How Canadians Communicate V: Sports
May 1, 2017
Review By Jennifer Anderson
The strength of How Canadians Communicate V: Sports is in its storytelling. Exploring Canadian engagement through sports and the media, the authors demonstrate that a powerful story attracts both spectators and readers. Written from multiple perspectives, the book is sure to spark lively discussion in the classroom.
The fifth volume in the Athabasca University Press series on communication, this book offers an interesting angle on Canadian studies and cultural history. The overall premise is that sport is integral to Canadian popular culture. It expands the field of play beyond the hockey rink, which has been adeptly covered by Richard Gruneau, David Whitson, and others. It captures the philosophical critique drawn from theories of media and spectacle, in a dynamic and accessible manner. In addition to the introduction, twenty short chapters are grouped into four interrelated subthemes.
The first section deals with the business side of sports and the media. Questions are raised about the future of sports journalism and the integrity of broadcasters, embedded as they are in multi-million dollar enterprises. Jay Scherer considers the role of the national broadcaster in the digital age, asking pointed questions about viewing access across the country (72).
The book’s second subtheme deals with national identities, heroes, and the spectacle of sport. How do athletes’ experiences vary depending on whether they play in Canada or the United States? How do sports fans differ across markets? Ira Wagman points to factors that make Canadian sport “glocal” in nature: the melding of global and local identities to form complex allegiances (117-133). David Legg calls for better informed media coverage of Paralympic sport (175-186).
The third section, entitled “Hockey Night in Canada,” includes research on concussions, bodychecking in minor hockey, and a gender and class analysis of hockey players and fans. Peter Zuurbier argues that fans can challenge the commodification of the game by picking it up themselves, finding opportunities to play for fun, and intentionally de-escalating the hype in the youth game (263). Chaseten Remillard observes that hockey art is a reflection of the lived experience of the game, functioning as a set of communication cues to shared values (279). Together, these chapters suggest that hockey fans have agency and can respond at a grassroots level to issues raised by the game.
The last section of the book is about drugs, violence, and death in sport, and the coverage of these difficult stories in traditional and social media. Angela J. Schneider looks at the ethics of doping and draws conclusions that apply across borders and sports (336). Read together, Regan Lauscher and Jeremy Berry’s contributions, on media responses to the death of Georgian luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili at Whistler just prior to the opening of the 2010 Olympics, present a compelling argument for why social media users and journalists alike must report on sensitive subjects with understanding and empathy (341-375).
Ultimately, if sports journalism is to survive the advent of new technologies, where the boundaries between athletes, spectators, and the media are increasingly blurred, it will be in continuing to tell stories that captivate. Further exploration of why some sporting events, and some athletes, get more coverage than others is warranted. The issue of inclusivity in sport at all levels is of pressing contemporary concern. The role the media has played in growing sport at the grassroots level, bringing new fans and participants to curling, for instance, deserves acknowledgement. This book offers a thought-provoking approach to how Canadians communicate about sports, and will inspire further discussion.
How Canadians Communicate V: Sports
David Taras and Christopher Waddell, editors
Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press, 2016. 389 pp. $39.95 paper.