Archive for the ‘Current Issues’ Category

“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” ~Michael Leunig

Okay, so it’s not easy being famous and being in a relationship. We see this everywhere in the tabloids. Celebrity marriages failing for small reasons- egos, paychecks, other people, jobs…. And for athletes who play sports professionally, playing a sport is their job. It’s a great job since there are a lot of perks; however, in many celebrity athletes’ cases, it’s not always easy to balance those you love with the game you play.

The truth is that it’s not easy being a professional athlete. Despite the million-dollar paychecks, the paycheck only remains as long as you stay in good health, stay in good shape and stay at the top of your game. A few slip-ups and you start getting questioned. You practice for long hours off season and, on season, you travel. A lot. When do you even have time to date, let alone plan a life with someone? And do they really like you for who you are off camera, or for who you are on camera? These are some of the questions faced when choosing such a demanding career. Both relationships and sports take a lot of time if done well, which is why it’s hard to choose both. This is why many of these relationships fail- the stresses are too much, there’s too much at stake, and there’s not enough time spent together.
So how does one cultivate and keep a long-lasting relationship despite the stresses of playing a sport professionally? The advice below can apply not only to athlete relationships, but also to any relationship in which one or both partner may have a job that means they’re not home a lot of the time. So without further ado, here are some qualities essential in a relationship that’s meant to last.
1) One of the foundations of a strong, lasting relationship is that of trust. Particularly for a relationship of this magnitude, trust is essential. If you’re going to be gone a lot, your significant other should be comfortable with that. However, make sure your behavior when you’re on the road is such that he/she can trust you.
2) Good, consistent communication is also a must. Maybe your significant other doesn’t have to know every single place you’re at or every single thing that you’re doing, but they should have enough of an idea that he/she doesn’t think anything funny’s going on behind his/her back. Do whatever you need: call, text, email, chat, Skype… We live in the Information Age- there are plenty of communication channels you can use to keep in touch with your sweetheart.
3) Adaptability is also key. With such fluid schedules, both people must be able to adapt to changes in the other’s schedule. Sometimes inconvenient things happen, but this shouldn’t be a huge stress in a relationship. Things change, but your relationship should not. Be flexible. They’ll make it up somehow.
4) So you’re gone a lot, but the dynamic between you and your significant other should not fall apart because of this. You and your significant other are the ultimate team. Your partner is your haven, the one you come home to after the end of a hard week on the road. Don’t neglect the importance of this. Make time for dates just for the two of you- cook dinner together, go to the movies, see a different sporting event… Remember what it was like in the beginning and don’t lose that original spark. Date nights are essential even if you’re just hanging out on the couch in your sweats.
Finally, the most important for celebrity relationships is:
5) Keep it private. This is ESSENTIAL when one of both of you is in the spotlight. Even though it’s so easy for reporters to follow you around so they can sell tabloids, do not talk about your relationship in public. Any problems you’re having, don’t have in public. There are certain things you don’t even tell your friends, because in the end, it’s just you and your partner in the relationship. No one else should be involved.
My last point is this. If you’re a pro athlete (or even a D1 athlete) and want to keep a relationship going despite the stresses of playing a sport, then I hope these tips will help ground you and remind you why you chose to be in a relationship despite everything. However, if you want to play the field (and no, I’m talking sports), then that’s also honorable. Just be safe out there.
Next week we’ll discuss remembering to love the game you play.
“Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.” — Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Okay, so the first image that comes to your mind when you think of “athletes” are of the male variety– Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James…. But what about female athletes? Maybe they’re not as discussed as the male ones, but they’ve earned their merits- think, Maria Sharipova, Michelle Wie, or Danica Patrick, amongst plenty of others…
When you think about it, female athletes are and seemingly always have been at somewhat of a disadvantage in American sports culture. It seems like since the beginning of time, sporting events have always been about men competing- think of the original Olympic games or the jousting events of Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe, respectively. Perhaps this came from the long-held misconception that women should be strictly responsible for raising the family and being the mistress of the house.
Today, these archaic beliefs and our culture’s obsession with a particular type of women’s sexuality put female athletes at even more of a disadvantage. Their healthy bodies and strong spirits do not necessarily fit into the media’s battering ram of other images of women. Women that we see in advertising and on magazine covers are slim (sometimes to the point of anorexia), small, weak, and gaze at you with that, “Take me to the bedroom now” look. Women in advertising and magazines don’t have the strength of body and spirit that female athletes do, and this makes female athletes unsure about their roll in life.
On the one hand, girls who play sports are taught to be tough, not sweat the small stuff and to believe in oneself. After all, what shot could be made without a huge dose of self confidence? On the other hand, many female athletes don’t have the very slim body that is perpetuated in the media they consume. And while they may strive for that singular body type, developing eating disorders disables female athletes from excelling in their chosen sport.
Thus a conundrum is faced. On the one hand, many women’s magazines have joined a movement of female empowerment and highlight these women for young girls to emulate. On the other hand, female athletics are not taken as seriously in the media.
When was the last time you discussed the WNBA? This lack of respect for female athletes in the sexy spreads that they model for in magazines and online “hottest athlete babe” countdowns.
On a happier note, despite the media’s limited view of feminine beauty that maybe doesn’t accept the stocky female lacrosse player or the tall, lanky female basketball player, these women have and continue to be role models for young girls. They often times overcome a great many obstacles to stand where they stand today and thus continuously inspire. They make young girls who play sports believe that they too can beat the odds. And in the end, having beautiful, intelligent, athletic role models is not a bad thing.

“The freedom of authentic masculinity is an amazing thing to see. It produces a “divine elasticity” in men. Finally they can lead with firmness, then submit with humility. They can challenge with a cutting edge, then encourage with enthusiasm. They can fight aggressively for just causes, then moments later weep over suffering.” –Bill Hybels

It’s not easy being famous, and celebrity status often applies to pro athletes. College athletes also, from time to time, reach this exalted societal role. Although celebrity status for male athletes often brings bigger paychecks, lots of face time on TV and city buses and dozens of adoring female groupies, it also brings greater public responsibility. Particularly in regards to how they conduct their personal lives, the question becomes this: How do athletes deal with maintaining their reputation on the field as well as off the field, especially when it comes to the opposite sex?

This is a challenging, complex question to answer because there’s so much at stake and so many, varying answers. The other day, Dr. Peg Brand, wife of the late Miles Brand, came in to guest lecture to our class. We talked about media portrayals of sexuality and about how they relate to sports and athletes. Athletic sports scandals seem to pop up all over the place. Just last winter, Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his now ex-wife, Brett Favre was accused of sending inappropriate pictures to an NFL game host, and just a few years ago, members of the Duke lacrosse team got accused of raping a stripper who attended one of their parties. These are just a few of the many stories of male athletes abusing their girlfriends, assaulting female fans or getting involved in a myriad of other sex scandals. In fact, these stories seem to be so common, we’re not even surprised when we hear about them.
Although it would be easy to blame big paychecks and huge egos, the perpetrator behind the scenes is most likely the culture that young male athletes grow up in. Surrounded by over-sexualized and false images of what the “ideal” woman is supposed to look like and a victim of media’s limited view of acceptable masculine traits, it is not surprising that, in the heat of the moment, male athletes don’t know how to act.
So let’s look into this modern day culture a little more closely. Advertising and magazines enjoy perpetuatingthe image of the young, attractive, sexual woman. This image [of celebrities posing naked, or nearly naked] tells women how to be attractive and tells boys what an attractive woman should look like. Surrounded by these images, it is no wonder that men expect every woman they meet to be a potential subject for a sexual encounter, regardless of the consequences.
Secondly, the narrow view of masculinity portrayed is that of power, strength, athleticism and physical good looks. On a very stereotypical level, many men are portrayed as bumbling, muscular, sexual buffoons. However, the sensitive male has no place in advertising and magazines. Violence sells; sensitivity (at least when it comes to men) does not.
So how do we go about changing a cultural phenomenon? Dr. Peg Brand, a professor who came to visit a class I’m taking this term, explained that our expectations for male athletes are high. “We expect [football players] to play a very violent game of football and then walk off the field and completely shut that part of them off.” It is a lot to ask of anyone, particularly, men raised in a very violent sexualized culture.
Although there is not a quick fix to these huge issues, some things that we all can do is begin to demand more from our media. By rejecting the images they sell us and demanding more realistic ones, we can begin to sway the media to do what we want, rather than the other way around. As far as men are concerned, we must help them embrace a broader impersonation of masculinity: one that allows them to be strong and powerful, but also enables them to communicate, be respectful and sensitive to those around them.
Next week, we’ll turn the tables around and discuss how the media affects female athletes and offer ideas of how to counter negative stereotyping of women.

“If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.” ~Dean Smith

The other day, I sat in class discussing the importance of victory in a sports match. The group was composed of a variety of athletes and fans and we all had different answers to one question. At what cost does a victory come? Although answers varied, we all agreed that what starts out as a game when we were children quickly becomes more as we get older. Though still young in college, suddenly sports has become about making money. The game, at times, becomes a life or death matter.

Putting so much stock into, what should just be a game may seem silly to people who are not sports fans; on the contrary, the outcome of the game is incredibly important to the morale of a team’s fans. Psychologists have long been fascinated by figuring out why fans act and feel the way they do at athletic events. But let’s step back in time for a moment.

Humans are tribal creatures and thus, our desire to be connected to a group is embedded into our DNA. Back in the day, tribes rallied around warriors and war games. In fact, games and early sports (like jousting and polo) were often played in order to rally villagers around their nobility or for marriage ties to be decided between two noble families. So you see, sports have always acted as some kind of glue for communities.

These days, fans gather in the thousands to watch a single game and to rally around a particular team. And all kinds of things can happen at these meetings. Inter-fan violence occurs in the forms of brawls and riots and fans collectively lose their voices cheering loudly for their team, amongst other things. As fellow sports followers, I’m sure we can all attest to watching some strange display of fan-dom during a game.

Psychologists have been studying the phenomenon of fan-dom and have discovered that ties to a certain team run deep. To all of you who have ever said, “But it’s just a game” when your friend comes home dejected following a loss, I’m here to tell you that fans actually experience physiological and hormonal changes along with their teams.

A study in Georgia found that male testosterone levels actually rise up to 20% following a win, while testosterone levels plummet by rates of up to 27% following a loss. We’ve also already discussed the “us vs. them” ideology- which explains why fans identify with their team after a win (“We won”) and draw away after a loss (“They lost”).

Charles Hillman, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, even discovered that highly zealous fans’ arousal rates rise. These arousal rates are similar to those attributed to seeing erotic photos or seeing images of animal attacks. Edward Hirt, from Indiana University adds to this finding. He discovered that both male and female fans were more optimistic about their sex appeal after a victory.

However, perhaps the most appealing part about sports fan-dom is the escapism factor. Watching a really good game (especially one in which your team is winning) seems to be akin to getting lost in an exciting movie or compelling book. For a few hours, fans can escape the drudgery of their own lives. They also find a sense of belonging amongst the thousands of fellow fans. In fact, according to a study done by the University of Kansas, ardent sports fans actually have lower levels of depression and alienation than do non-sports fans.

A lot more is surely to be found in this niche field of fan psychology, and after all, this was only a basic primer. However, I know I will be thinking about this research when I go sit amongst my fellow fans when the Ducks play Stanford today. It’s just college and it’s just a game, but maybe it really isn’t that simple.

“The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Yesterday, I spent an hour watching a variety of homemade Oregon Duck anthems, from the famous “I Love My Ducks” to “Eugene Lean” to the very latest. It then started occurring to me what power a team has over an entire fan base. Victories and defeats really can pull us apart or bring us together. In fact, sports psychology has proven the whole “we” vs. “them” ideology for both good and bad times in a team.

Have you ever noticed that when our team is winning, we say, “Oh, we did so well against Tennessee last week.” But if they’re losing we ask, “Ugh why didn’t he make that pass? That would’ve saved them in the 3rd quarter!” This brings me to an even more specific point- If football has that kind of power over our language, what kind of power does it have over our psyche in general? Even further, does it draw parallels to other types of human activity?

Sports psychology, and psychology in general has always fascinated me. I wish there was a sports psychology program at the University of Oregon. Alas, getting back on track, let me ask you this question: Is football a substitute for war?
Now before you adamantly nod or shake your head one way or another, consider this- much of football’s language stems from war terms: blitz, bombs, and flanks. Play strategies are often configured the way war strategies are and vice versa. The rules of football today are like the rules of wars of old- clearcut, easy to understand, and with a clear winner after only a few hours of play.

In the last decade or so, wars have gotten much more complex. We’re finally out of Iraq but we’re onto Afghanistan. A whole generation of American children will have been born into these wars, with no knowledge of what peacetime America is like. Contrarily, Americans are tired of reading about and paying attention to our conflicts overseas. Our attention span is short, which is why it’s so easy to simply sit down to watch our favorite team play football.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion over this controversy. Frank Deford, dubbed as the “the greatest sportswriter of all time” by GQ, recently ruffled feathers by suggesting that fans are ignoring the increasing violence in the NFL. He was not the first person to compare football to war. He explains that football today is much more violent than any of our other sports, but that it fits into our very violent culture- from music to television to sports, we are a culture that thrives on watching people hurt one another.

Deford explains, “And for all the beautiful excitement in football — the kickoff returns, the long touchdown passes — the one constant is the hitting. We very much enjoy watching football players hit one another. That makes the highlight reel.”

The next day, war and peace columnist Paul Pillar of The National Interest responded with a firm agreement. He presented the idea that as wars got less conclusive, football became more so. He also discussed the fact that each week coaches focus on one opponent at a time and that each game’s goal is clearly about victory. Everyone participating and watching the game is clear about why they’re doing it.

Next week, we’ll go into further discussion about sports fans and about the “us vs. them” thinking that traps many of us. But for now, I want to hear from you- do you agree or disagree with this argument? At what point does the outcome mean more than the game itself, and what parallels does it draw to modern day conflict?

Let me just explain quickly that this will be  the first post of my blog’s face lift. Previously known as “The How To’s of PR Today,” I renovated it into a crisis management blog this morning, because I’ve been considering a future career in sports PR and yesterday, I think I brainstormed my niche– crisis management for athletes. Managing a crisis is tricky business to be sure, whether it’s in our own life or someone else’s, and many PR teams fail at it.

I am deeply grateful for the education I’m receiving through the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications, although I think if I were to add one class, it would be a risk communication 101 class. Everyone should know the basics of crisis management. I think the skills required for successful crisis management are related to those needed to solve conflict in real life. Therefore, here I am, practicing. Read my updated “Stats” section for more information. Now, onto Masoli…

As the PAC-10 expands, the Duck football team diminishes. Following his suspension in March after his participation in an alleged frat-house robbery, Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a native of San Francisco, was caught this week with an ounce of marijuana in his glove compartment while driving with a suspended license and was promptly dismissed from the team. Although he’d had the opportunity to play for the Ducks during the 2011 season, that was ripped from him after the most recent infraction.

Coach Chip Kelly claims that he asked simply for Masoli and his teammates to behave. When Masoli showed that he couldn’t, Kelly could no longer keep him on the Ducks. Although Masoli has one season of eligibility of college football left, it remains to be seen about what will happen to him, particularly following his court date on June 24th.

So what can we learn from all this? From a PR perspective, I think Kelly’s quick decision to dismiss Masoli was well called for, especially after what happened in March. Masoli got his chance to behave, and when he failed to do so, Kelly put his foot down. Let it be a lesson to coach’s everywhere that no matter how good an athlete may be at his sport, it in no way entitles him to do whatever he wants and get away with it.

Secondly, there isn’t much Masoli can do other than live with what he did. Although he has one season of eligibility left, he’s walking a very narrow line. My recommendation would be for him to come out with a statement of regret and apology in regards to his actions. This would show fans that he is mature and that he cares about them. However, I believe this is up to the Oregon football department.

For us fans, it sucks. Masoli really was an incredible player and quarterback. In his year at Oregon playing starting quarterback, he completed 177 of 305 passes thrown for more than 2000 yards. His team looked up to him. His school looked up to him. And his fans looked up to him. He will be missed and he will be remembered for the things that he did– good and bad.

There’s something else you should know about me, dear readers. I am Slovenian and proudly so. While many of my friends know nothing of their heritage, I can proudly say that I’ve seen my “homeland” three times already and that it really does feel like home. I feel particularly grateful for all the family I have over there. At least if I ever end up lost in Europe I have somewhere to go. But here’s the funny thing about Slovenia… No one knows where it is.

People I first meet often wow over my very Slovenian last name- Strgar (pronounced Struh- gar) and sometimes they’ll even tell me I have an accent. Funny, considering how I was born in Minneapolis and grew up in the Northwest for most of my life. Then they’ll ask me where my last name is from. It’s Slovenian, I tell them. Where’s that?

Let me tell you. It was the first part of Yugoslavia to secede in 1991. It’s a tiny country settled right on the northeastern corner of Italy. It’s the size of New Jersey and has a population of nearly 2 million people. It’s bordered by Italy, Croatia, Austria, Hungary and the Adriatic Sea. But then again, the article in the New York Times on Saturday could’ve told you that.

What it also could’ve told you (unless you’re an avid soccer fan) is that Slovenija (as it’s really spelled, at least in Slovenian) has a really impressive soccer team. According to the article, Slovenia is the smallest country vying for the 2010 World Cup. However, that hasn’t stopped Slovenia’s team in the past as it qualified for the 2000 European championships and the 2002 World Cup.

The team has only let in 4 goals during its qualifying run, mostly thanks to 25-year-old goalie Samir Handanovic who also plays for Italy’s Serie A. Slovenia is blessed with 21 other players who play for foreign club teams. The 11 starters play on teams such as Belgium, Poland and Germany. Although the Slovenian team has a couple players in their early 30s, the majority of the team is in its mid-20s.

It was an unexpected victory for Slovenia, however, despite their strong team. Slovenians worldwide will be routing for this small, but mighty team. Whether they have the manpower to defeat powerhouses like Spain or Brazil, it is still hard to say. The fact that they made it is enough of a national morale booster.

For me, the fact that Slovenia will be playing is enough for me. I wish I could be in Slovenia at such an exciting time. I guess I’ll have to settle for the Slovenia vs. US game.