A Team of Brothers: Race, Kin, and Order in College Football

Canada, Tracie, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, University of Virginia
Bashkow, Ira, University of Virginia
Fraser, Gertrude, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, University of Virginia
Harris, Paul, University of Virginia
Baker, Lee, Duke University

This dissertation describes the interconnectedness of race, kinship, surveillance, and injury in the lived experiences of Black college football players. Informed by 14 cumulative months of participatory field research at a historically white university in the southeastern U.S., this work tells how Black athletes navigate the institutional systems and everyday lived spaces that order, discipline, and regulate them. These include the formal football program, academics in the university setting, and the ‘serious’ real world beyond the world of play. All football players must deal with the stresses associated with these systems, especially as their individual subjectivities and career trajectories are shaped by participation in a multi-billion-dollar industry. But Black players, specifically, relate to them differently because of their positionality. For these athletes, risks and challenges are magnified by the social experience of Blackness. To successfully navigate their everyday lives, Black college football players meaningfully reappropriate and reimagine certain kinship relationships. I show that in the face of a broader normative discourse that prioritizes the football team, they take strength from and build relationships with their Black football brothers and their own extended family kin, specifically their moms.

"A Team of Brothers" moves off the gridiron into the daily lives of the young Black athletes that sustain this American sport. This dissertation marks a shift in anthropological focus from play to players, as scholars of sport have tended to emphasize studies of sports celebrity, fandom and spectatorship, and the sporting institution as a whole, over the experiential ground and embodied culture of participating in sport. My work helps to illuminate what college football, and the lived experiences of its Black players, can tell us about racial, historical, and political dynamics in the contemporary United States.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American football, Race, Kinship, College sport
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