team status upon the inauguration of the new competitive sport model in 2010, Reid, ArtSci/PheKin ’09 and BEd ’10 said.

In a 2010 University press release it was stated that the new model “Reflects changes adopted by Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and provincial and national sporting trends.”

“We’re all under cuts ... We’re doing the best we can to maintain all the opportunities we offer now,” Interuniversity Sports Program Manager Janean Sergeant told the Journal in 2010.

These imbalances aren't exclusive to the Queen’s community; rather, they mirror the selection of higher profile professional sports in North America.

North America’s highest grossing professional sports include basketball, football, hockey and baseball. The fiscal magnitude of the hockey industry in 2012 reveals society’s inclination towards the sport — the average NHL player’s salary is currently around $2.45 million.

In comparison, the average National Lacrosse League player’s salary this year is just under $20,000.

The keen attitude toward hockey is often induced by the social connection and cultural identity cultivated by the sport, said Sam McKegney, a professor in the department of English.

According to McKegney, who is teaching a hockey mythology seminar in the winter, people generally assume that the NHL will be the course’s first agenda.

He said this is highly problematic.

“It’s not simply the game — it’s the narrative about the game,” McKegney said. “We are accentuating our own identities in relation to each other and narrating a story about our team identity.”

Still, hockey holds an intrinsic value as a binding social force in Canada.

“You can ... find a common ground for connection and conversation. That affords the game a certain social currency,” McKegney said.

The key to a sport’s public recognition lies in its accessibility, according to School of Business professor Monica LaBarge.

“In Canada, it’s not hard to find a team for your kid to play hockey on. It could be very hard to find a team for your kid to play lacrosse on,” LaBarge said. “The fact that you see [hockey] a lot more in society generally means that it’s more accessible and so more people are going to be playing it.”

Historically, hockey has been a defining feature of Canadian culture, but what is it that fuels our infatuation with a handful of sports and creates such stark biases in the athletic realm?

According to LaBarge, many of these biases are induced by the media.

“Part of the reason revenue sports win and non-revenue sports don’t is because they aren’t thinking in terms of, ‘How are we going to capitalize on these things?’” LaBarge said.

Society’s interest in more violent male sports can be seen in the public response to their marketing, indicating a major trend in sports advertising, LaBarge said.

“That represents a general move in society towards things that are more violent, as we see in video games and movies … so you’re appealing to what consumers want and providing it to them.” On the other hand, LaBarge said, it’s perceived that females tend to pursue less gritty sporting endeavors.

“We see this with female athletes who are pulled into endorsement deals,” she said.

LaBarge cites Gabrielle Reece, a professional American volleyball player.

“[She’s] beautiful and tall and thin,” LaBarge said, “whereas you might have a female hockey player in Canada who might have a harder time getting noticed than male hockey players.”

She said the sexualization of athletes makes for a stronger contrast between traditionally masculine and feminine sports.

“That lends us to dwell on the violent masculine sport and beauty-based feminine sport.” According to LaBarge, biases also come from North America’s emphasis on team sports over individual ones.

“It’s sort of the collective way that sport evolved in Canada — we should all do it, it’s good for everybody, we’re all in it together,” she said.

According to Marty Clark, PhD ’12, the reason the Queen’s community gravitates towards football is that its players seem to possess the traits we value most in society.

“If you look at the history of sport, early on, university football has been seen as those who control sports, as incredibly important for creating the type of people that we want to create,” he said. “People who know things about teamwork and how to work as a team, and who are going to go on to the public sector or into business.”

Unfortunately for some, football is not a viable athletic option.

What would be a positive addition to the Queen’s community, according to Clark, is greater access to a wider variety of sports.

“There should be options and maybe more alternative sports and opportunities to play new games. I think it would be nothing but positive.”

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