Hockey Research at the 2014 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) Conference

One of the things we like to do at Hockey in Society is highlight current sociocultural research about hockey being done by scholars across the globe (you can see various posts related to academic conferences here). Last week, the annual conference for the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), a scholarly association for sport sociologists, took place in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but the program is published online, so I am still able to highlight the research being presented that it relevant to the critical study of hockey and its place in society.

After the jump, check out the abstracts from relevant presentations (including from Hockey in Society writers Courtney Szto and Matt Ventresca). Topics include entrepreneurship and the formation of all-Black sport leagues (including the Colored Hockey League in the Canadian Maritimes) in the Reconstruction Era; racialized media media representations of black players, including the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban; the demise of Hockey Night in Canada and La soirée du hockey and the loss of hockey on Canada’s pubic broadcasters; social media reaction to Punjabi hockey broadcasts; and concussions in sport.

Entrepreneurship, Enterprise, and Economic Development of Black Sports Leagues, Conferences and Franchises Post the U.S. Reconstruction Era in North America

Kenyatta Cavil (Texas Southern University), Joseph N. Cooper (University of Connecticut), & Geremy Cheeks (Texas A&M University)

The purpose of this paper is to reconstruct the history of the entrepreneurship, enterprise, and economic development using an epistemological framework of Black professional sports’ leagues, conferences, and franchises during America’s Reconstruction period in North America. The sports leagues, conferences, and franchises in the United States and Canada during the preindustrial time period are remarkable, but virtually unexplored. However, the diversity and participation of Blacks in sports during this time frame is noteworthy and critical race theory (CRT) is a legitimate epistemological and theoretical framework for conducting race-based emancipatory research of this type (Scheurich & Young, 1997; Singer, 2005).

This study was designed to identify the complexity of Reconstruction, in U.S. history for the Africana Diaspora’s entrepreneurial participation in creating the all-Black hockey league, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes formed in 1895 and lasted until 1925 (Fosty & Fosty, 2004); the business enterprise of cultivating the all-Black basketball franchises during the Black Five Era from 1904-1950 (Johnson, 2012); the economic development of the all-Black baseball league, the Negro Leagues; beginning with the formation of leagues with black professional team from 1920 until 1951 (Rhoden, 2006) and finally, the educational economic enterprise of the all-Black collegiate athletic leagues, the formation of conferences with Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) beginning with the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association [now the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA)] in 1912.

Skating across racial lines: PK Subban, blackness, and social media

Nikolas Dickerson (University of Iowa)

Mary Louise Adams (2006) argues, if hockey is life in Canada, then life in Canada remains decidedly masculine and white (p.71). In this paper I examine the ways ideological understandings of hockey, as white and masculine, are reproduced within cyberspace. I do this through an examination of Internet memes. Specifically, I examine a set of internet memes that compares the NHL to the NBA and a series of memes that specifically, focus on the Montreal Canadian’s defensemen, P.K. Subban. I argue that these memes are part of a larger set of cultural narratives that position racialized bodies outside the norms of professional ice hockey. In between I insert auto-ethnographic accounts of my own experience as a multi-racial, man, participating in ice hockey. This paper is intended to add to the growing literature concerning social media and sport, and to disrupt the dominant racial and gender narratives of ice hockey. For as, Gamal Abdel Shehid (2000) argues, writing about hockey through race can help subvert common narratives of the game, as well as understand connections between race, sport, and nation.

From South Bay to South Park: AEG, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), and the Reorganization of Public Space in Downtown Los Angeles Urban renaissance

Michael Giardina (Florida State University)

Urban restructuring. New urbanity. Creative economy. All are buzzwords encapsulating the changing dynamics in, around, and through the South Park Business Improvement District (BID) in Downtown Los Angeles, which is home to the LA Live/Staples Center sports-entertainment complex. Like similar emergent districts such as London Bridge Quarter or Southwark in London, Buckhead in Atlanta, and River North in Chicago, new South Park has become (perhaps problematically) lauded as a beacon of remarkable regrowth in a formally depressed urban environment. Drawing from multiple [auto-]ethnographic site visits to the Downtown Los Angeles area spread over the course of three years, as well as primary source documents on the South Park BID (as well as those related to similar development projects), I weave narrative accounts over and against more formalized scholarly writing on themed space, consumer culture, and capital excess, focusing especially on the role of the Los Angeles Kings organization of the National Hockey League (and its parent company, Anschutz Entertainment Group) as situated within this space.

The demise of Hockey Night in Canada and La soirée du hockey: The dispossession of Canada’s national game

Jean Harvey (University of Ottawa) & Jay Scherer (University of Alberta)

In 2013, telecommunications empire Rogers Communications announced a 12-year, $5.2 billion agreement for the media rights for National Hockey League (NHL) content in Canada. The contract heralded the end of a 62 year relationship between the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the NHL, and marked the demise of the viewing rights’ (Rowe, 2004) of Canadians to watch hockey on Hockey Night in Canada. A similar story had already played out for Francophone viewers; in 2004, Radio-Canada’s La soirée du hockey, went off the air after the subscription sport channel RDS secured the broadcasting rights to all NHL games in the French market (Scherer & Harvey, 2013). Based on a content analysis of newspaper coverage and interviews with sport media executives from the public and private sector, we provide a critical analysis of the demise of both cultural traditions as quintessential examples of accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey, 2003), and a significant stage in the enclosure of the cultural commons in light of the ascendance of subscription/pay-per-view media. Indeed, while the CBC and Canadian taxpayers have supported the NHL for over sixty years through extensive, over-the-air coverage, the private sector is now set to reap the benefits from this historical public foundation.

From the Quiet Room to Collective Bargaining: Exploring the Missing Link between the Concussion Crisis and Labor Politics in Professional Sports

Michael Ramsey, Nicholas Rickards, Sean Brayton, & Michelle Helstein (University of Lethbridge)

This paper presents the initial findings of a study regarding the relationship between labour struggles in professional sports and the growing epidemic of concussions among athletes, specifically gridiron football players and hockey enforcers. It surveys the emerging interest in the concussion crisis across popular press, documentary films and academic literature in North America. Using a discourse analysis, we explain how popular media often presents concussions in ways that are certainly informative but tend to avoid a more politicized discussion of the athlete as a manual worker whose body succumbs to the use and abuse of professional sports. We suggest that nuanced discussions of labour, which have a rich tradition in sports sociology, could effectively address how the concussion crisis speaks to complicated relations of athletic production. As we argue, working conditions are inseparable from concussions professional sports, a phenomenon that requires further development within both the popular press and academic literature. We conclude with an overview of the various political implications for bridging the labour politics of sports with the concussion crisis.

#LOL at Canadian Multiculturalism: Reactions to Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi from the Twitterverse

Courtney Szto (Simon Fraser University)


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asserted that hockey is the great national common denominator because it crosses all social lines and facilitates integration of immigrants into Canadian society (Akin, 2010). Arguably, two aspects of nation identity that Canadians are most recognized for are hockey and multiculturalism; yet, few scholars have examined the implications of Canada’s mythological and nostalgic hockey culture for immigrants from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, we must ask what happens when the values of multiculturalism conflict with the values of hockey? In 2008, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) created a Punjabi broadcast to accompany the nation’s longest running broadcast, Hockey Night in Canada. This analysis uses the social media platform, Twitter, to gain uncensored insight into how Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi (HNIC Punjabi) is received by the general Canadian public. It was observed that, even though most Canadians encounter diversity daily, it appears that when people of colour become visible in traditionally white arenas (such as hockey) some Canadians are flummoxed by the sight of multiculturalism, while not necessarily being opposed to the idea of it. Laughter was observed as a common reaction to HNIC Punjabi, which is theorized as a method of negotiating a disconnect or departure from what is expected as normal behaviour or a social system. As a power relation, laughter produces boundaries between and around social groups by elevating some people and marginalizing others; consequently, despite being marketed as a multicultural society, Sikh Punjabi Canadians become paradoxical to hockey in Canada.

Putting the head in Head Games: Representing the brain within a concussion crisis

Matt Ventresca (Queen’s University)

This paper explores the discourses and technologies through which the brain is represented in media narratives surrounding sport’s contemporary concussion crisis (Carroll & Rosner, 2012). While scholars in the sociology of sport have demonstrated a profound fascination with representations of the athletic body, the cultural politics informing popular, medical and scientific understandings of the athletic brain remain severely under-researched. This paper seeks to interrogate how representations of the brain shape, and are shaped by, the ongoing media panic about sport-related head injuries, as well as the high profile lawsuits and policy changes through which these anxieties are reinforced. How is the brain known and made visible in media narratives about the concussion problem? How do these renderings incorporate both scientific and popular knowledges of sport and the athletic body? By examining prominent books and documentaries such as Head Games (Nowinski, 2006; James, 2012) and League of Denial (Fainaru- Wada & Fainaru, 2013; Kirk, 2013), this paper investigates how the brain is represented in these media texts via medical imaging and portrayals of medical or scientific procedures. Drawing on the work of Deborah Lupton (2003) and Catherine Waldby (2000), I argue that these medicalized representations of an athlete’s brain produce complex subjectivities that inform and complicate the everyday discourses constituting the concussion debate (Anderson & Kian, 2013; Malcolm, 2009). These representations, emerging at the nexus of scientific knowledge and popular culture, reveal important tensions within media narratives about the concussion crisis while shaping broader understandings of athletes, bodies and identities.

Constructions of Black Hockey Players in Canadian Media

Jamie Woods (McGill University)

Although many studies have shown that racial bias exists in media coverage of professional sports, few have explored whether or not such bias has infiltrated the National Hockey League (NHL), which remains far less racially integrated than other leagues in North America. In this article I compare Canadian media coverage appropriated to NHL athletes across differing racial categories. This was done through a systematic content analysis of major Canadian newspaper articles between 2002 and 2013. Adopting a critical race theory approach, I argue that the historical and current White-dominant nature of ice hockey and the NHL has led to non-White participants being viewed as outsiders’ and subsequently receiving less favourable media coverage. Preliminary results support the notion that certain racial biases do exist in Canadian NHL coverage. Specifically, the data suggest that players of African/Afro-Caribbean descent are more likely to be described in terms of their physical dominance and natural athletic ability instead of terms relating to their work ethic, intelligence, and on-ice awareness’. The latter of these terms tend to be more admired in the NHL media and are more likely to be used when describing White North American players. Findings highlight challenges Black athletes face when trying to navigate a sport where White-dominance undoubtedly persists.

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