Tuesday 25 March 2008 7.30pm
Barnes and Noble, Lincoln Center Triangle store
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Tuesday 25 March 2008 7.30pm
Barnes and Noble, Lincoln Center Triangle store
The NY Salon Presents:
Athletes as Role Models in the Steroids Era
Tuesday 25 March 2008 7.30pm
Barnes and Noble, Lincoln Center Triangle store
(66th St and Broadway)
The Mitchell report revelations of baseball’s “steroids era” led to outrage and dismay. Now the government is involved, with Roger Clemens testifying before Congress. But that’s not all – 2007 turned out to be a year of scandal in sports: Michael Vick’s dogfighting, Bill Belichick’s “spy-gate” and Isiah Thomas’ sexual harassment trial, to name a few. In light of all this, many have criticized professional athletes for unacceptable behavior. But are athletes held to a higher standard? Should they be judged as role models? At a time when the sports pages seem to contain more social commentary than game breakdowns, the NY Salon has assembled a panel of experts to discuss what this all means for both the sports world and our society at large. Whether you’re a die-hard sports fan or not, please join us for what is sure to be a lively discussion.
William C. Rhoden, New York Times sports columnist and the author of Third and a Mile: From Fritz Pollard to Michael Vick – An Oral History of the Trials, Tears and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback (2007); and Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete (2006)
Joel Nathan Rosen, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Moravian College and author of The Erosion of the American Sporting Ethos (2007)
Roberta Newman, Professor at New York University, where she teaches a course on baseball, and author of numerous articles on sports
James Matthews, NY Salon
We strongly recommend that people read his book prior to the event. ‘The Erosion of the American Sporting Ethos’ can be purchased either at Amazon:
OR, very kindly, Joel has offered NY Salon friends a 20% discount if they order through him. His contact email is : firstname.lastname@example.org
Sport, Athletes, and the Steroid Panic:
Perhaps a Moment of Clarity
Joel Nathan Rosen – Moravian College
The overriding contention that sport has gotten out of hand to the point of becoming a menace of some sort or another has become a chief element of concern in these earliest days of the twenty-first century. Critics cite dozens of incidents involving high-profiled athletes as well as others connected to sport as evidence that a perceived overall decline in values has struck sport with a vengeance, leading to assumptions as rarely heard before that sport is more a contributor than a mere reflection of an over-arching degree of moral decay nationwide.
A well-traveled avenue of exploration that traverses such austere contemporary sport criticism is whether sport in its most fundamental essence remains capable of molding young actors into a responsible citizenry. Indeed, many have fomented a connection between the behavior of modern athletes and the messages thought to reach young minds. As a nation founded on certain underlying principles of both action and contemplation, Americans have grown quite sensitive to the notion that it is the responsibility of older generations to both instruct and reproduce accepted and acceptable behavior across the board, a conceptual rendering that has been expanded into the modern construct of the role model, which is often bounded to the similar precept of mentoring.
At the root of this role modeling construct is the notion that turn-of-the-century youth live in increasingly untenable surroundings and are exposed to dangers and temptations more so now that at any other time in modern memory. That these assessments often contradict statistical representation is supported in most cases, but what remains in spite of the numbers is the impulse to equate the modern world as an incubator for hazard and childhood as an increasingly pathological stage of the life cycle, a phase thought to be exceedingly vulnerable to a rash of contemporary maladies of both physical and psychological significance.
That this line of inquiry has the potential to place adults on rather uneven footing seems wholly beside the point here. To be sure, adult behavior in such a climate is increasingly on display and exposed to scrutiny by a mass of external sources. Nevertheless, the investment in this approach is inestimable, and, in many ways, sport’s perceived inability to keep pace with modern virtues has impacted the burgeoning role model debate in such a way as both hasten and widen the gap between contemporary sport and other ideals relative to behavior and similarly related themes. Indeed, matters such as a mass reevaluation of coaching techniques, an emphasis on the acquisition of self-esteem, which underscores a larger drive toward the importance placed on providing positive experiences through sport, or continued anxieties concerning on- and off- field violence amidst a so-conceived demise of sportsmanship can all be viewed with equal clarity through the role model construct. In this context, carelessness or even recklessness as expressed through the framework of competitive sport gives further indication that behaviors revealed within the athletic domain are no longer compatible with contemporary values, offering instead that sport must either be reformed through the efforts of activists wielding reasonable demands or removed from its pedestal as one of America’s most esteemed institutions.
The persistence of the role model debate runs purposefully through the contemporary sport environment, but often times the discussions seems to run in completely contradictory directions. On the one hand, there are those who vociferously condemn the thought that someone as distant as an athlete, or for that matter a celebrity of any renown, should have any tangible influence over one’s child at all. This contention often stems from the belief that a role model should be both accessible and credible beyond his or her celebrity, which might ensure that the lessons gleaned from such a relationship can be supervised and shaped to fit a particular child and that child’s circumstances. On the other hand, there are those who maintain that anyone, and most notably any public figure by virtue of his or her status, must be willing to accept the responsibility for and the ramifications of his or her behavior in the public eye. In other words, this point of view supports the notion that anyone can be, should be, and quite candidly is a role model whether he or she accepts the assignment or not, a contention that is no longer simply a matter of celebrity but rather spirals downward through the general population itself.
That athletes, and, quite frankly, anyone connected to sport, have persistently been expected to uphold an image of wholesomeness and piety while publicly displaying acceptable behavior is an article of faith that many Americans have long since accepted. It has also become more readily apparent that many in the industry, and athletes in particular, act as if they are no longer convinced that it is their responsibility to uphold societal norms and behavioral constructs, and especially in light of the changes manifest in the relationship between the athlete and the media. As salaries continue to rise alongside the financial stakes of ownership, and as sport media outlets flourish alongside twenty-four news cycles, the changing relationship between the press and the athlete has seemingly hastened attitudinal adjustments on both sides of this equation. Furthermore, that there are no longer limits to the types of stories sport media outlets report, athletes have found that their lives both on and off the field are no longer cloistered but, rather, fodder for public scrutiny. This transformation has led to some interesting, if not dramatic, exchanges between athletes, sport administrators, and the public, not the least of which has been the supercharged discussions regarding the use or supposed use of performance enhancing drugs.
This heralded issue, one that had a brief airing in American sport in the 1980’s and early 1990’s while seemingly hovering about world sport for some time, came rocketing back into the American sport scene midway through the first decade of the new century as a string of doping allegations thrust sport initially into the headlines and ultimately into Congress’s purview with a flurry of wild assertions and theories about the nature of sport, athletes, and modern governance. Moreover, it provides a remarkably fertile ground for analyses that seems to encompass a wide range of topics relative to modern sport and morality as it is broadly defined along the competitive terrain.
To be sure, the list of athletes who have run afoul from public sentiment by virtue of their having been caught with, admitted to, or simply rumored to have subverted the rules by chemically enhancing their performances is staggering, to say the least, but what is equally as extraordinary is the depth to which these discussions have led us away from sport as a competitive endeavor toward more broadly disseminated discussions regarding everything from the consequences of subverting the rules to the demise of human decency itself. Moreover, it has created within the American sporting environment, once thought to be relatively immune to such allegations, the notion that its athletic arena is no longer exceptional. In fact, I should go so far as to argue that rather than serve in the capacity of heroes, today’s athlete’s, with relatively few exceptions, have been re-branded as anti-heroes, an unenviable yet remarkably marketable change of pace and a mark of in-distinction that is little short of extraordinary.
That athletes who cheat and get caught are punished, and typically in quite public fashions, or that the frenzy surrounding the more recent round of allegations has led to increased scrutiny of athletes on many levels seems lost in translation amidst this type of increasingly popular approaches to steroid-in-sport commentary. Ironically, the long-since established logic of sport was that if one pushed the envelope enough or if one could get away with it long enough, inflexible rules could be changed to fit the times. It was not that long ago that American sport outlawed the curve ball, the dunk, and the forward pass, all staples of their respective sport today. Indeed, management has historically been at the root of this phenomena, though generally it was with an eye toward increasing revenue streams. In the case of the steroid frenzy, however, it is the athletes themselves, laborers in terms of the workplace arrangements, who have taken it upon themselves to strengthen their position and forge their own athletic revolution of sorts through chemical enhancement, which in many ways marks new ground in the evolution of sport-as-business model, though let’s be honest here: management has long known but simply decided to say or do anything until the going simply became too hot! And irrespective of the contemporary debate, there too will come a time when this matter of doping in sport will find itself resigned to the rearview mirror.
The gist of all this is that doping in sport is a concern for reasons that seem to fly beneath the radar of competition or many other of the perceived rationales employed in this most vitriolic of discussions. Rather they are steeped in much of the same moral posturing as can be found in other modern debates surrounding the place of sport in contemporary life. Indeed, when it comes to the duality of sport and decorum or morality or however one wishes to describe it, most onlookers respond in a fashion more reminiscent of a tried and true nostalgic lament that begins with back in the day and ends with that’s what happens when those people take over, which comes complete with fairly translucent yet quite telling racial connotations.
By underscoring the potentially corrosive aspects of competitive sport, such as that found in this most recent manifestation of the steroid scandal, sport’s contemporary critics are able to preserve the more commonly held perception that the traditional measures that once sustained competitive sport have either run their course or, in some circles, were considered to have been ineffective in the first place. Furthermore, by claiming that the very nature of competition itself can be held responsible for a vast array of behavioral breakdowns, sport’s critics may also maintain a genuinely Romantic vision of the past that implies that human beings are generally incapable of navigating the rigors of such passionately contested environments nor should they be expected or perhaps even allowed to do without the proper supervision and guidance. In this regard, steroids are not the problem but rather a symptom of such overtly misanthropic sentiments.