Writing Sport OnlineAn Analysis of the Pitfalls and Potential of Academic Blogging
Opportunities abound for scholars’ digital engagement. Among the numerous available technologies, blogging has emerged as a medium that presents both opportunities and challenges for academics. Although scholars have reflected on the values and drawbacks of blogging in academia, few have specifically analyzed academic sport blogs. This paper uses a content analysis of six sport-specific online forums to examine the composition of contributors and the content of posts, as well as the pitfalls and potential of academic sport blogging. Our analysis suggests that, while blogging offers novel opportunities for scholars, the forum simultaneously reifies problems already present in sport scholarship and academia.
blogs, digital humanities, gender
Opportunities abound for scholars’ digital engagement. From online archives to Twitter, sport scholars have a plethora of innovative tools at their disposal for research, scholarship, and teaching. Among the numerous available technologies, blogging has emerged as a medium that presents both opportunities and challenges for academics. On the one hand, as cultural studies scholar Rebecca Olive argues, the interactivity of the digital format allows historians to grapple with the process of doing history, while they become more [End Page 257] involved with the production and development processes of public engagement.1 Historian Stephanie Ho likewise maintains that “blogging is a form of public history as it increases public resources on the past and encourages more democratic history-making processes.”2 Thinking more broadly, blogger Hugh McGuire offers several reasons why academics should blog: to enhance writing skills, hash out ideas, expand knowledge, engage different audiences, and promote new ideas.3
Conversely, others warn of the dangers of blogging. In an analysis of science blogs, computing professor Inna Kouper found that most posts served as “water cooler” conversations, mixing reductive scientific explanations with personal opinions, while offering little to expand actual academic conversations.4 Similarly, information science professor Judit Bar-IIan argues that blogs typically spark conversation or distribute information, rather than present new and innovative ideas.5 Philosopher John S. Wilkins recognizes the virtues of blogging, but he cautions about the medium’s lack of editing and quality control, tendency toward vanity publishing, and possibility for “false or one-sided information.”6
Although scholars have reflected on the values and drawbacks of blogging in academia, few have specifically analyzed academic sport blogs. This paper uses a content analysis of six sport-specific academic forums to examine the composition of contributors and the content of posts, as well as the pitfalls and potential for academic sport blogging. Our analysis suggests that, while blogging offers novel opportunities for scholars, the digital forum simultaneously reifies problems already present in sport scholarship and academia.
To assess online sport scholarship, we examined six sport-specific blogs: The Allrounder, The Corpus, Hockey in Society, Sport Heritage Review, Sport in American History, and the Sports Law Blog. We selected these six in particular because of their narrow focus on sport, wide following, and analytical edge. All of the blogs move beyond merely giving play-by-plays and game summaries to examine sport critically. Furthermore, the blogs’ contributors are not simply sports fans: most work in academia, publish in other academic forums (such as conventional journals), and attend academic conferences, such as the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) or the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) annual conventions. The selected blogs also use different formats, from personal to group blogs, and have various levels of editorial oversight.7
Each of the blogs, while specifically focused on sport, serves a different purpose. On the Allrounder, journalists and scholars reflect on current events, review sport works, and examine important moments to see “how sport impacts communities, shapes culture, and taps bodies and emotions.”8 The Corpus is a collaborative space maintained by the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies graduate students, “dedicated to critical discussions of physical culture in all its sociocultural, historical, and everyday material forms.”9 Hockey in Society examines “important social and political issues at all levels of the sport” and is committed “to the concept of public sociology and its application to sport.”10 Clemson professor Gregory Ramshaw “explores the social construction and cultural production of heritage, with a particular interest in sport-based heritage” on the Sport Heritage Review.11 Contributors for the Sport in American History blog “respond to current events, debate important works and trends in the field, discuss teaching with sport, and share their latest [End Page 258] research.”12 Finally, the Sports Law Blog provides “commentary and links related to the sports world, with an emphasis on legal issues and developments.”13 These blogs represent the wide range of content currently available for readers of academic sport blogs.
Both authors contribute to and edit the Sport in American History blog. We are, therefore, intimately tied to the epistemology and representation of the platform. One of the primary reasons we started writing for Sport in American History was to help make critical sport scholarship more accessible to the public. However, in our positions as editors, we also noticed problematic trends in regard to both author and topic breakdown—commonplace on many academic digital formats. This encouraged us to include the Sport in American History blog in our analysis and consider our role in the blog’s creation and tendency to reaffirm problems prevalent in conventional sport scholarship.
In this study, we analyzed each blog from January 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, assessing over six hundred posts. For each post, we performed a quantitative and qualitative content analysis, utilized textual analysis methodology, and employed investigator triangulation.14 First, we jointly read sample posts to identify the concepts for which we would code. We found that the following themes appeared throughout the blogs and coded accordingly:
• Academia: information about the status of academia or the field of sport studies. These posts most often discuss trends in academic life or the future of the discipline.
• Current Events: descriptions of contemporary incidents, moments, or news in sport.
• Information: dissemination of general information, including promotional materials or the advertising of conferences, panels, seminars, or workshops.
• Links: posts that provide links to other blogs, news articles, scholarly sources, or websites with little to no additional information or insight provided. These posts often serve to direct readers’ attention to a popular article or academic paper about a current event.
• Reflections: commentary, personal anecdotes, reflections, or general ruminations. These posts usually possess a critical edge but have minimal or no research component.
• Research: accounts that include original research. These posts often offer theoretical frameworks or critical analysis, and use either linked citations or endnotes.
• Research Process: explanations of how the contributor conducted her/his research. These posts analyze archives, assess sources, and reflect on the contributor’s role in research.
• Reviews: scholarly reviews of sport-related works, including articles, conferences, books, museums, and films.
• Teaching: discussions of practices and pedagogy in the classroom.
We then analyzed all six blogs within this framework; most blogs were tagged with multiple codes.
Second, we coded for the gender, profession, and residences of the listed authors. To determine contributor information, we initially used the biographical descriptions provided on the websites. Posts oftentimes included blurbs that detailed the author’s gender, academic field, and institution. For gender, we chose “male” or “female” based [End Page 259] on the pronouns used in these biographies. When this information did not appear in the posts, we then looked to the “contributor” tab that typically offered biographical sketches of writers. In the few times the background information could not be obtained through the site, we turned to university, workplace, or individual websites found through a web search. Because individuals’ nationalities were not always noted and we did not want to make assumptions, we decided to code for contributors’ current institutional home (at the time of writing).
Third, we identified the sport discussed in each post, as well as the gender orientation of the material presented. In other words, we coded to see the breakdown of male and female sports coverage. Finally, we reanalyzed materials to check for errors and/or inconsistencies and to evaluate major trends, issues, and opportunities across each medium.
The content analysis allowed us to ascertain current trends in academic sport blogging. We found that most bloggers resided in the United States and worked in academia. In terms of content, the bloggers frequently linked to other sources and discussed current events.
In the year-and-a-half period covered in the analysis, 106 people contributed to the six blogs. The overwhelming majority of bloggers resided in North America during the time period explored, an expected scenario as the blogs chosen were all run by editors or editorial groups based on the continent. We found that, of the 106 contributors at the time of analysis, seventy-five worked in the United States (71.7 percent), fourteen in Canada (13.2 percent), seven in Great Britain (6.6 percent), five in Australia (4.7 percent), and one each in Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, India, and Japan. It should be noted that we lacked the skills necessary to analyze blogs not written in English, an obvious limitation to this study.
Most contributors worked in academia, either as a professor or student (89.6 percent). Although some accounts suggest that graduate students are more likely to blog than professors, including Andrew McGregor’s piece in this special issue, our research found more professors (53.8 percent) blogging than their students (35.8 percent).15 The differences likely stem from the blogs selected. For example, in the period we assessed, the Allrounder had pieces written by thirty professors and three students, while the Sports Law Blog contributors consisted of twelve professors and no students. These two digital platforms specifically rely on professors to provide expert commentary. In contrast, The Corpus is maintained by graduate students, and doctoral students founded the Sport in American History blog. Contributors on both sites are, therefore, largely comprised of graduate students. For a complete academic and professional breakdown of the six blogs, see Figure 1. For the academic contributors, their disciplinary homes varied, with the most represented fields being history (21 percent), kinesiology (13.7 percent), and law (12.6 percent). For the ten most represented academic disciplines, see Figure 2.
Many of the posts analyzed provided connections to other sources of information available on the web. Indeed, across the six websites, bloggers most frequently linked to [End Page 260]
other sources. In particular, the Hockey in Society blog and Sports Law Blog had 65 and 159 posts, respectively, that entailed links to content aligned with the blog’s topic. These links usually directed readers to news articles about current events. For example, Hockey in Society’s “Weekly Links” for October 17, 2015, sent followers to hockey-related articles found on Grantland, The Post Star, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, The Sports Network, Vice [End Page 261] Sports, and Yahoo. The Sports Law Blog most often linked to sport-law-related stories found on Sports Illustrated.
When removing links from the sample to assess written posts, our frequency analysis showed that bloggers discussed current events (37.5 percent), reflections (25.4 percent), research (14.9 percent), information (11.3 percent), the research process (4.3 percent), reviews (3 percent), academia (2.8 percent), and teaching (0.8 percent). The most common type of blog post consisted of contributors offering ruminations about current events. For example, on June 4, 2015, scholar Andrew Guest intertwined cultural hegemony and data analytics to the then-ongoing Women’s World Cup for the Allrounder.16 As an additional example, writing for Sport Heritage Review, Ramshaw discussed how the National Football League (NFL) could use sport heritage to combat or distract from contemporary issues, such as player safety and the Washington name controversy.17 The focus on current events seems to support Kouper’s assertion of blogging as a form of water-cooler conversation.18
While blogging provides many opportunities for sport scholarship, it illuminates and/or reinforces many problematic issues within the realm of academia at large or sport studies in particular. As critical scholar Melissa Gregg writes, “[W]hat is rarely acknowledged about blogging is how much it contributes to and mirrors traditional scholarly practice rather than threatening it.”19 We located three areas that are important to consider for scholars as they embark on blogging initiatives in the field. Our analysis uncovered a problematic gender divide on all six blogs. The topics on the blogs also skewed toward the most popular team sports in North America. Finally, ongoing discussion of “What is scholarship?” undoubtedly contributes to the future scope of academic sport blogging. Sport studies has struggled (and continues to struggle) for acceptability in broader academic communities. As such, we question the role of blogging as other concerns are still raising tensions for scholars looking for tenure and promotion at their institutions.
Contributor Participation: Gender
Gender discrepancies within academia have shifted in the past fifty years. In the early decades of the twentieth century, more men attended colleges and universities than women. Beginning in the post–World War II era, more women started to continue their education after graduating from high school. By the late 1970s, women outnumbered men in colleges across the United States.20 Still, gender divides plague the broader culture of academia. For example, while more women continue to enroll in undergraduate programs and courses, a disparity exists in administrative positions at universities. As scholars Barbara Bagihole and Kate White maintain, “[W]omen are far from achieving parity with men in professional positions.”21 Furthermore, in a recent study of female faculty at a large research university, women reported that gender inequality persists because academia is a “professional environment in which university administrators care more about the appearance than the reality of gender equality.”22
Gender inequalities also occur specifically in the humanities. In 1966, for example, only 12 percent of PhDs in history in the United States were granted to women. As of 2014, that number reached 42.9 percent.23 With that said, a majority of PhDs in history [End Page 262] are still awarded to men. Other humanities-based disciplines have smaller percentages of women. Only 31 percent of PhDs in philosophy and 39.5 percent of PhDs in religion in the United States go to women.24 In general, the gender divide within academia remains a problem of the twenty-first century.
Whereas gender inequality continues to mar both the broader culture of academia and the humanities specifically, gender discrepancies also extend into academic scholarship—both print and digital. For example, an assessment of the Journal of Sport History shows that, from 1974 to 2016, men constituted 75.6 percent of the listed authors of journal articles.25 Furthermore, during the time period in which we examined the six blogs, the Journal of Sport History published articles from eighteen men and six women (75 percent and 25 percent).26 Blogging also does not escape such imbalances. A 2006 study in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly found that only 10 percent of the most-read political blogs were written by women.27 Similarly, a 2007 study of North American blogging found that, while more than half of blogs were written by women, the most “influential” blogs were written by white American males.28 The gendered culture of blogging may result from sexism that transfers from physical to online spaces. As attorney and journalist Jill Filipovic found in a study for the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, women who blog often face misogyny, sexism, and harassment online.29 This culture perhaps leads to fewer numbers of women academic bloggers.
Gender is also not equal within the world of academic sport blogging. Indeed, in our analysis, we determined that most contributors were male. Through this analysis, we found that male scholars comprised 72 percent of the authorship and female scholars just 28 percent. This gender breakdown is almost identical to that found in the Journal of Sport History. The Sports Law Blog had the highest discrepancy; of its twenty contributors, only one identified as female. Conversely, The Corpus maintained an equal split, and Hockey in Society had seven male and six female contributors. The other three blogs combined had 73 percent male and 27 percent female contributors. These findings suggest that the gender discrepancies that plague the broader culture of academia and humanities also manifest in academic sport blogs. None of the blogs we examined explicitly discussed disrupting the status quo in terms of the gendered production of knowledge. For the gender breakdown of each blog, see Figure 3.
Similar to the gender discrepancy of authorship, the six blogs also heavily skewed toward writing about male athletes and men’s teams. The Sports Law Blog proved most focused on male sports. Of the posts on the site assessed, 85.9 percent centered on men, 12.7 percent on sport in general, and only 1.4 percent on women.30 Similarly, on the Sport in American History blog, 57.2 percent of posts discussed male sports, 35.2 percent sport in general, and 7.6 percent female sports. The Allrounder’s coverage was 72.9 percent on men, 16.7 percent on women, and 10.4 percent on sport in general. For a complete breakdown of the gender division of blog posts, see Figure 4. While a majority of the posts revolved around men, they also focused on the most popular team sports in North America: baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. In our coding, we found that 64.5 percent of the total posts focused on these four sports. The Hockey in Society blog somewhat skewed our overall findings, [End Page 263]
though, as 93.8 percent of the posts on the site were (unsurprisingly) related to hockey. Nevertheless, several other blogs also dedicated a significant number of posts to the big four: Sport Heritage Review (23.7 percent), Sport in American History (55.2 percent), and the Sports Law Blog (65.9 percent). Furthermore, we coded for posts that generally discussed “sport”—that is, some posts did not specifically focus on one (or more) sports. Coding for [End Page 264] the “big four” sports and “sport” combined showed that authors wrote posts of that nature 83.2 percent of the time. Less than 17 percent of the posts focused on all other sports.31
While Sport Heritage Review, Sport in American History, and the Sports Law Blog all upheld this finding, The Allrounder and The Corpus deviated from the trend. In the time period we assessed, the most frequently discussed sports on The Allrounder were soccer (31.3 percent) and cricket (16.7 percent), and only 18.8 percent of posts mentioned baseball, basketball, hockey, or football. Likewise, not a single piece on The Corpus incorporated any of the “big four” sports. Unlike the other blogs assessed, The Allrounder and The Corpus make explicit attempts to upend the status quo in terms of topics covered. The Allrounder enlists contributors from around the world, which encourages diversity in sports addressed; The Corpus is connected to the Physical Cultural Studies Program at the University of Maryland, a program dedicated to a critical and theoretically-driven examination of physical culture.32
Nevertheless, as Gregg wrote, often online spaces do not threaten or disrupt the conventional mode of scholarship.33 Our findings lead to a similar conclusion. Gender discrepancies continue on the digital medium, while authors also write about the most popular sports. While we believe that online offers a liberating space for introspection, our assessment of the six blogs demonstrates, for the most part, that online sport scholarship currently mirrors and reinforces the status quo.
Scholarship and Tenure
While blogs offer sport scholars new avenues for output, not all academics are in support of the medium. As such, the merits of such work remains in contention. In the humanities specifically, recent arguments over the question of if blogging is and/or should be considered academic scholarship continue. In this special issue, McGregor, founder and coeditor of Sport in American History, outlines the ongoing debates and concludes that blogging is scholarship. He bases his argument on the recent decisions by the Organization for American Historians (OAH) and the American Historical Association (AHA), along with journals such as the Journal of American History (JAH) that have recently adopted provisions for blogging. The AHA set up a committee in 2014 to consider whether blogging should count as scholarship, and two notable conference sessions at the annual OAH convention and the AHA’s annual meeting considered the ongoing dilemma.34
The AHA now recommends that blogging could be scholarship; however, the decisions are left up to promotion and tenure committees at historians’ home institutions. Still, it seems, for many academics—working in departments where they are evaluated on scholarship produced (along with teaching and service)—blogging and social media activity typically do not lead to promotions and/or tenure. Other forms of scholarship—conference presentations, journal articles, and monographs—remain the standard bearer for promotion and review committees.35
While historical organizations grapple with the usefulness of blogs, the field of sport studies has not yet—at least to a significant degree—discussed the prospects of blogging. Recent (and long-lasting) discussions over the future of the field have instead dominated most discussions. For example, NASSH President Kevin Wamsley recently launched a new “President’s Forum” on the organization’s website. As the introductory post explained, “Given recent attacks on the legitimacy, purpose, and cost of the Arts and Humanities [End Page 265] and increased tensions between sub-disciplines within Kinesiology Departments, there is some doubt as to the future of sport history at post-secondary institutions.”36 Clearly, many people are concerned about the future of the field, particularly those in kinesiology and/or sport management programs. Most NASSH members are currently based in kinesiology departments, which typically value a large quantity of journal articles over the monograph (which many within sport history/studies still value).37 Therefore, these issues dominate discussions concerning the future of the field. Blogging has not yet reached the front and center.
Overall, we caution the following discussion of the “potential” of academic blogging within this context. While blogging for sport academics could appear to be cutting-edge, there are many issues currently with the medium, and questions to its legitimacy still need to play out within the larger field. In what follows, however, we provide reasons that, despite these limitations, blogging is a ripe area for sport scholars.
Through our analysis, we identified four broad ways that blogging can contribute to the scholarly study of sport. First, blogging provides more accessibility to academic conversations than that of conventional modes of publication; in doing so, more means of participation exist than in journals or monographs. Scholars are able to engage the public more easily and be activists. Second, scholars also are able to respond to current events in a more timely fashion; most journal articles and books take much longer to reach the public than a blog entry. Third, blogging provides scholars new avenues for reflexivity. In many posts, writers discuss the role of researchers while putting themselves into the stories that they tell. While such style appears in some conventional modes of publication, it is far easier to experiment with different ideas on blogging platforms. Plus, blogging provides scholars and the public a better medium for feedback about on-going projects and prominent issues. Finally, blogs provide a space for multidisciplinary research; the medium allows scholars to better cross disciplines and mesh methodologies, which, in turn, helps create new knowledge.
Accessibility and Public Engagement
One of the most touted reasons for academic blogging is to make research accessible. As Gregg explains, the “conversational scholarship” necessary on blogs can serve as a bridge between the writer and reader. Consequently, knowledge is not owned but “becomes something to be facilitated, discussed and improved.”38 The six blogs seemingly aligned with these ideas.
Some bloggers explicitly viewed their online contributions as a source of public engagement. For example, “Alvinema,” of Hockey in Society, directly discussed the goals of his research. In multiple posts during our time frame—which ranged from a discussion of Tim Hortons and Canadian Olympism to an ethnography of ice hockey at a local YMCA—the author sought to reach as many people as possible. “I strongly believe in making my research accessible to academics across different disciplines,” Alvinema explained. This style of academic writing and research also engaged practical concerns. Jargon and discipline-specific language can lead to cryptic research findings that will be of little use in the “real world.” Therefore, blogging allowed Alvinema’s research to be presented “in a way [End Page 266] that won’t be easily dismissed by influential policymakers and the general non-academic audience.”39
Some sport bloggers suggested an activist bent to their online scholarship. For example, Dain TePoel, writing for the Sport in American History blog, discussed his topic of “reading sport” in the twenty-first-century landscape of digital media. He found such reading as a practice in social activism. “The goal is not simply to identify sites of hegemonic functioning,” he wrote, “but to open up possibilities for ways to understand, resist, question, critique, reverse, transgress and/or transform social arrangements based in exclusionary politics of domination and subordination.”40 Writers on The Corpus similarly aligned with an activist agenda. In her post, Joy Bauer Olimpo identified the Physical Cultural Studies Program at the University of Maryland as “inherently feminist.”41 One way the blog does feminist work is in its activist-centered writings. For example, in a post on physical activity and mental health on Australian beaches, Julie Maier wrote, “The challenge is to understand the intersection of oppressions (e.g., the ways in which social and environmental justice is intertwined with the oppression of those with mental illness), and work to fight various injustices simultaneously.”42 Although writing on different blogs, both TePoel’s and Maier’s aims were not to simply identify new areas of study or produce new knowledge, but to use those resources as ways to make progress in society.
A group of writers on the Hockey in Society blog also engaged in activism. For example, in a post from February 10, 2014, just after the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics, numerous authors addressed social issues in a joint effort. The post was presented as one of the blog’s “roundtables,” which includes “brief commentaries from Hockey in Society contributors on pressing or timely issues within hockey and its culture, with the aim of presenting a diverse range of critical viewpoints on the topic under discussion.” In this case, the authors took on topics such as twenty-first-century Russian LGBTQA rights; cross-cultural politics and diplomacy between Canada and Russia; hypercompetitiveness during international competition; the evolution of the sport of hockey due to international competition; and women’s hockey. Through combining history, sociology, politics, diplomacy, and various aspects of cultural studies, the authors also demonstrated the usefulness of a multidisciplinary sport studies. “Sport,” as roundtable contributor Courtney Szto proclaimed, “proves its worth not when it shies away from political discussions but when it embraces them.”43
Although researching and writing about sport on digital platforms seems implicitly to fulfill engagement, several bloggers highlighted potential obstacles when acting in the public sphere. On one hand, the aim and intent of public engagement remain contested. As Cathryn Lucas-Carr explained in a post about the evolution of public history, humanities and social science disciplines, fighting for legitimacy, scholars frequently turn to the public realm to demonstrate their relevancy; however, this leads to “disagreement over the purpose and execution of such public scholarship.” In sport history, the conversation often devolves into “Who gets to tell what story? How is that story told? Whose version of the story counts?”44 Conversely, when promoting stories of sport, such as those on the legacy of past sporting events, there is the potential, as the Sport Heritage Review pointed out, to forget about the socioeconomic context of the sporting past, along with the racial, gendered, and classed realities.45 [End Page 267]
Immediate Response to Current Events
Because blog posts do not mandate the rigorous editorial review process of most academic journals, bloggers have the unique ability to respond immediately to current events. As noted above, contributors frequently discussed recent happenings in sport while incorporating a critical analysis not usually found in popular accounts. When assessing current events, the bloggers in our sample often filled in historical context, considered social significances, or outlined legal implications.
Noteworthy moments in the world of sport do not occur in a vacuum. Therefore, writers across the six forums posted pieces that detailed the histories that led to the current event. For example, on the Sport in American History blog, Dunja Antunovic reflected on Sarah Thomas’s position as a female referee in the NFL. Although many news sources touted Thomas as a pioneer in both officiating and football, Antunovic explained how such accounts “fail to situate Thomas in relation to the history of women in sport.” She then offered a historical account of women as referees and women in football. By providing context, Antunovic shows “just how late the NFL is in the game in terms of inclusion.”46 Similarly, writing for the Allrounder, Amy Bass discussed Dutee Chand’s fight against the International Association of Athletics Federations’s hyperandrogenism policy in conjunction with the sport’s governing bodies’ introduction of sex testing in the 1960s. She noted how historical conceptions of gender and biology continue to infiltrate women’s sport today.47
Along with adding context to current events, bloggers also discussed the social signifi-cance of different happenings in sport. Courtney Szto, of the Hockey in Society blog, explained the implications of the Calgary Flames offering commentary in a language other than English and French. She argued that the Flames’s addition of Punjabi shows the increasing demand for hockey across cultures; however, the racist backlash also demonstrates the desire of some to keep the sport white.48 Likewise, for the Allrounder, Keith Parry described Australian rugby player Sam Burgess’s decision to continue competing in the National Rugby League’s Grand Final despite suffering a fractured cheekbone and concussion. Parry contended that the celebratory reaction to Burgess’s performance indicates both the power and detriment of Australian masculinity. Given the prominence of players such as Sam Burgess,” he wrote, “surely it is time that more people asked: ‘Shouldn’t somebody get him to stop?’”49
Finally, writers for the Sports Law Blog discussed the legal underpinnings of contemporary events. For example, Warren K. Zola considered the Northwestern University football players’ potential for unionization. He noted that, because the National Labor Relations Board protects only employees’ rights to unionize—and the courts have legally declared that student-athletes are not employees—the players had little chance for success unless the legal definition changed. Similarly, over twenty-five posts on the site examined the legal context of the Donald Sterling saga; the NBA revoked Sterling’s ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 due to his racist remarks. In relation to this event, bloggers on the Sports Law Blog discussed contract law, free speech, the right to privacy, and statutory interpretation.50
For the most part, scholars accept the need to recognize assumptions, question sources, address power relations, and consider investigator positionality in the research process. While [End Page 268] some claim that sport studies—and sport history, in particular—has been slow to diagnose the role of the researcher in the creation of knowledge, an assessment of relevant sport-related literature illustrates the contentiousness of this claim.51 Furthermore, throughout the sport digital media assessed, several writers included a direct or tacit recognition of their power as an interpreter, their “way of knowing,” or their subjective role in the production of sport-related knowledge.
Some bloggers explicitly discussed their position as researcher, interpretation of sources, and power in writing. For example, when considering his role as a graduate student in the Physical Cultural Studies Program at the University of Maryland, Sam Clevenger questioned the purpose, politics, and role of academic researchers in their everyday physical activities. “Rather than focusing exclusively on the issue of how academics can intervene in contemporary political moments,” he wrote, “we should also ask ourselves why we allow our participation in the neoliberal academy’s means of (re)production to serve as our primary bridge between our theories of politics and our attempts to practice them in our everyday lives.”52
Digital sport writing also allows scholars the freedom to try new reflexive approaches, styles, and tactics, which, in turn, can create innovative approaches and ideas. For example, rather than the standard film review format offered by traditional academic journals, the Sport in American History blog allows contributors flexibility in writing. When reviewing Happy Valley, a documentary about the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, sport scholars Adam Berg, Andrew D. Linden, and Lindsay Parks Pieper co-wrote a piece that identified their diverse perspectives in viewing. The three contributors held different connections to Penn State, which shaped how each received and reviewed the film.53 Digital sport media, therefore, not only offer freedom from disciplinary constraints, but blogs also permit creativity and flexibility in the research and writing process.
Finally, others explicitly questioned their interpretation of sources. Lucas-Carr visited the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria and reflected on the research trip in a post for Sport in American History. While sifting through artifacts and documents, Lucas-Carr recognized how personal notes and writings about the research experience, “these bits I’ve left behind,” were similar to those in the archive. Lucas-Carr surmised that “[a]ssessing the ‘true meaning’ of these documents is quite impossible—and addresses the wrong questions. Our histories are always partial, contextual, and embedded within complex power relationships.”54 In a similarly reflective piece about conducting research in the archives, McGregor discussed his month-long research trip to Oklahoma, where he located material for his dissertation on Bud Wilkinson. His piece focused not on the content of the archives, but on the ways in which archival organization creates unintentional hierarchies, which is compounded by source availability. McGregor concluded that “personal reflections [regarding the research process] help complicate that process a little bit and prompt us to think through how and where we find sports in the archives.”55
Unencumbered by traditional disciplinary conventions and stakeholders, authors on the six academic sport blogs embraced a plethora of canons, methodologies, and theories from divergent disciplines. Scholars from an assortment of fields, therefore, crossed disciplinary boundaries in the creation of new knowledge. This new intellectual space can employ the [End Page 269] “broadest approach to the study of sport,” in the words of sport scholar Sarah K. Fields, as well as a deeper understanding of its significance.56
As a notable example, McGregor founded the Sport in American History blog as a forum to discuss sport from a variety of perspectives. He initially envisioned the digital space as an equitable amalgamation of digital humanities, public history, and sport studies. Since its founding on May 1, 2014, however, the forum has expanded in aims, reach, and collection of writers. Contributors now reside in a range of academic homes, including African American studies, American studies, communications, education, folklore, gender studies, health and sport studies, history, kinesiology, public history, recreation tourism management, religious studies, sport management, sport studies, and women’s history. According to McGregor, “The blog sits at the intersection of so many disciplines and vocations, highlighting that neither the study of sport nor the study of history belong to any one single academic department.” As questions of disciplinary control prove divisive in sport studies, Sport in American History potentially offers a “middle ground.”57
Bloggers also combined disciplines to create new information. For example, in a series of posts for the Sports Law Blog, law professor Howard M. Wasserman merged aesthetics, economics, history, logic, and philosophy in creating a cost-benefit analysis of the infield fly-ball rule in baseball. He argued that the extreme cost-benefit disparity that favors the infield team necessitates the limiting of the rule in standard play. While he penned a legal article on the topic, the digital medium allowed him the space to consider his ideas, gain reader feedback, and extend his analysis to other sports. Wasserman considered the offside rule in soccer and purposeful nonscoring in football as limiting rules as well, albeit ones with different costs and benefits.58 In another post, John Eric Goff, a physicist writing for The Allrounder, discussed new technology at the 2014 men’s soccer World Cup. He explained how, from the 1970s through the early 2000s, a similar football design has been used for tournament games. The new “Brazuca” ball, created for the 2014 event in Brazil, provided a new design that Goff could analyze from a physics perspective. In analyzing the new ball and offering critique of how the World Cup changes it from year to year, Goff made connections between sport management, physics, sport, and sociology.59
Finally, instances of unexpected connections also appeared. In a post for the Sport Heritage Review, “Sporting Sounds,” Ramshaw noted that he learned of a book through Twitter, Sporting Sounds: Relationships between Sport and Music. In this post, he explained that “the subject of this book got me thinking about the relationship between music and sport heritage, and how this might be an overlooked topic in sport heritage research.” By learning about this topic via social media and broadcasting his findings on the blog—read by practitioners and academics in the area of sport heritage—Ramshaw helped develop these new connections. “I’m rather kicking myself [that] something so obvious, and so clearly a part of the sport heritage experience as music, escaped my attention,” he wrote, “though, I must admit that this ‘discovery’ is rather exciting!”60 Similarly, The Corpus’s Clevenger also connected music and sport. He likened the songs of Spiritualized, a band from Rugby, England, as case studies “reacting to some of the dominating values of Late Capitalism.” His readings of the lyrics, which he admitted were his own interpretations, helped him view physical inactivity as a “form of embodied resistance to the logic of capitalism.”61 [End Page 270]
Blogging about sport is not new. But over the past few years, the number of academics writing online about sport has increased. Of course, the merits of such scholarly work remain in contention. Blogging, it seems, has not remedied issues in academia, such as gender discrepancies, but mirrors them. Posts also reify problems found in sport studies; discussions of football dominate, while many other sports remain sidelined. Furthermore, blogging (at least to us) does not seem to help much in the ongoing legitimization fights that many sport scholars take up, particularly those who work in kinesiology or sport management departments. The digital medium is not at the forefront of many academics’ minds while they watch sport history classes and funding for sport history PhD students disappear. For these reasons, we are cautious about celebrating the virtues of academic sport blogs.
Nevertheless, whereas the legitimacy and enduring aspects of many of these blogs remain to be seen, we believe that academic sport blogging does provide many useful aspects to the field of sport studies. The scholarship we assessed offered reflective, new knowledge that employed a diversity of methodologies and theories, which frequently cited activism as a central tenet. These findings demonstrate the importance of sport studies scholars’ continued embrace—if not expansion—of digital media. Blogging might not have fixed many of the issues in sport studies, but there are enough positives to keep it around.
1. Rebecca Olive, “Interactivity, Blogs, and the Ethics of Doing Sport History,” in Sport History in the Digital Era, ed. Gary Osmond and Murray G. Phillips (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 157–79.
2. Stephanie Ho, “Blogging as Popular History Making, Blogs as Public History: The Singapore Case Study,” Public History Review 14 (2007): 65.
4. Inna Kouper, “Science Blogs and Public Engagement with Science: Practices, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Journal of Science Communication, 26 February 2010: https://jcom.sissa.it [accessed 24 February 2017].
5. Judit Bar-IIan, “Information Hub Blogs,” Journal of Information Science 31.4 (2005): 297–307.
6. John S. Wilkins, “The Roles, Reasons and Restrictions of Science Blogs,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23.8 (2008): 413.
7. This project originally included a content analysis of sport-related hashtags on Twitter. We jointly transcribed and analyzed tweets that included one of the six sport-related hashtags. We assessed #SportHistory, #SportsHistory, #SportStudies, and #SportManagement in their entirety during the eighteen-month period; we narrowed our search for #twitterstorians and #WomenInSport by adding the secondary search criteria “sport” and “history,” respectively. However, while we found many academic conversations on academic sport blogs, Twitter proved a far less fertile avenue for such work. It seems that Twitter is not as conducive for academic conversations as we had originally hypothesized. Instead, we found that sport scholars who used Twitter tended to do so for primarily promotional purposes. The tweets we analyzed most frequently linked to journal articles, scholarly books, or popular-culture writings. We also found that #SportHistory was more academic and U.S.-focused than #SportsHistory, which centered primarily on European physical activities and education. Conversely, #WomenInSport was dominated by contemporary Australian sport stories. Thus, while blogs exist as a useful space for academic work, it appears that Twitter has not yet provided similar opportunities. We suspect this stems primarily from the medium’s novelty; many of the tweets came from the same few handles. [End Page 271]
10. “About,” Hockey in Society: https://hockeyinsociety.com/about-hockey-in-society/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
14. According to R. Burke Johnson and Larry Christensen, investigator triangulation “involves the use of multiple observers to record and describe the research,” which “allows cross-checking of observations to make sure the investigators agree about what took place.” See Educational Research: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Approaches (Los Angeles: Sage, 2012), 265.
15. Andrew McGregor, “The Transformative Power of Blogging: Rethinking Scholarship and Reshaping Boundaries at Sport in American History,” paper presented at Doing Sport History in the Digital Present Workshop, 25–26 May 2016, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. Critical Studies scholar Melissa Gregg found that graduate students have taken up blogging with “fervor” because of the community the digital format creates. Melissa Gregg, “Feeling Ordinary: Blogging as Conversational Scholarship,” Continuum: Journal of Media and Culture Studies 20.2 (2006): 147–60.
16. Andrew Guest, “A Thinking Fan’s Guide to the Women’s World Cup,” TheAllRounder, 4 June 2015: http://theallrounder.co/2015/06/04/a-thinking-fans-guide-to-the-womens-world-cup/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
17. Gregory Ramshaw, “Heritage and the NFL,” Sport Heritage Review: https://sportheritagereview.com/2014/09/29/heritage-and-the-nfl/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
18. Kouper, “Science Blogs and Public Engagement with Science.”
19. Gregg, “Feeling Ordinary,” 154.
21. Barbara Bagihole and Kate White, eds., Generation and Gender in America (Basingtoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 3.
22. Kristen Monroe, Saba Ozyurt, Ted Wrigley, and Amy Alexander, “Gender Equality in Academia: Bad News from the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions,” Perspectives on Politics 6.2 (2008): 215–33.
23. “Gender Distribution of Degrees in History,” Humanities Indicators: http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=252 [accessed 1 August 2016].
24. “Gender Distribution of Degrees in Philosophy,” Humanities Indicators: http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=267 [accessed 1 August 2016]; “Gender Distribution of Degrees in Religion,” Humanities Indicators: http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=10998 [accessed 1 August 2016].
25. We examined the Journal of Sport History from its first issue in 1974 through the most recent issue at time of publication. To determine gender, we used author bylines on articles, followed by a web search for institutional or individual webpages of the authors. When we could not find a reputable source for how the author identified, we left her or him out of the statistics.
26. We compiled these data from all three issues of volume 41 and issues 1 and 2 of volume 42.
27. Dustin Harp and Mark Tremayne, “The Gendered Blogosphere: Examining Inequality Using Network and Feminist Theory,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 83 (2006): 247–64.
28. Sarah Pedersen and Caroline Macafee, “Gender Differences in British Blogging,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12.4 (2007): 1472–92.
29. Jill Filipovic, “Blogging While Female: How Internet Misogyny Parallels ‘Real-World’ Harassment,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 19.1 (2007): 295–303. [End Page 272]
30. The Sports Law Blog posts frequently linked to popular articles about a specific male athlete or men’s sport. Therefore, we included this blog in this assessment. Because Hockey in Society’s “weekly links” contained several links that covered a variety of topics—oftentimes containing information about male, female, and sport in general—we did not include it in our analysis for the gender breakdown of topic in order not to skew results.
31. Similar to our gender breakdown of topics, we included the Sports Law Blog links in the topic breakdown as they often included information about one sport. We removed Hockey in Society’s “weekly links” posts because they contained multiple stories
33. Gregg, “Feeling Ordinary.”
34. McGregor, “The Transformative Power of Blogging.”
35. See Ken Owen, “Is Blogging Scholarship? Reflections on the OAH Panel,” The Junto, 15 April 2014: https://earlyamericanists.com/2014/04/15/is-blogging-scholarship-reflections-on-the-oah-panel/ [accessed 24 February 2017].
37. Jaime Schultz, “Kinesiology, Genealogy, and an (Ephemeral) Quantitative Turn,” NASSH.org, 16 April 2016: http://www.nassh.org/NASSH/content/president%E2%80%99s-forum-taking-charge-future-sport-history-academic-institutions-ii [accessed 1 August 2016].
38. Gregg, “Feeling Ordinary,” 154.
39. Alvinema, “Beyond the Foster Hewitt Media Gondola: A Review of the CWHL All-Star Game,” Hockey in Society, 17 December 2014: https://hockeyinsociety.com/2014/12/17/beyond-the-foster-hewitt-media-gondola-a-review-of-the-cwhl-all-star-game/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
40. Dain TePoel, “Reading Sport Critically in the Networked Digital Media Landscape (Part I),” Sport in American History, 4 December 2014: https://ussporthistory.com/2014/12/04/reading-sport-critically-in-the-networked-digital-media-landscape-part-1/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
41. Joy Bauer Olimpo, “My (Feminist) PCS,” The Corpus, 14 April 2015: https://thecorpus.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/my-feminist-pcs-by-joy-bauer-olimpo/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
42. Julie Maier, “Fluro Friday and Mental Health Awareness,” The Corpus, 28 March 2015: https://thecorpus.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/fluro-friday-and-mental-health-awareness-by-julie-maier/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
43. Markdavidnorman, “Roundtable: Issues and Controversies at the Sochi Olympics, Hockey in Society, 10 February 2014: https://hockeyinsociety.com/2014/02/10/roundtable-issues-and-controveries-at-the-sochi-olympics/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
44. Cathryn Lucas-Carr, “Whose History Is It Anyway?” Sport in American History, 22 January 2015: https://ussporthistory.com/2015/01/22/whose-history-is-it-anyway/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
45. Gregory Ramshaw, “The Aesthetics of Sport Heritage Ruins,” Sport Heritage Blog, https://sportheritagereview.com/2014/07/03/the-aesthetics-of-sport-heritage-ruins/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
46. Dunja Antunovic, “Trailblazer? Media Coverage of the NFL’s First Female Athlete, Sport in American History, 15 April 2015: https://ussporthistory.com/2015/04/15/trailblazer-media-coverage-of-the-nfls-first-female-referee/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
47. Amy Bass, “Calling Nature a Cheat,” TheAllRounder, 3 November 2014: http://theallrounder.co/2014/11/03/calling-nature-a-cheat/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
48. courtneyszto, “Tensions: The Changing Demographics of Hockey,” Hockey in Society, 16 February 2014: https://hockeyinsociety.com/2014/02/16/tensions-the-changing-demographics-of-hockey/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
49. Keith Parry, “What Sam Burgess’ Face Tells Us about Australian Sport,” TheAllRounder, 27 January 2015: http://theallrounder.co/2015/01/27/what-sam-burgess-face-tells-us-about-australian-sport/ [accessed 1 August 2016], italics in original. [End Page 273]
50. Michael McCann, “Donald Sterling v. NBA: An Analysis,” Sports Law Blog, 31 May 2014: http://sports-law.blogspot.com/2014_05_01_archive.html [accessed 1 August 2016].
51. For critiques of reflexivity in sport history, see Mike Cronin, “Reflections on the Cultural Paradigm,” in “Sport History and the Cultural Turn,” eds. Douglas Booth and Murray Phillips, special issue, Sporting Traditions 27.2 (2010): 1–13; Douglas Booth, The Field: Truth and Fiction in Sport History (London: Routledge, 2005). For a refutation of this position, see Andrew D. Linden, “Tempering the Dichotomous Flame: Social History, Cultural History, and Postmodernism(s) in the Journal of Sport History, 1974–2014,” Journal of Sport History 43.1 (2016): 66–82.
52. Sam Clevenger, “Physical Cultural Studies, Praxis, and the DIY Ethic,” The Corpus, 27 April 2015: https://thecorpus.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/physical-cultural-studies-praxis-and-the-diy-ethic-by-sam-clevenger/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
53. Lindsay Parks Pieper, Adam Berg, and Andrew D. Linden, “Review of Happy Valley,” Sport in American History, 9 April 2015: https://ussporthistory.com/2015/04/09/review-of-happy-valley/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
54. Cathryn Lucas-Carr, “Partial Histories, Historical Context, and the Search for Trans* Truth,” Sport in American History, 14 November 2014: https://ussporthistory.com/2014/11/14/partial-histories-historical-context-and-the-search-for-trans-truth/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
55. Andrew McGregor, “Sport in the Archive: Research Reflections,” Sport in American History, 7 August 2014: https://ussporthistory.com/2014/08/07/sport-in-the-archive-research-reflections/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
56. Sarah K. Fields, “Sports Studies: A Model for the Twenty-First-Century University,” Journal of Sport History 43.1 (2016): 56–65.
57. Andrew McGregor, “Sport in American History: An Experiment in Digital Public Sport History,” Sport in American History, 30 April 2015: https://ussporthistory.com/2015/04/30/sport-in-american-history-an-experiment-in-digital-public-sport-history/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
58. Howard Wasserman, “Intentional Non-Scores,” Sports Law Blog, 8 January 2014; Howard Wasserman, “Football and the Infield Fly Rule,” Sports Law Blog, 3 January 2014; Howard Wasserman, “Infield Shifts and Infield Flies,” Sports Law Blog, 14 May 2014; Howard Wasserman, “Infield Fly Suit Is in Effect,” Sports Law Blog, 30 June 2014; Howard Wasserman, “To the Man Who Taught me the Infield Fly Rule,” Sports Law Blog, 18 August 2014.
59. John Erica Goff, “How Brazuca Beat Jabulani,” The Allrounder, 13 October 2014: http://theallrounder.co/2014/10/13/how-brazuca-beat-jabulani/ [accessed 15 November 2016].
60. Gregory Ramshaw, “Sporting Sounds,” Sport Heritage Review, 13 May 2014: https://sportheritagereview.com/2014/05/13/sporting-sounds/ [accessed 1 August 2016].
61. Sam Clevenger, “Resistance and the Art of Doing ‘Nothing,’” The Corpus, 2 February 2015: https://thecorpus.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/resistance-and-the-art-of-doing-nothing-by-sam-clevenger/ [accessed 1 August 2016]. [End Page 274]