CALS “Unprecedented” Webinar: Can Sports Save the English Department?

CALS “Unprecedented” Webinar: Can Sports Save the English Department?

Labor disputes, body politics, racial injustice: professional and collegiate athletics are no mere fun and games, but microcosms of American sociopolitical life—rich texts well-suited for the kinds of literary and cultural analysis fostered by English departments. With the humanities under constant threat of defunding (if not total elimination), might English departments turn to the sports industry, which generates upwards of $70 billion annually in the United States alone, as an area of academic and creative study? Nearly half a million students participate in NCAA athletics, and many millions more turn out for (or tune in to) various sporting events; English departments are well-positioned to appeal to these students’ interests while encouraging deeper and more critical engagement with the politics and ethics of sport. This webinar will explore the emerging field of sports studies and, following the example set by adjacent disciplines like media studies and history, consider how English departments might integrate sports studies to reimagine and broaden the scope of their programming.




Grant Farred

Professor of Literatures in English

Cornell University

Grant Farred is the author of, most recently, The Zelensky Method (2022), Only A Black Athlete Can Save Us Now (2022), and An Essay for Ezra: Racial Terror in America (2021).

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Distinguished Professor of English, Stony Brook University

Rowan Ricardo Phillips is poetry editor of The New Republic and a consultant for The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He has been the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry, the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award, and the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting, among others. He is currently writing a book on Black baseball (forthcoming from FSG).




Michelle M. Sikes

Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, African Studies, and History

Penn State

Michelle M. Sikes is an executive committee member of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Penn State. She is the author of Kenya’s Running Women: A History (forthcoming 2023) and has coedited several volumes on African and sports history, including Sport and Apartheid South Africa: Histories of Politics, Power, and Protest (2022), The Politics of Historical Memory and Commemoration in Africa (2022), and Women’s Sport in Africa (2015). A former professional runner, Sikes represented the US at the 2007 World Track and Field Championships in the 5000 meters and won an NCAA Division I championship at the same distance.



Jess Rafalko

Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State


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