Now that the reactions to my blog post about the Lindsey Vonn Sports Illustrated cover has waned, I wanted to share some thoughts.
What I have found interesting about the Vonn post, is not that so many disagreed with my critique of the cover, but that many of the comments contained personal attacks and vulgarity. Dr. Marie Hardin of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism offers some insights about this occurrence on her blog post. I want to take a different slant on the resulting backlash of the Vonn post, as I think it may be representative of a larger societal trend.
I have believed for some time (as have others) that we as citizens of a democracy have lost the ability for civil, public discussion around issues in which we are in disagreement.
Having a discussion in which multiple points of view are encouraged and respected, people participate responsibly, and the common and equal humanity and dignity of each person is affirmed are some of the civic skills necessary for the continued flourishing of a democracy. The ability to critically think about information, whether you agree or disagree, is also a civic skill. Many scholars, including Robert Putnam, have argued that our declining civic skills, civic engagement and social capital (i.e., social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit) does not bode well for sustaining a healthy democracy. I’m concerned that with the growing popularity of social and digital media, that our ability to interact meaningfully, publicly and civilly will continue to erode. What are the implications for our common good, the public good, and our society? What role should sport play in promoting civic engagement?
The institution of sport, particularly sport teams and including sport media, have great potential foster civic engagement. Yet, scarce empirical evidence exists which examines the potential of sport for fostering citizenship, facilitating dialogue, and building community in a way that leads to increased and meaningful participation in the democratic process.
Some scholars, including myself, believe sport teams can provide formative experiences of community, civic engagement, and belonging and are ideally suited for offering a genuine experience of democratic citizenship. Building community, means developing a team where members are committed to the common good, help shape the life of the group, and nurture capacities for citizenship within and beyond the team and themselves. Sports can be a major influence on how youth eventually relate to the broader culture around them. When athletes experience a sense of belonging and feel like a valued and important member of a small community, such as a sport team, it provides a psychological foundation of engagement, obligation and responsibility which, can translate into the potential for active civic engagement. Athletes also learn other valuable skills which are important for civic engagement including, the process of striving for collective goals, tolerance of political, religious, and racial diversity, and negotiation and management of conflict and difference. Sport teams can provide a way for young people to experience and practice shaping a community in the interest of mutual goals and the common good–all important aspects of a democracy. However, the tremendous potential of sports (and perhaps sports blogs!) as a vehicle for promoting civic engagement often goes untapped.
One goal of writing this blog, is to provide a critical evidence-based point of view on a particular topic. I don’t ask readers to agree, but my hope is that readers will consider a different perspective or point of view and engage in respectful debate. I do not wish to silence any perspective, which is why I approved a representative sampling of comments made in response to the Vonn blog. I want this blog to promote dialogue and perhaps build civic skills. Many of the comments were very insightful and interesting, but when the dialogue devolves into personal attacks and vulgarity I become concerned with what this means for us a community and a society at large.
9 Replies to “Reaction to Vonn Sports Illustrated Cover Uncovers More Than Expected”
Dr. LaVoi, I was horrified by many of the comments on your website with regard to your post about the Lindsey Vonn Sports Illustrated cover. It’s appalling that so many people tried to communicate their opinions by attacking you personally, and ironic that many of those comments just served to demonstrate your point. I applaud you for speaking out amidst the fear that exists in the sporting world. Your post and the comments that followed helped to initiate some healthy discussions with my own students and athletes about community, compassion, and how easily good citizenship gets thrown out the window in the social networking realm. Here’s hoping we can make a difference through sport…
Thanks for your comment. I hope that many others will use this as a teaching example in their classes, I know I will! -nml
I was thinking the same thing about some of those comments. I thought of you the other day when I saw this quote. ” Only a life lived for others is worth living” Albert Einstein
It takes people to take a stand to make others’ think!
Thanks John! Great quote. Love quotes. -nml
Do you actually think this is anything new? You must not be a student of history because if you were you would realize the kinds of public insults you’re decrying have been thrown around from the colonial times and throughout this nations history.
The Burr-Hamilton duel happened because of a public insult! Fist fights and duels were happening in congress in the 1800s before the civil war. If anything we have become more civilized. Especially in politics, there are far fewer cases of personal insults that were much more common in the 1700s and 1800s. If you can’t handle public debates or defend yourself and your positions, you should limit yourself to publishing in the academic world. In that world, only viewpoints matter. In the world you must be most comfortable in, right and wrong don’t apply as long as you can dig up enough evidence to support your position. You can be completely wrong but pose your arguments under the guise of “opening a conversation” or “asking a question” whereas in the real world, your ideology is transparent to us. We see right through you.
Despite your deflection to the civility of discourse which historically is dead wrong I think you were also dead wrong in your critique of the SI cover but smart enough to avoid actual conversations with your detractors. Of course most of your detractors were perfectly civil yet you focus on the 10% that were not to your standard of civility. There’s no point in debating when you have so much invested in being right. You simply cannot afford to admit being wrong and need to move on to another topic.
I believe that you are very right about “the ability for civil, public discussion around issues in which we are in disagreement”. Online etiquette is just not mastered by many people due to the lack of instantaneous feedback (which is given in any actual conversation, be over the phone or in person)
On the Vonn topic:
Although I think you are correct on the overwhelming amount of seductive posing in underwear/swimsuits, the Vonn picture is actually as close as it will get to actual sports.
A few notes:
– Football players are also pictured with ball but without helmet
– I don’t believe you are member of a ski-club and read many ski reviews (and this is unproven), but I am. And I have seen and will see more similar poses from male athletes…
PS: To John, I don’t think that a self-sacrifice quote is appropriate in this case… So let me submit two of them:
To feminists: “When all you have is a hammer, then every problem you encounter is a nail”
To people bashing or asserting their opinions (incl. online-bullies, trolls and evangelists of political correctness): “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Adlai Stevenson, Detroit, 1952
“I’m concerned that with the growing popularity of social and digital media, that our ability to interact meaningfully, publicly and civilly will continue to erode. What are the implications for our common good, the public good, and our society? What role should sport play in promoting civic engagement?”
Are you suggesting that the democratization of knowledge and information and increased opportunities for communication do not bode well for democracy? Perhaps the medium is the message, but to construe social media as an entirely centrifugal force is to ignore, well, reality. Consider its role in Iran, Ukraine, the Republican National Convention, etc.
To say that social media is eroding meaningful public interaction is also to dispatch with decades of First Amendment jurisprudence, which has generally held that the benefits of enlightenment (content-neutral) outweigh the likely abuses and excesses.
Intending no disrespect, I personally find social media to have more value to democracy than say, flag football.
I will never understand why people feel free to personally attack others in an online forum. Would you really say the same thing to a person’s face?? I applaud your appeal to civility! It seems like people are up in arms about whether this one photograph is objectified or not. Shouldn’t we be looking at the larger picture and discussing how women are generally portrayed in sport media — and general media as well? On average, are we happy with these portrayals? I’m not! And about Vonn specifically, she was on the Today show this morning where the story focused more on her “devastating” fall in 2006 and her shopping habits than her athletic accomplishments and what she has done to achieve them. And the next piece on the Today show featured Brooklyn Decker, the model on the cover of SI’s Swimsuit edition. Seriously — are we happy about how women are depicted in media????
Honestly, Dr. LaVoi, I understand where you’re coming from on what’s good for sport as a whole, but when all is totaled, the athlete must do what’s good for the athlete. Enhancing the athlete’s profile can also help the sport, believe it or not.
I posted what I consider to be a fairly respectful counterpoint here: http://starr-rated.blogspot.com/2010/02/how-some-want-beautiful-athlete-to.html
Controversy like this may be just what turns girls away from sport, because how many will want to be placed in the middle of this teapot tempest simply because they have a nice smile and someone wants them to use it in front of a camera?