Thinking it presented an opportunity, Assistant Professor of Sociology Alex Manning alerted students in his Sports and Society course to an upcoming conference sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change. The institute, a project of the University of San Jose, was inviting undergraduate and grad students to submit recorded presentations for the November remote conference.
Its theme, “Dream With Your Eyes Open: (Re)Imagining Sport in the Age of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter,” resonated with Aaron Kraus ’21 and Jaelin Robin ’22. They each decided to submit presentations. Supported by Manning and after many hours of literature review and other work, each had their work accepted.
“When Professor Manning first mentioned the conference to our class, I immediately had my subject in mind. I wanted to challenge myself and saw this as an opportunity to conduct a research project on a sports topic that I have always been interested in exploring,” Robin said. The topic — legacies of racism in Major League Baseball and its response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Robin noted that MLB has yet to fully integrate at the coaching, managerial, and upper-leadership levels and was the last major professional sports organization to speak out against the murder of George Floyd. Robin looked in particular at the Boston Red Sox.
Long interested in prison reform and abolition, Kraus explored those ideas, looking at the concept of sport as a human right for prisoners, de-investing in oppressive systems such as law enforcement to re-invest in social programs, and at the role of sport in prison.
“This topic blends two of my passions in a way that I didn’t know existed in the past,” Kraus said. “Exploring this topic in an academic manner helped me learn a lot more about it and about connected theories on prison abolition, rehabilitation, and positive youth development.”
Both students fulfilled a sociological mission in their work, offering context about our institutions and history and interrogating what sport actually means, Manning said.
Conference organizers received 118 abstracts and 22 undergraduate videos from four schools created by 56 students, including Kraus and Robin. They also received seven videos from seven grad students from six schools.