Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sports and Social Responsibility

At last week's conference of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) in Denver, Richard King (current NASSS president, best known for his work on representations of Native Americans) delivered a fascinating message on sports, consumerism, and social responsibility. As part of his presentation he offered examples of culture jamming and showed anti-branding artwork, before wondering aloud how effective campaigns and artwork can be in raising awareness of corporate excesses, especially when anti-corporate works of art often end up becoming objects of consumption themselves.

Here are some questions to consider: What is the moral obligation of athletes who make millions in sponsorship deals from corporations who subcontract their labor to factories where employees are paid below a liveable wage (how do they live then, you ask? a lot of overtime)? How should fans respond to the vast corporate involvement in professional AND "amateur" sports? How could fans, professional athletes and teams put pressure on sponsors to assure they are acting in a socially responsible manner? Or is this even possible given that so much of a league's revenue comes from apparel sales and corporate sponsorships (in other words, have they completely lost their autonomy)?

"Branded Head" by Hank Willis Thomas
source: (a website about an exhibit of branded art held at my alma mater, The University of Illinois)

This work of art (among other things) equates corporate branding with the literal branding imposed on African American slaves and suggests that Nike continues to propagate a certain form of racism via their labor practices and their marketing strategies.


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