In This Story:

  • San Jose State University


There are great apps on the iPad Air to help you get through the rest of the semester.

This past semester, Allison Williams found it exceptionally hard to say anything nice about sports.

As a staff writer for The Spartan Daily, the student newspaper at San Jose State University, Williams wrote a number of columns in recent months about collegiate and professional athletics.

Among the related topics she tackled: off-the-field bullying among players and fans; persistent homophobia and sexism pervading the “macho” sports culture; the soulless business pushes of team owners whose “eye is always on their bottom line”; and even the increasingly unhealthy and overpriced stadium food which may be “satisfying the taste buds, but not the body in the long run.”

While reviewing this body of work, the SJSU senior journalism major and avowed sports fan realized there was one major element missing: positivity.

“It took me a few minutes, but I realized one very important thing: for something that I love so dearly, I haven’t written one positive thing about sports,” Williams confessed earlier this month in her final column of the semester. “Maybe it’s because there seems to be more bad things going on in sports than there are good things. Perhaps it’s because I just notice the short-fallings and never the successes happening in sports. Whatever the reason … it goes against my usual ‘look on the bright side’ nature.”

In the Q&A below, Williams, 22, a San Jose native, explains what has crowded out the bright side of sports for her as of late. She also reflects on how she ultimately maintains a sense of positivity about the players, teams, games and leagues she has long followed and loved.

Q: What is the worst thing you have observed recently about the sports world?

A: The worst thing that I’ve observed as a fan is the rage and hatred that has cast a dark shadow over sports. I think that it’s especially the case in the Bay Area, where we have rival teams that are so geographically close. Sports allegiance has become the justification or excuse for fights, violence and bloodshed. It’s almost reached a point where you have to think twice about wearing your gear or cheering too loudly.

Q: To that end, in your most recent column, you argue more acceptance is needed for sports fans who appear out of nowhere during a win streak or championship run. Why do you think there is a pushback from longtime fans against those who are new to a team or reenergized during better times?

A: [It's] the “I’ve been here longer, so I’m better” idea. Every fan has to start somewhere. We all became fans somehow. The pushback comes when people start to believe there is a good and a bad way to become a fan. Some fans will do anything to prove they are a better or more diehard fan than the person next to them. Fans spend too much time worrying about other fans and not enough time worrying about themselves, or the game in front of them.

Q: What do you see as the trouble in sports at the moment in regards to sexism and homophobia?

A: I’ve come to look at sports a little bit like an “old boys club,” where women have a place, but it isn’t watching the game.

In regards to fans, I see it as: If a woman is outside the kitchen — or done delivering game-time snacks — and insists on being involved in the game, then she had better be quiet about it. There are just some men who have a very difficult time realizing there are women in this world who know as much — or maybe more — about sports as they do. In regards to women in the profession, it’s particularly true in broadcasting that they want the woman — or “girl,” as I often hear — to be pretty. Terminology aside, I’ve seen women sideline reporters talked about as if they are just there to be rated on their looks.

I can understand that there may be more women now than there used to be who are openly interested in sports, but there are men (and players, often) who refuse to get with the times. Society is still stuck in traditional gender roles and it becomes very apparent in sports.

As for homophobia, people shy away from things that are different. It’s another instance where societal standards seep into sports. One of the main problems I see with this is that kids look up to athletes. Athletes have a unique opportunity of being role models to hundreds, if not thousands, of kids. They have the unique position of really changing the mindset of those kids. If a child hears homophobic, intolerant words from their favorite athlete, they’re going to think that it’s OK.

Gay athletes have the ability to physically change an entire fan base’s notions about homosexuality. If people are able to see that sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on ability to play, they will become more accepting.

Q: Building on another issue you have written about, how is business culture hurting sports?

A: The best way to show the business nature of sports is the issue of concussions and permanent brain damage. The issue has exploded over the past few years, and measures are being taken, but I don’t think fans are intimately acquainted with what’s happening behind the leagues’ promises to protect their players. … There are certain players on teams who are moneymakers — players who fans will buy tickets to see perform. Injuries that can sideline players aren’t necessarily good for business. …

Business also separates fans from “their” team. The NHL lockouts isolated thousands of fans, turning their passion into anger at how focused the league was on money. I know many people who refused to purchase season tickets again. The business began to lose fans because of their own business tactics.

Q: Bottom line, how do you remain at least somewhat positive about sports amid so much bad news and troubling issues?

A: I’ve started to take sports for what it is, a small sampling of society as a whole. I believe the sports world and culture is progressing to a point where the negatives will be addressed and eliminated and the positives will take center stage. As more players speak up against the things that are wrong, there is more hope that it will change soon. It also helps to see the change in the fan base. For every fan who is quick to insult or throw a racial or homophobic slur, there is another who is willing to stand against it.

Dan Reimold, Ph.D., is a college journalism scholar who has written and presented about the student press throughout the U.S. and in Southeast Asia. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he also advises The Hawk student newspaper. He is the author of Journalism of Ideas (Routledge, 2013) and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media MattersA complete list of Campus Beat articles is here.



Powered by Facebook Comments

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of USA TODAY.