New Sports, Society, and Technology Program Plays to Georgia Tech’s Home Court Advantage

The impact of sports does not end when the game does. Nutritional supplement use among athletes is hotly contested. Football concussions are making headlines. The economic effect of a new city stadium is generating debate. As technology becomes increasingly integrated with sports, Georgia Tech is positioning its new Sports, Society, and Technology (SST) program to be the source for answers.

 “Sports studies programs exist elsewhere. However, none of them has the capacity to engage technology in the way that Georgia Tech can,” said John Tone, acting director of SST and associate dean of undergraduate studies at the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts (IAC).

In 2011, Tone discussed the possibilities of sports studies with IAC Dean Jacqueline Royster. The college’s namesake, Ivan Allen Jr., brought professional sports (Braves, Falcons, Hawks, and Atlanta--Fulton County Stadium) to Atlanta as an economic development strategy during his tenure as mayor in the 1960s. The SST program, with its home base in IAC’s School of History, Technology, and Society, honors that legacy.

Since Mayor Allen’s era, sports has blossomed into a $300 billion dollar business, twice the size of the auto industry and seven times larger than the movie business.  Furthermore, the future of this massive cultural institution is tied to technology research, a field in which Georgia Tech is a major world player and HTS is ideally situated to coordinate its study.

“HTS prides itself on fostering interdisciplinary research of the highest order and producing graduates capable of engaging the opportunities and challenges faced by human societies in our technologically complex world,” said Steve Usselman, chair of HTS. “The school looks forward to building its expertise in the understudied and vitally important domain of sports and technology.”

The program celebrated its official launch with a panel discussion among faculty from diverse state campuses on “Sports, Society, and Technology in the 21st Century” on April 18 at the Academy of Medicine. The panel discussion was followed by a reception honoring program supporters and celebrating Homer Rice, former Georgia Tech athletic director (1980-1997) and the legend behind SST’s new Homer Rice Chair of Sports and Society.

“HTS is honored that Dr. Homer Rice has entrusted us with nurturing this pioneering initiative into the study of sport and society.  His generosity has positioned the school to anchor a truly distinctive program of education and research, one which will ultimately encompass colleagues from across IAC and the entire Georgia Tech community,” said Usselman. “Inspired by the generous leadership and creative vision of Dr. Rice, we stand to make a real difference here at Georgia Tech and in the world at large.”

Tone said the program is unique because of how it capitalizes on Georgia Tech’s research strengths coupled with the “radical interdisciplinary quality of the curriculum.”

John Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in SST, was hired in the summer of 2012 and has already developed two SST courses, both of which are being offered this semester. One, Foundation of Sports Studies (HTS 3823), is a seminar with guest lectures. The other, History of Sports in America (HTS 2813), exposes students from a variety of majors to the value of sports studies.

Nolan Alexander, a third-year Business Administration major, signed up for History of Sports in America to prepare for a career in broadcasting and said he’s already benefiting from the critical look the class directs at today’s athletes. Jillian Broaddus, a second-year student majoring in Science, Technology, and Culture, took the Foundation of Sport Studies seminar to gain a clearer perspective on life after graduation.

“We had equipment engineers, data analysts, past agents, sports psychologists, and others give lectures over the course of the semester” said Broaddus. “Getting the opportunity to talk one-on-one with people who have already succeeded in these areas helped me focus on what I really want for the future.”

In the coming years, the program hopes to expand to allow students to minor or major in SST and possibly offer a graduate certificate. For now, the classes give students a rich perspective and preparation for work in the sports industry and shine a spotlight on the preeminent faculty research ongoing in sports studies.

 “Sports is not just about winners, losers, champions, and trivia. We can use it as a lens to discuss larger issues such as race, ethnicity, politics, and globalization,” said Smith. “Georgia Tech is an institution that prides itself on engaging the world, and the SST program is a pivotal way to do that.”

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Rebecca Keane