Tarver Discusses Fandom of Sports at IRC

 Dr. Erin C. Tarver, IRC PBA

In her keynote address at the 2017-2018 Interdisciplinary Research Conference, Dr. Erin C. Tarver (’03) took a nuanced look at sports fandom on a number of levels – philosophical, ethical and personal.

Tarver’s address represented the true nature of the conference, which not only recognizes scholarship and study but seeks to foster an exchange of ideas among participants from all disciplines. This year’s conference theme is “Focus on Your Future,” giving students an opportunity to use their scholarly work as leverage in exploring future career possibilities.

Tarver’s research has drawn on her own academic pursuit of philosophy, but also on her real-world experience growing up as a sports fan in Louisiana. “Knowing thyself means confronting the dark, hidden places within one’s soul and recognizing our role in public wrongs, so that we may rectify them,” said Tarver, author of The I in Team: Sports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017.

For Tarver, now an assistant professor of philosophy at Emory University’s Oxford College, that meant taking a hard look at what it meant to be a sports fan, and whether it was a pursuit that meant more than just the clothes and the chants. Careful analysis of sports fandom, she says, “should call forth in us both ethical and political concern. If we are committed to the pursuit of justice and determined to live good lives, we must ask ourselves whether we should change the way that we engage with it.”

Historically, being called a “fan” was not typically meant as a compliment, she observed. That has shifted, and contemporary sports fans play an enormous role in shaping both individual and community identity. “The question for us, as philosophers or just as people concerned with justice, is what social norms and values sports fandom actually reinforces,” Tarver said. “Are they good social norms and values?”

Case in point: She’s haunted by the memory of a night she spent watching an LSU football game with a group of friends. All young teenaged girls, they found themselves chanting an edgy and highly objectionable slogan they’d heard, not realizing at the time how hurtful and unjust it was. Years later, realizing the impact of those words forced her to confront racism, sexism and violence in her own experience as a sports fan, and it propelled her to a lifetime of questioning and study.

Tarver graduated from PBA with a degree in philosophy and religion. She earned her master’s from Boston College and her doctorate from Vanderbilt University, both in philosophy. Her keynote address, held in the Lassiter Rotunda of the Warren Library, was followed by poster presentations by undergraduate, graduate and faculty researchers across a range of topics, ranging from exercise science to history. The afternoon featured a series of 16 breakout presentation sessions split between two tracks – liberal arts and social sciences, and science and health care.

The conference continues on Thursday, March 22. Presentations will run from 1-5 p.m. The 17 scheduled talks will include the following:

  • Dr. Elizabeth Stice, Assistant Professor of History, presenting research on the politicizing of the bodies of British war dead after World War I (noon, Lassiter Rotunda).
  • Dr. Lee Prescott, Professor of English, tracing the journey toward creating a one-act drama about the Holocaust, written for middle school-aged children (12:30 p.m., Lassiter Rotunda).
  • Anna Poss, Exercise Science major, reviewing her study into nutritional factors relating to anemia in female college athletes (2:30 p.m., Rinker Boardroom).
  • Megan Alsense, Biblical Studies major, exploring the nature of faith as expressed in the story of God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac (4 p.m., Lassiter Rotunda).