Sociology Professor Discusses Athlete Activism on Texas Public Radio

Do NBA stars wearing “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up T-shirts and the St. Louis Rams’ controversial “Hands up, don’t shoot,” pre-game pose signal the return of the athlete as activist?

Peter Kaufman

Peter Kaufman

Sociology Professor Peter Kaufman weighed in on pro athletes’ responses to the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner during a Dec. 10 interview with Texas Public Radio.

On the call-in talk radio show “The Source,” Kaufman noted the upsurge in athletes taking a stand on social issues, but said he was not sure if players’ expressed solidarity with Brown and Garner yet constitutes a “full blown movement.”

Referencing the historically negative backlash black athletes have received when attempting to comment on politically-charged issues, Kaufman agreed with fellow panelist Leonard Moore (University of Texas), that athletes are not perceived as humans entitled to express their thoughts publicly.

“We see them as a commodity bought and sold by the owners and the viewers, and we want them to shut up and play. We don’t want them to have opinions,” he said.

Kaufman cited the inequity of athletes who are expected to maintain an apolitical public persona while playing in sports that are “highly politicized.” Sports, Kaufman argued, are linked inextricably with the forces of globalization, capitalism, racism and sexism.

Kaufman criticized the U.S. educational system for not teaching social consciousness, and noted that it’s not just athletes who remain silent.

“We live in a country that’s largely apolitical, that doesn’t have an understanding of how to struggle for social change, maybe even an understanding of how to recognize social injustice. We’ve not taught in our schools about everyday heroes and everyday change-makers,” he said.

Kaufman has taught courses on Social Change and the Sociology of Sport at New Paltz.

His work on the subject of athletes and activism includes “Playing and Protesting: Sport as a Vehicle for Social Change,” published in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues (2010) and “Boos, Bans, and Backlash: The Consequences of Being an Activist Athlete,” published in Humanity and Society (2008).

Kaufman also shared his thoughts on the Brown shooting and racism in the U.S. in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency in Iran on Dec. 8.

LA&S Partners with Library to Continue Ferguson Conversation


Faculty, staff and students gathered in Student Union Building rooms 401 and 405 on Dec. 4 to discuss the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the related issues of police violence, racism and black lives.

On Dec. 4, Karanja Carroll, an associate professor of black studies, and Mark Colvson, dean of the Sojourner Truth Library, led a discussion on the controversial shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The discussion was held at noon in Student Union Building rooms 401 and 405.

The event was an informal, brown bag conversation on the events in Ferguson and related topics such as racism, police violence and black lives. Attendees, which included faculty, staff and students, were encouraged by event organizers to “listen with tolerance, disagree with respect, and support with grace.”

FBB5The discussion was the second in a series of talks organized by LA&S faculty members. On Dec. 2, Carroll, along with sociology assistant professors Alexandra Cox and Roberto Velez-Velez, held a discussion entitled, “Ferguson, Brown, Wilson and the Aftermath: Disciplinary Conversations on Race and Policing,” from 6-8 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. The talk built upon topics explored in the Sojourner Truth Library display, “How We Got to Ferguson: An Interactive Bibliography,” which the professors curated.

In a Dec. 4 email sent to all faculty, staff and students, SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian responded to the recent grand jury decisions to not indict officers involved in the killing of Brown and Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York. Both men were unarmed.

Christian thanked New Paltz faculty and staff for providing outlets for community discussion.

“The issues around these events are complex and inspire passionate reactions and responses from all perspectives,” said Christian. “We are glad to see the actions and outreach of our faculty and staff who have provided some forums for discussion and we encourage all to participate in this programming when possible.”

For faculty members seeking instructional resources on these topics, Cox recommended this crowd sourced teaching guide about Ferguson.