I have recently begun to wonder why the perceptions of athletes in certain sports are built upon stereotypes or outdated knowledge, and why people allow this “knowledge” to inform their understanding of the culture of the sport itself. For example, the assumption that all female roller derby athletes are husky, tattooed, and overly aggressive seems to correlate with a perception that the sport itself is solely about brute force and a lack of control, style, or “real” athleticism. This mindset exists in some people, regardless of the fact that recent rule changes have shifted the sport from one which reinforces “entertainment” value to one which emphasizes rules and strategy. In other words, some may assess the nature and integrity of a given sport (or sport culture) based off of loosely supported assumptions of its athletes.
But then there are sports such as hockey, football and rugby. Here too are sports in which there is an identified goal and established rules, and yet one’s ability to brutally if not forcefully attack another player is actually celebrated. Last hockey season when attending a Wisconsin Badgers hockey game I heard a nearby fan yell at a referee who was breaking up a fight given his impeccable reasoning that, “Hey, this is hockey! What do you think we’re here for!”
Given this I wonder, how are we assessing the value and acceptability of a given sport or athlete? Also, why is ok to stereotype and critically judge behaviors of athletes in certain sports (stereotypes such as roller derby=aggressive/lesbian, skateboarding=daredevil trouble makers, or snowboarding=drug-using bum), while in other sports, similar behaviors are accepted if not rewarded (football, car racing, or baseball)?