Posts Tagged ‘sports

joe paterno and the sociological relevance of scandal

Joe Paterno is back in the news.  It looks bad.

The whole thing, of course, is disgusting and terrible and just incredible sad.

If there is a charitable way to understand Joe Paterno, I think it is via the Catholic understanding of “scandal,” which is not actually only about something bad and embarrassing happening, but the fear that such bad and embarrassing things might cause people to lose their faith.  For example, while many Catholic Bishops covered up sexual abuse of children for purely self-interested reasons, I imagine it’s at least possible that some wore worried about the faith of their followers being shattered by the revelations (which in some cases turned out to be well-founded fears).  To be absolutely clear: the fear of scandal is a stupid reason to hide things from the public, and it is morally stupefying that it could be used to justify not bringing child rapists to justice, or even more shocking, moving them to places where they could cause more harm.  But the fear of a scandal a real moral justification and perhaps even motivation that real people have, and, as such, it’s sociologically relevant in a way that I think is often ignored.

There’s a way in which college football can take on the trappings of a religion, and certainly for someone as centrally within that religion as Paterno, it makes sense that he might have known things but not revealed them to have protected not just his reputation but, in fact, the “faith” of so many. That’s what makes the concept of scandal so interesting: it is actually not just about people protecting their own skin, but also about protecting the beliefs of others. It’s a theme explored in comic books and literature all the time: the good guy who turned out to be bad, but we must not let the public know.

This, I think, is yet another example of how religion is not so different from plain old social life itself.  There’s a way of framing that idea I don’t like, which is a kind of Paul Tillich “ultimate concern” way of thinking that all of life is just religion.  Yet there’s another way of saying, look, religion is as much a part of social life as anything else, so it makes sense that stuff that shows up in religion could be useful to explain stuff that’s out of religion. If it worked for Durkheim (taboo, sacred/profane) and Weber (value spheres, charismatic authority), then it can still work today.  It’s one of my ongoing goals to think of religion as a site through which to develop broader social theory and through which to export concepts, rather than as a category that must be studied on its own and can only be compared to other religions.

Written by jeffguhin

July 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm

forum on data analytics and inclusivity, part 1

Data analytics is a buzzword in the business world these days. One of the industries in which data analytics has made the biggest impact is sports. The publication of Moneyball in 2003 signaled a sea change in how baseball teams used data and statistics to make personnel changes. Basketball wasn’t far behind in implementing advanced statistics in the front office. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference has become a hub of industry activity, attracting academics, journalists, and sports insiders.

In general, data analytics has been celebrated as a more enlightened way to approach sports management. But it was only a matter of time before sports analytics got some backlash. The most recent criticism comes from the respected sports journalist, Michael Wilbon, who wrote a piece for The Undefeated about how data analytics has fallen on deaf ears in the African American community.

Log onto any mainstream website or media outlet (certainly any program within the ESPN empire) and 30 seconds cannot pass without extreme statistical analysis, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, hijacking the conversation. But not in “BlackWorld,” where never is heard an advanced analytical word. Not in urban barbershops. Not in text chains during three-hour games. Not around office water coolers. Not even in pressrooms or locker rooms where black folks who make a living in the industry spend all day and half the night talking about the most intimate details of sports.

Wilbon makes the point that in sports data analytics have become just one more way for the Old Boy Network to reassert their status. Of course, I’ve heard other people make the case that analytics levels the playing field, given that it doesn’t require any sort of credentials to participate and is potentially race- and gender-blind. Other journalists have already criticized Wilbon’s claims and methodology (including this response by Dave Schilling), but it’s undoubtedly true that Wilbon’s point of view is shared by others in sports.

We’re using Wilbon’s essay as an opportunity to have a discussion about data analytics and inclusivity. This is an issue that doesn’t just affect sports. As analytics become more integral to the business world, organizations will use analytics to sort talent in many of the most lucrative jobs. Academia, especially in STEM fields, continually wrestles with questions about inclusivity as well.

I’ve invited a handful of scholars and practitioners in the field of data analytics, many of whom work in the world of sports analytics, to comment on this issue. I’ll post their responses in two parts:  half today and the other set tomorrow. Today’s essays are written by three contributors who all have different takes on how analytics can be used to overcome the problems Wilbon identified in his essay. Brian Mills is a sports economist at the University of Florida. His research applies “economic lessons and quantitative analysis to problems that sport managers face in their everyday decision making.”  Sekou Bermiss is an organizational theorist at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. He studies the relationships between human capital, reputation, and firm performance. Laura Nelson is currently a postdoc at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She uses computational methods to analyze organizational histories and changes in the feminist movement. She’s also, like me, a San Francisco Giants fan.

Thanks to all of the contributors. Come back for more commentary later, and please feel free to leave comments below.

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Written by brayden king

June 14, 2016 at 2:06 am