Murderball in the Classroom: Students, Sport, and the Perspectives of Social Science

By Matthew A. McNiece.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

More so than perhaps any “sports movie” in recent history, Murderball explodes our narrow cultural definitions of all manner of things deeply tied to the study of sport: game, athlete, masculinity, virility, strength, competitiveness, and success. Since its release in 2005, this quad rugby documentary has proven its utility in the scholarly realm, serving as an audio-visual text for academic discussions ranging from self-identity to social rhetoric. When my dean accepted a proposal for a special studies upper-level history course, Sports in Contemporary American Culture, Murderball instantly became a cornerstone of the curriculum. The course’s pedagogical and theoretical orientation betrays my own roots — especially in the innovative Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Thus, we investigate sports’ role in the creation of modern U.S. culture with the foundational argument that nine distinct “perspectives” inform the social sciences, including Historical Narrative (Ranke), Rational Choice (Smith, Bentham), Marxism, Functionalism (Durkheim), and Cultural Hermeneutics (Geertz, Turner). This paper examines undergraduate students’ application of these perspectives to Murderball-as-text, and how it challenges or alters their assumptions about the social scientific study of sport and culture. It emphasizes the criticality of studying this nexus not just as fans, nor even as general scholars, but moreover as social scientists. Such an approach is, like Murderball itself, equal parts challenging, provocative, and, ultimately, satisfying.

Keywords: Murderball, Teaching Murderball, Social Sciences, Social Science Perspectives, Sport and Culture, Historical Narrative, Rational Choice, Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Symbolic Interactionism, Structural Functionalism, Modernization, Cultural Hermeneutics, Linguistic Structuralism, Structuralism

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.171-182. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 615.896KB).

Dr. Matthew A. McNiece

Assistant Professor of History and Political Science, Department of History and Political Science, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, TX, USA

I am pleased to now teach in the honors program that began my interest in interdisciplinary scholarship. I earned a BS in history and the Academy of Freedom honors program of Howard Payne University in 2003, followed by an MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago in 2004. In Texas Christian University’s Ph.D. program, I was named Green Fellow for 2005-06 and earned the Outstanding Graduate Research Award for 2006-07. In 2008, I earned the Ph.D. in Contemporary U.S. History. My dissertation, titled “Un-Americans and Anti-Communists: The Rhetorical Battle to Define Twentieth-Century America,” explores the political and social rhetoric of domestic anticommunism as the key to defining and defending one’s legitimacy throughout that era. I have published numerous entries in ABC-Clio’s Encyclopedias of World War I and World War II, and co-authored (with Dr. Justin D. Murphy) Military Aircraft, 1919-1945 (pub., 2009) for the Weapons and Warfare Series. Since 2007, I have served as an Assistant Professor of History and Political Science at HPU, and as the Burress Chair of American History since 2009. Teaching and research interests include sport, rhetorical politics, and various facets of contemporary U.S. culture.