Janay Rice, The Cycle of Abuse, & Obstacles for Victims

The disturbing video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée during a dispute in an elevator has been seen by many and resulted in a great deal of discussion.  Ray Rice’s contract was terminated on Monday and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. His wife Janay Rice recently released a statement that led to more debate and confusion in the public. She stated “THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get…Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!” How do sociologists explain violence in relationships and the occurrence of victims staying with an abusive partner? In this post, Mediha Din describes the concept of the Cycle of Abuse and social barriers that make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships.

Ray Rice

Many people were surprised to find that one month after the assault in the elevator in Atlantic City, Janay Rice married the man that hit her. Many people also wonder the same thing about someone they know- how can he or she stay with that person?

Before analyzing abusive and unhealthy relationships, it is important to note that we cannot make assumptions about the relationship between Ray and Janay Rice, we can only use the public attention regarding this case as a starting point for discussing abuse. We must also remember that victims of abuse can be male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, married, dating, or “hooking up”, adults, teenagers, or tweens, rich or poor, educated or dropouts, and of any cultural, religious, or racial backgrounds.

In 1979, psychologist Lenore E. Walker developed the social theory of the Cycle of Abuse (also known as the Cycle of Violence), describing patterns that are often seen in unhealthy relationships. The cycle consists of three stages. Tension Building, Abuse, and Honeymoon.

Tension Building: During this stage, the victim feels things could blow up at any moment. The victim may feel that he/she is walking on eggshells, anticipating an explosion. Anything might set the abuser off, such as not returning a text or phone call immediately. The abuser may start a fight for no apparent reason.

Explosion. During this stage there is an outburst that includes some form of abuse. It can be intense emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse, or a combination. This can include hitting, slamming someone against a wall, screaming, yelling, or humiliating. The abuse is not always physical and it does not always leave a mark. Spitting on someone is an example of abuse that is emotionally damaging but won’t leave a bruise.

Honeymoon: In this stage the abuser often apologizes profusely. They may say “I love you”, promise that it will never happen again, and buy the victims gifts. During this stage the abuser also often tries to shift the blame away from them self. They might blame their stressful job, alcohol, drugs, family stress, and very often- the victim, for the outburst of abuse….

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Swim at Your Own Risk: Racial Disparities in Drowning

Is swimming a part of your summertime fun or does it feel you with dread? Does your reaction to swimming have anything to do with your race? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the role of race in swimming and drowning. 

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination….

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The Clippers, Don Sterling, and the Actions of Heroes

I used to teach the 2nd grade.  As a future sociologist, and life-long lover of justice, one of my favorite units to teach was the Social Studies unit “People Who Make A Difference.” I would begin by asking my class of 7-8 year olds, “What is a hero?” They would often respond by naming their favorite comic book heroes. Superman and Spiderman were sure to come up. As we moved past comments such as “someone who wears a cape” or “someone who has powers,” eventually a student would say something along the lines of “someone who saves people.” I would express a lot of excitement at this statement that eventually led the students to name people like Martin Luther King. Jr. as their idea of a hero.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the components of being a hero and creating social change through the three major perspectives in sociology.

As I watched the first minute of the Clippers basketball game Sunday, (a play-off game versus the Golden State Warriors) I waited to see if any heroes would emerge. I listened earlier to the recorded remarks allegedly made by the Clippers franchise owner Donald Sterling, instructing his girlfriend to avoid associating with black people in public. You can listen to the recording here.

Clippers Basketball Players

Many basketball fans awaited the response of the Clippers players and coach, wondering if they would refuse to play. The Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, made a statement earlier stating that he was not surprised by the comments. He also explained that the team met, the players were not happy about the comments, but they were not going to let anyone get in the way of what they have worked so hard for.

Just before the game began the players wore their warm-up shirts in-side out, hiding the Clippers logo. Commentators said this act was to represent their solidarity. Then the game began, basketball as usual.

I thought about Muhammad Ali. How he sacrificed his title to stand up for what he believed in. Ali declared his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War during the time of the draft. He was arrested, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license, and stripped him of his title. Some found his anti-establishment views infuriating, others found them inspiring….

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Is The NCAA Exploiting Student-Athletes?

On March 27th the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players can unionize and negotiate for better working conditions. This is only the latest development in a long legal battle that hinges on one question: is the NCAA exploiting student-athletes? In this post, Nathan Palmer offers us a sociological angle on the exploitation question.

Student Athlete

“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” said Shabazz Napier. Napier said this moments after winning the Men’s Basketball National Championship when a reporter asked for his opinion on the recent federal ruling that the Northwestern Men’s football team can unionize to negotiate for better working conditions. Right now college athletes, coaches, administrators, and the NCAA are scrambling to figure out what will happen if student-athletes become university employees and unionize. As the debate over student-athlete unionization rages onward, this gives us an opportunity to examine what it means to exploit workers

Who is Benefitting From This?

One of the most powerful questions we can ask as a sociologist is, “who is benefitting from this?” This is the question a conflict theorist always asks. Conflict theory argues that the world is in constant competition to secure scarce resources. With this in mind, let us take a look who’s benefitting from the current NCAA arrangement.

Let’s be clear about one thing from the jump, a lot of people are making a lot of money off of college athletics. Last year the NCAA reported net assets of $627 million dollars (with a $61 million surplus). The athletic programs at 5 schools (Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Florida, and Tennessee) raked in over $100,000,000 in total revenue. If you think about all of the ticket sales, branded clothing, TV broadcasting rights, advertising partnerships, corporate sponsorships, etc. there is a lot of money being made and none of it goes to the college athletes as direct monetary compensation.

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Richard Sherman & Racialized Code Words

Wow, the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl! How many of you saw that coming? If you believe in the saying, “Defense wins championships,” you might have predicted a Seattle victory. Speaking of defense, one member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” received mounds of media attention in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday – cornerback Richard Sherman. An athletic play by Sherman two weeks earlier thwarted a San Francisco 49ers drive and sealed Seattle’s trip to Super Bowl 48. However, it was Sherman’s postgame interview and the attention it generated that caused all kinds of controversy. In this post, David Mayeda uses this case to illustrate the concept of racialized code words.

Richard Sherman

Like other sectors of society, sport serves as a site where constructions of race are developed and contested on a regular basis. Throughout history, sport has always responded to broader race politics, while simultaneously firing back at the racialized patterns seen off the field.

We see it less now than in decades past. Today’s celebrity athletes are more constricted by corporate-driven politics and a less active push for social justice. Now in the twenty-first century, much of society likes to feel we have reached a place where perceptions of race and behavioral racism no longer matter, or only emerge among fringe, extremist groups outside the mainstream. The thing is, racism is still quite pervasive throughout society. It’s simply changed.

Public response to talented black men

As described above, following Seattle’s win over San Francisco about three weeks ago, Richard Sherman was interviewed by side-line reporter Erin Andrews. In the interview, an animated Sherman asserted his status as the League’s top cornerback, while verbally deriding 49er wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, and doing so by staring angrily into the camera. Sherman and Crabtree had developed a mild rivalry; both are African American….

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Dirty Women: The Gendering of Mud Runs

With event names like “Dirty Girl” and “Pretty Muddy,” women-only mud runs have quickly become a hot trend. The LoziLu Women’s Mud Run boasts themed obstacles in the course such as “Bad Hair Day,” “Tan Lines,” and the “Mani-Pedi.” Marketed to women as fun, athletic, fitness challenges, these messy events are structured to celebrate women’s physicality and their ability to “get dirty” like the guys. However, in this post, Ami Stearns suggests that female-only mud runs have a downside. While mud runs and dirty obstacle courses could be sites where the gender binary is challenged, more often the women-only runs serve as sites where normative gender performativity takes place.

US Navy 110813-N-XS652-558 A runner navigates an obstacle during the 11th annual Armed Services YMCA Mud Run at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Cr

My sister, Erin, is a beast. She’s completed a series of muddy obstacle runs over the past few months, proving her prowess, agility, and stamina while literally clawing through mud and muck. Her husband and three kids have even gotten in on the action by participating in past mud runs with her.

The rising popularity of muddy obstacle courses can provide locations where females show that their strength and endurance capabilities equal those of males, and demonstrate to their daughters that getting dirty and playing in the mud is socially acceptable behavior for women. Interestingly, an off-shoot of these obstacle courses has been marketed specifically to females. While women-only mud runs can provide a space to break gender norms, most of these events seem mired in the muck of normative (or traditional) femininity. Some examples of normative femininity include wearing pink, excessive attention to body adornment and body size, exhibiting nurturing and empathetic qualities, and caregiving….

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Rugby’s Magnificent (or Manipulative) Marketing

Hey American tough guys, ever consider playing football without pads? And no, not out on the field with your boys for fun (sorry for the gendered language). I mean an actual game, full on, full speed, full contact, full collision. The fact is, you can’t. If official football games were played without pads, athletes would get horrifically injured, even die on a regular basis. Heck, football is dangerous enough with pads and helmets. But down here in the Southern Hemisphere, we have a very speedy collision sport with no pads called rugby. I’m still getting my head around the different sporting forms of rugby that exist. A few things are for certain though – it is big, big business and can be very dangerous, the latter of which you might never know by watching the mainstream media.

Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) is akin to the United States’ National Football League (NFL). Both organizations represent the pinnacle of male sporting success in their respective parts of the world. Rugby League allows for rather unrestricted tackling between players. Hence the collisions in Rugby League are often times very similar to those we Americans see in the NFL, minus the helmets and pads. Many people in New Zealand – where I now reside – tell me Rugby League is about as violent as a sport can get….

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The Sociology of MMA: A Masculine Culture of Lack

If you’ve ever seen something you wanted to purchase that was advertised in a way that made you feel inadequate, I have a feeling you will relate to this post. Advertisers have a way of tapping into our emotions and sense of insecurities that influence us to build emotional relationships with products. This is all part of living in a society where ongoing production of goods and services is reliant on the population’s incessant craving for consumption. In this post, David Mayeda discusses a magazine’s presentation of mixed martial arts legend (MMA), Randy Couture, and how that presentation feeds into a “culture of lack.”

Randy Courture on Magazine

A few weeks ago I was working at the Auckland City public library. While strolling through the magazine section, I saw an issue of Muscle & Fitness with MMA legend, Randy Couture, on the cover. You may know Couture from his more recent acting career; he starred alongside Sly and company in The Expendables. But Couture’s stardom began as a combat sport athlete, first as a four-time Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, and then winning Ultimate Fighting Championship titles five times in two different weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight), throughout his 30s and 40s. Now retired from professional fighting, Couture is approaching age 50.

Despite his seemingly ageless athleticism, Couture’s photo on the Muscle & Fitness cover made me do a double take. Could a near 50-year-old really look like this (see top photo)? Damn that “old man” is massive, and ripped! And if Couture can showcase such musculature, presenting an idealized version of physical masculinity at nearly age 50, why shouldn’t I?

Okay, I didn’t exactly go that far in my line of thought. Not only have I seen Couture fight on television a bunch of times, but I met and interviewed him back in 2007 (see picture, below).

The fact is, despite being a big and extremely athletic individual, Couture is not overwhelmingly massive. I’m about 5’8″ tall, around 175 pounds. The picture above of Couture and me is a bit misleading since I’m closer to the camera, but you can tell his actual physique is nowhere near that presented on the magazine cover….

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Jason Collins & The Ever Present Gender Policing

Last Monday Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in American team sports to come out as a gay man. On the same day, MTV announced that it was launching a show called Guy Court where men who violated the “guy code” would be punished. In this piece Nathan Palmer explains how these two events are connected by homophobia and discusses the sociological concept of gender policing.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins

Last Monday Jason Collins published an essay in Sports Illustrated that announced to the world that he was a gay man. This was noteworthy because Collins was the first active male athlete in the big four of American male team sports (i.e. football, baseball, basketball, hockey) to come out. Collins is by no means the first athlete to come out. Many other athletes have come out. In fact, a couple of days before Collins’s announcement Brittney Griner signed an endorsement with Nike to become the first out-and-proud athlete to do so with the company. All that said, it was a big deal. It took a lot of courage on his part.

So the question we should be asking as sociologists is, why? Why was it such a tough decision? Why did it take so long for any active male athlete in major American team sports to come out? The answer is obvious: homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination.

The other question we should be asking is, what does Collins coming out mean for the prevalence of homophobia in the United States? Many commentators on the cable news channels have argued that Collins’s announcement along with the pro-marriage equality victories during the last election cycle signal that open bigotry toward the LGBT community is on a rapid decline. So are they right? Are we about to enter a whole new era of acceptance, respect, and equality? To answer that question, we first need to explore the deep connection between masculinity and homophobia.

Masculinity, especially in the United States is often defined by it’s opposition to femininity. This is the main argument that Sociologist Michael Kimmel makes in his essay, Masculinity as Homophobia[1]. That is, to be a “real man” is to avoid being feminine in any way. If it’s feminine to cry, show fear, or care about the way you look, then any man who does that is seen as “unmanly” and likely to have their “man card” pulled. All of this results in narrowing the definition of masculinity. Put another way, we create this ever shrinking box that all men are expected to conform to or they’ll be punished….

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The Sociology of MMA: Women’s Integration into the UFC

Ronda Rousey

It took two decades for women to take center stage in the UFC – MMA’s most prominent organization – as athletes. The change happened on 23 February 2013 when Ronda Rousey (pictured left) defeated Liz Carmouche in UFC 157’s main event match. In this post, David Mayeda uses different feminist approaches to explore women’s future in the UFC.

During its first two decades of existence, the UFC was not only framed as a masculine institution; it was constructed that way almost in its entirety. Aside from ring card “girls” and the occasional female referee, women’s presence in the UFC was essentially non-existent. Women were not apparent in prominent managerial, coaching, or athletic roles. The latter changed this past February when Ronda Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche in round 1, via armbar submission, in the UFC’s first match involving female fighters:

Since the Rousey-Carmouche fight, the UFC has held a second match with women. The winner of that fight (Cat Zingano) will now challenge Rousey for her Bantamweight Title. But before that, the two will face off as coaches on the UFC’s reality television show, The Ultimate Fighter (now in its 18th season), which will include male and female contestants. TUF 18 tryouts just took place:…

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