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Read Lecture: “Knapp Smash Mouth Football ‘ (attached below) Complete the discussion board question and reply back to one post. (attached below)
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Read Lecture: “Knapp Smash Mouth Football ‘ (attached below)
Complete the discussion board question and reply back to one post. (attached below)
Many contact sports, such as tackle football in the United States, are seen as some of
the last bastions of masculinity. These sports are often used to reproduce and venerate
hegemonic masculinity thus women have often been excluded from these sports. Yet,
as you learned in this week’s lecture and readings, girls and women do participate in
these sports and some do so at very high levels. What are some reasons that people
have used to keep girls/women out of sports like football? What draws some
girls/women to sports like football? What are some of the ideological barriers they face?
There are now a number of women coaching in the NFL (these women are former
athletes in women’s professional football leagues), what impact could this have on our
understanding of sport and gender in our society?
reply back to the following post:
Andre Avellaneda
Football is a very popular sport in the United States, typically played by men who tackle
and chase each other around a field in order to score points. Football being a very
rough, physical, and taxing sport on the body results in the belief that only men can play
football because they are better suited to handle this type of activity. This goes back to
the mindset that women are not capable to do more than whats expected of them
(cooking, cleaning, taking care of children). This type of discrimination actually inspires
and motivates women to prove men wrong and play football as well as other
controversial sports! Unfortunately, this does not go without criticism form the outside
world, these athletes may be told many disparaging words for playing a sport that is of a
“manly” nature. However, I believe we can learn from these women who are breaking
down the walls of gender discrimination and help educate the masses about gender
equality, especially in sports.
Journal of Sport
& Social Issues
http://jss.sagepub.com/
Smash Mouth Football: Identity Development and Maintenance on a
Women’s Tackle Football Team
Bobbi A. Knapp
Journal of Sport and Social Issues published online 26 December 2012
DOI: 10.1177/0193723512468759
The online version of this article can be found at:
http://jss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/12/21/0193723512468759
Published by:
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On behalf of:
Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society
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468759
59Journal of Sport and Social IssuesKnapp
JSSXXX10.1177/01937235124687
Smash Mouth Football:
Identity Development and
Maintenance on a Women’s
Tackle Football Team
Journal of Sport and Social Issues
XX(X) 1­–24
© 2012 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission:
sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0193723512468759
http://jss.sagepub.com
Bobbi A. Knapp, PhD1
Abstract
Opportunities for women to participate on professional women’s football teams
have expanded over the past decade. Still the experiences of these players have
largely gone unnoticed by the general public in the United States and underanalyzed
by scholars. Using a feminist interactionist framework, this research examines how
women on a successful Midwestern football team developed and maintained their
identities as football players. The major themes that emerged from participant
observations and semistructured interviews include play the right way, recognize
uniqueness, and demand respect.
Keywords
women’s football, identity development, gender, contact sports, coach–player relationship
There is little question that football holds a dominant place in American culture (Messner, 2002; Nelson, 1994; Oriard, 2001). Some scholars have suggested that football’s
rise in popularity is linked to fears of the increased feminization of American society
(Messner, 2002; Nelson, 1994). Indeed, lessons learned on the field are believed to
prepare players “for life within the ‘sex-gender system’” (Sabo & Panepinto, 1990,
p. 115). The assumption here, of course, is that the players are males. Yet, girls and
women have taken up the sport in numbers not seen before, and some suggest that their
1
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Bobbi A. Knapp, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, 1075 S. Normal Avenue, Davies Hall Room 107, Mail Code 4310, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA
Email: bknapp@siu.edu
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2
Journal of Sport and Social Issues XX(X)
involvement in sports that were once reserved for men provides us with an opportunity
to see gender roles as constructed (Nelson, 1994; Theberge, 1997).
As the history of women’s football is unearthed, information regarding women
playing on football teams in the early part of the twentieth century has been uncovered. Though originally limited, opportunities for girls and women to participate in the
game have expanded throughout the ensuing decades. There are girls such as Holley
Mangold who played on the offensive line for Alter High School outside of Dayton,
Ohio, who received interest from several smaller universities and, more recently,
Monique Howard who played right tackle for Detroit Pershing High School (Hannah,
2007; McCabe, 2011). Furthermore, Hnida (2006) played at the college level for
Colorado and New Mexico. Currently the two most prominent women’s professional
leagues, Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) and the Independent Women’s Football
League (IWFL), are home to 92 teams giving thousands of women the opportunity to
play tackle football.
Although more females are playing football, the sport remains a male preserve in
numbers, structure, and values. According to the National Federation of State High
School Association (2011), boys made up 99.87% of high school football participants
(1,108,441). The number of girls who played was 1,395 (0.12%; National Federation
of State High School Association, 2011). Furthermore, players such as Hnida remain
an exception at the collegiate level and no woman has suited up for a National Football
League (NFL) team, which remains the standard of football in the United States. Even
the organizational structure of the women’s professional leagues includes a majority
representation of males especially as coaches. As Coakley (2007) noted, structural
power is often integrated with ideological power thus it is likely that the current structure of women’s professional football would influence the characteristics and beliefs
that are valued in the sport. This article examined women’s experiences on one successful Midwest team. The research question this study sought to answer was: How
did the women formulate and maintain their identities as football players on a successful Midwestern women’s football team? Of central importance to this question were
the roles team membership and the head coach had in determining the boundaries for
the normative role of football player to be enacted.
Although there has been an increase in the opportunities for women to play football, little research is available about these players’ experiences on these teams. The
intent of the study was to examine the experience of a women’s professional football
team from a feminist interactionist perspective. I sat out to explore how the players on
the Thunder (the name of the team and all players are pseudonyms) formulated and
maintained their football identities on this team given their lack of previous experiences with organized football. This interpretive approach allowed me to focus on the
ways in which the women created meanings and identities out of their interactions
with each other, the coaching staff, and the larger society while the feminist framework encouraged a focus on power in the gender relations within and outside of football. The feminist framework was of particular significance given the key leadership
roles held by males. As football opportunities continue to grow for females in the
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Knapp
United States, this study provides an opportunity to better understand the ways
players’ identities are being constructed and maintained within a successful team
environment.
Identities: Construction and Confirmation
Research that develops out of an interpretive framework seeks to understand “the
meanings and realities of individuals within social settings” (Silk, Andrews, &
Mason, 2005, p. 7). Generally, such research examines the overlapping issues of
socialization and subcultures (Donnelly, 2002). In such, the socialization process is
seen as a key aspect of identity formation (Donnelly & Young, 1988). From this perspective, it is believed that people create meaning through social interaction (Beal,
2002). Thus, one’s understanding of one’s identities are constantly being constructed,
confirmed, and negotiated through our interactions with others and the world around us.
The symbolic interactionist approach places the focus on the formation and maintenance of identity through social interaction. Through the examination of everyday
interactions, an interpretive sociology attempts to understand individuals’ actions in
relation to societal norms of conduct (Mead, 1934). This suggests that people’s actions
are influenced by societal and subcultural expectations (Pike, 2005). As Birrell and
Donnelly (2004) noted, “Goffman characterizes interactions as theatrical performance
in which generally known “scripts” for action are enacted by participants who take
turns in their roles as actors and audiences” (p. 51). Donnelly and Young’s (1988)
research examined how people entering climbing and rugby subcultures enacted subculturally appropriate roles for designated audiences. The “neophyte” performed their
identities to both audiences of the larger society and of the subculture in which they
are attempting to become members. Donnelly and Young (1988) found that once “neophytes” became members of the subculture, they “ceased to consider outsiders as a
valued audience” (p. 224). Thus, as one becomes socialized into the subculture more
value is placed on the acceptance from others within the subculture.
Goffman’s work provides several sensitizing concepts to better understand the act
of socialization (Beal, 2002; Donnelly & Young, 1988). Goffman defined a team as a
group of individuals who assist in staging a routine. Goffman’s concept of team was
especially relevant to this study, as team membership had a profound influence on how
individual players came to identify as football players. In addition, each team has a
director or a person who is “given the right to direct and control the progress of the
dramatic action” (Goffman, 1959, p. 97). On sport teams, the director is most often
the coach, as was the case in this study. Sabo and Panepinto (1990) suggested that the
“coach–player relationship is the epicenter of football ritual” (p. 116). Throughout
their work examining football as ritual, Sabo and Panepinto (1990) noted the various
ways in which coaches get their players to conform. Some of the methods introduced
by Sabo and Panepinto (1990) that were examined in this study include the “manipulation of in-group/out-group tensions to insure conformity” (p. 119), “promises of grandeur” (p. 119), and ridicule (p. 119). Donnelly and Young (1988) referred to the final
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Journal of Sport and Social Issues XX(X)
stage of identity formation as acceptance/ostracism. This stage involves the “confirmation of the identity by established members of the subculture” (Donnelly & Young,
1988, p. 226).
In addition to the concepts of teams and directors, Goffman also noted that teams
often adopt a “party line” that represents the team. Through the research with this
team, it became apparent that the team’s “party line” was smash mouth football. The
directors and party lines help team members know what is expected of them in their
role as football players on this team. In Encounters, Goffman (1961) noted that a “role
consists of the activity the incumbent would engage in were he [sic] to act solely in
terms of the normative demands upon someone in his [sic] position” (p. 85). In this
case, to maintain “face” team members have to enact the proper role of a football
player. When players deviate from these expectations, they are seen as being “out of
face” (Goffman, 1963, p. 8) and often receive some sort of corrective action from the
director or other team members.
Team membership can have a profound impact on the development and maintenance of an athletic identity. In her research on women’s ice hockey, Theberge (1995)
noted that “one of the most significant features of sport participation involves the
experience of team membership” (p. 389). Theberge went on to examine the role of
team identity, and the contribution of the coach’s influence, on the athletes’ development as a team and as individual hockey players. She also noted that this shared player
identity helped to unify these women who were from diverse backgrounds. This was
also found in Jackson, Keiper, Brown, Brown, and Manuel’s (2002) research on firstyear Black and White intercollegiate athletes in which they determined that “White
and African American athletes’ sense of racial identity may be minimized or overshadowed by their athletic identity” (p. 159). These authors go on to state that coaches
will often downplay any intergroup differences in order to provide a united front for
the purpose of winning contests. This is further supported in Murrell and Gaertner’s
(1992) research on the benefits of a common group identity, which found that a strong
team identity may be an important component of team success. All of which is relevant to this study as it will be shown that to form, and even more so to maintain, one’s
identity as a football player on the Thunder team was to accept and to reproduce the
characteristics of the larger team identity that itself was mostly influenced by the head
coach. In addition, any race, ethnic, or class differences the players may have had were
downplayed for the overall success of this team. Furthermore, due to the high level of
success this team experienced, it is safe to say that all players who made the team
(passing both the physical tryout and the coaches’ interview) and stayed with the team
experienced extreme normative pressure for their individual football identities to take
on the same characteristics of the larger team identity.
In their 2005 study, Jones, Glintmeyer, and McKenzie used an interpretive biography method to explore the role of coach–athlete relationship in the development of
disordered eating in a former elite female swimmer. The study examined the sometimes problematic and oftentimes underanalyzed role of coach’s discourse in the
development of athlete identity. They note the “culture of conformity” that often exists
in such relationships in that the coach takes on the role of the “knowledge giver and
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5
Knapp
athletes as receivers who need that knowledge to better their performance” (Jones
et al., 2005, p. 378). They found that the coach’s discourse about losing weight to
become a better swimmer combined with other factors, such as societal expectations
of the slender female body, pushed the female athlete to develop disordered eating that
continued after her competitive days were finished. Their examination of the impact
of the coach on one athlete’s actions is of particular interest to this study as it was
found that the coach of the women’s football team took on a key director position,
influencing the way in which the women came to identify themselves as football
players.
In one of the few studies to examine women’s involvement in football, Migliaccio
and Berg (2007) explored the benefits and constraints women experienced in participation on two teams in Northern California. The benefit that stood out the most to the
women was the development of teamwork and a family-like environment that they
experienced. Additional benefits included meeting a diverse group of women and the
opportunity to experience the physicality of football, while the constraints examined
included injuries, demands on time, finances, and relationships, and the perceptions
held by the general public. Although the research provides an insightful exploration of
women’s experiences in football, the role of the coach(es) in influencing these experiences went unexamined.
In Knapp’s (2011) article on becoming a football player on a Midwest women’s
tackle football team, the influential role of the coach was first acknowledged. Knapp
(2011) explored the factors that influenced women’s decision to play football and how
they began to develop their identities as football players. This study examined the
initial stages of women’s involvement in football and found that women often got
involved in the game because they love football, want to be a part of history, and/or
because of the physical nature of the game, while their development of their football
identities was dependent on their abilities and personal characteristics, significant others and the influence of veteran players. It was within this final theme, influence of
veteran players, that the coach’s role in socializing players into football was most
noticeable as it was noted the coach often used veteran players as role models of
proper behavior for new players to follow. Through the inclusion of coach and player
narratives, one can see how influential the coach was in this initial developmental
stage in which the women became football players. This current study attempts to
build on this research by exploring the next phase of identity development on a women’s tackle football team and in doing so reinforces and expands on the influence of
the head coach in not only the development but also the maintenance of a football
identity. Indeed, the coach played a central role in the normative pressure athletes
experienced to conform their personal football identities to the characteristics of the
larger team identity, as formulated by the coaching staff.
Method
Due to the nature of the research question—How did the women formulate and maintain their identities as football players on a successful Midwestern women’s football
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Journal of Sport and Social Issues XX(X)
team?—a feminist interactionist framework was used in collecting and analyzing the
data. An interactionist framework is concerned with the meanings and identities
people create through interactions (Blumer, 1969). Goffman’s concept of the team, as
a group of individuals who assist in staging a routine, was useful in providing a deeper
understanding of the meanings and identities that developed out of the Thunder players’ interactions. At the core of these interactions, and the team, was the head coach
who acted as the director (Goffman, 1959). Based upon his past experiences as a
player for a Big Ten football powerhouse and as a coa …
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