Locker Room Talk

Course Syllabus
Composition | 15-Week

Locker Room Talk: Writing about Sports, Gender, and Sexuality

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Course Description

 “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan,
A League of Their Own

Despite calls to “stick to sports” or “shut up and dribble,” player-activists have sought to reform their industry or use it as a platform to change American culture at least since the 1960s. Sports and politics are inseparable when it comes to issues of race—from Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick kneeling on the sidelines—and while it gets fewer headlines, the same is true for debates around gender and sexuality. From Billie Jean King to Serena Williams and from Abby Wambach to Jason Collins and Michael Sam, many athletes challenge the compulsory heterosexuality and gendered expectations built into American sports culture.

The fact is, sports hold an outsized influence on American culture—how we think of our own bodies, how we imagine the bodies we desire—and that is true for everyone, whether we care about the games or not. If we, as scholars, are going to discuss mainstream definitions of what is “normal” when it comes to gender and sexuality, we should consider how sports and related media coverage contribute to the policing of those definitions for the American public, especially how they intersect with race. In other words, while this course is superficially “about sports,” our intellectual focus throughout the semester will concern, broadly, the social construction of the body, fitness, and competition… on and off the field.

To do so, we will examine the way authors and artists have approached sports from the margins. We will look at a diverse set of texts: a graphic novel about a queer hockey player, a play about a baseball player who comes out, three films about women playing traditionally masculine sports, poetry on microaggressions in white spaces, and a mystery novel set in the world of high school cheerleading. Using a feminist and queer theoretical framework as well as recent social science on sports and gender, we will address the following questions: How do these works disrupt the socially conservative strongholds of locker rooms and press boxes? What do they say about the role of masculinity in our culture? And what do we have to gain by subverting popular images of athletes?

Texts & Media

Megan Abbott. Dare Me. Reagan Arthur Books, 2012.
Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.” 1903.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892.
Richard Greenberg. Take Me Out. FSG, 2003.
Claudia Rankine. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.
Ngozi Ukazu. Check, Please! First Second, 2018.
Thomas Page McBee. Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man. Scribner, 2018.

A League of Their Own. Dir. Penny Marshall. 1992.
Love & Basketball. Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood. 2000.
Pat and Mike. Dir. George Cukor. 1952.
Alone in the Game. Feature-length documentary film. 2018.
Cheer. Netflix documentary series. 2020.

Assignment Structure

This course is a writing intensive seminar designed to be taken after one semester of composition. Students will closely read, develop complex arguments based on those readings, and produce well defended and articulated prose based on the semester’s materials.

The course will also provide new avenues for the usual “college essay writing” work. Students will learn to engage, in their writing, with multiple cultures, audiences, and scholars. Students will read theory and criticism to aid in understanding how literature and other works inform and are informed by larger discourses, and how these discourses might apply to our own habits of action and thought.

Sample Assignment

Not sure yet whether to include a mini-presentation format here, or the standard research essay prompt… Perhaps I will make up a new assignment here on modes of inquiry and TV commercials… make sure to include some form of “student response” though, or reasoning for the assignment…