Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Descriptions

GLS 546: The Sociology of Athletic Heroes

Subtitle: Suicidal Alcoholics, Metrosexual Family Men, and Other Heroes?

Instructor: Mika Elovaara

This course is a journey into the world of today's heroes and celebrities. More specifically, it is a study of the individual characteristics and biographical facts as well as sociological factors that make an athlete a hero in the eyes of the public. As for the selection of athletes, the more narrow focus on the course is on soccer players in England and basketball players in America due to the similarities in the sociology of both sports and because of the global status of both games.

We will also look at the biographies of some other public figures and read some articles about the selected athletes in order to discuss the similarities and differences between athletes and other heroes/celebrities and to fill any gaps left by the biographies of our athletes in focus. The students are also encouraged to bring up any connection between a public figure outside our course readings and an athlete we are studying - whether it be in their personality or their background, or any other touching point they can think of. One interesting connection between the lives of famous athletes and pop stars is that they often follow similar paths (and in many ways, the same patterns). For example, some stars work hard to achieve even minor success while others seem to have everything falling into their laps without much effort. From an outsider's viewpoint, it is interesting that to some people, the original reasons for a person's fame seem to be less important than his/her current high status as a public figure. People who follow hip hop artists' style of dressing without real interest in their music or those who copy David Beckham's hairstyle without actually following soccer as a sport are but a few examples of this.

Overall, this course should help the students paint a portrait of a modern hero (metaphorically, of course) and form an idea of its development. From George Best, who became the first soccer player (and really, the first athlete) with high-class personal endorsement deals and an overall pop star status in the 1960s, to Michael Jordan - the man who, among other things, launched his own cologne and even made Nike give up their swoosh for his Jumpman logo, the world has seen numerous heroes and celebrities whose backgrounds, characteristics, personalities and achievements vary almost as much as Dennis Rodman's hair color during one play-off series. Best and Jordan, of course, achieved their highly praised status because they were the best in their trade, but the world of modern heroes includes many tales less phenomenal and glorified. It is essential in this course to study the background of today's heroes, what it is that make some people heroes in the eyes of the public and whose hero each individual athlete can be.

Last Update: December 21, 2011