Faculty Focus

What’s the IOC – and Why Doesn’t It Do More About Human Rights Issues Related to the Olympics?

Editor’s Note: This article originally found on The Conversation, is co-authored by the Neag School’s Eli Wolff, answers five questions about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and how they respond to human rights and other issues.

The International Olympic Committee, a nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland that’s independent of any one nation, was founded in 1894. It’s a group of officials who supervise and support the Olympics and set Olympic policies about everything from whether break dancing can be added as an official sport to what’s required for an athlete to compete on a team representing a country where they don’t normally reside. Because the IOC is often in the news, we asked two sports scholars, Yannick Kluch and Eli Wolff, five questions about what it does and why so many people want it to change how it responds to concerns about human rights and other issues.

1. What are the main things the IOC does?

The IOC coordinates what’s known as the Olympic movement, the technical term for the constellation of committees, federations, and other bodies that puts on spectacular sporting competitions every two years.

That includes overseeing the 206 national Olympic committees and 35 international sports federations. The IOC also supervises the specific organizing committees formed for every one of the Olympic Games, seven years before the competitions begin.

The IOC’s 101 members, many of whom are former athletes, meet at least once a year to make important decisions.

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They’re responsible for selecting where future Olympic Games will occur, electing their leaders, choosing new Olympic sports, and making amendments to the Olympic Charter. The IOC’s own officials select candidates for membership in the committee.

Thomas Bach, a German, has served as IOC president since 2013. He regularly convenes its executive board. He represents the IOC during the Games.

The IOC also oversees several humanitarian initiatives such as Peace and Development through Sport, the Olympic Refugee team, and the Olympic Solidarity program. The committee has observer status with the United Nations and promotes a worldwide symbolic ceasefire during the Games known as the Olympic Truce resolution.

Man next to Olympic flag.
Thomas Bach is the president of the IOC. (Eric Dubost/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

2. What’s the IOC’s mission?

The IOC has three main roles. The global nonprofit says “its job is to encourage the promotion of Olympic values, to ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games and its legacy and to support all the organizations affiliated to the Olympic Movement.”

In the Olympic Charter, the IOC goes into more detail about its principles, articulating the seven fundamental principles of “Olympism.”

These include placing “sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” promoting the “practice of sport [as] a human right,” a commitment to political neutrality and shielding athletes from discrimination.

The IOC is also supposed to protect the ethics and integrity of the Olympic movement, prevent athlete abuse and harassment, and generally make competitions safe, fair, and accessible for all qualifying competitors.

3. How does the IOC get money, and where do those funds go?

About three-quarters of its funds come from the sale of the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games. It gets most of the rest through marketing deals. The IOC collected more than US $5 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games, the most recent data it has made available.

Because the IOC operates as a nonprofit, its leaders do not manage this money as they might if it were a private company. Instead, the committee distributes 90% of its revenue to national Olympic committees, Olympic athletes, and other entities, reserving the rest of the money to cover operational expenses.

The IOC also provides half of the funds used by the World Anti-Doping Association, established in 1999 to research and monitor the use of prohibited medications and treatments by athletes. Governments provide the rest of the association’s funding.

Olympic athletes, especially those who compete on U.S. teams, get very low compensation for their participation in the Games, and they are limited in terms of their ability to earn money from marketing deals. Bach, although he is technically a volunteer, earns about $244,000 a year, and other IOC leaders are paid as well.

4. What are some of the controversies the IOC faces?

The IOC’s response, in 2014, to prove that the Russian government was sponsoring systematic doping of its athletes has led to widespread criticism for being too lenient and has sparked controversy ever since. To punish the Russian government, without sidelining all Russian athletes from the Games, the IOC permits them to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” without allowing the use of the Russian flag or anthem.

In 2022, doping remained a problem. That became clear when belated test results showed Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva had used a banned heart medication several weeks before she competed in the Olympics. The IOC’s response to this news appeared to disappoint all sides.

A figure skater on the ice during the Beijing Winter Games, Kamila Valieva of Russia kept competing in Beijing after evidence that she had tested positive for a banned substance came to light.

Vaileva on the ice at the Olympics.
Kamila Vaileva of Russia kept competing in Beijing after evidence that she had tested positive for a banned substance came to light. (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images Sport)

Separately, the IOC has failed to stop corruption in the bidding process for hosting the Olympics, a longstanding problem most recently exposed with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Games held in Tokyo five years later.

Human rights groups have expressed outrage over the IOC’s decisions that allowed China to host the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2022.

China faces widespread accusations, including from the U.S. government, that it oppresses Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang region. This abuse is increasingly considered to constitute genocide.

Many athletes and other people object to China’s repression of the Tibetan people. China has also drawn widespread criticism for cracking down on free speech in Hong Kong.

The United States and several other countries cited these concerns in announcing a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Interestingly, the committee states that “at all times, the IOC recognizes and upholds human rights” on its website.

The IOC has also come under fire for its Rule 50.

Originally adopted in 1975 as Rule 55, it now states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” This is the rationale for why the IOC bars athletes from engaging in protests while they compete or during medal ceremonies.

Time and again the IOC has relied on Rule 50 to justify its commitment to what it calls “political neutrality” as a fundamental principle of Olympism – even when that commitment has contradicted one or more aspects of its mission.

5. Is the IOC neutral and apolitical?

Well, it depends on whom you ask.

“The position of the IOC must be, given the political neutrality, that we are not commenting on political issues,” Bach said when asked about the abuse of Uyghurs by China’s government at the outset of the Beijing Winter Games. “Because otherwise, if we are taking a political standpoint, and we are getting in the middle of tensions and disputes and confrontations between political powers, then we are putting the Olympics at risk.”

In 2020, likewise, Bach wrote that the Olympics “can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

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Human rights experts and activists around the world, however, have called the IOC’s position to be apolitical a myth and urged the committee to take a stronger stance on human rights abuses.

Shortly before the Tokyo Games began, in the summer of 2021, more than 150 experts on sports, human rights, and social justice – including both of us – published an open letter. In it, we called on the IOC to demonstrate a stronger commitment to human rights and social justice.

“Neutrality is never neutral,” we argued. “As a reflection of society at large, sport is not immune to the social ills that have created global inequities. … Staying neutral means staying silent, and staying silent means supporting ongoing injustice.”

Issues in Sport: Diversity in Sport Leadership

Issues in Sport: Diversity in Sport Leadership

Article written by Kimberly Armstrong, re-published courtesy of The Daily Campus

Earlier this year, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the NFL’s first female full-time assistant coach. Despite the excitement surrounding Smith’s ascent into football history, the consensus among panelists Thursday morning at “Issues in Sports: Diversity in Sports Leadership” was that this is just the beginning for women on the sidelines.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.07 PM“Issues in Sports: Diversity in Sports Leadership” was part of sports management graduate student Wura Olusekun’s cornerstone project. Olusekun, who hosted the panel, said she chose to study sports management at UConn’s School of Education because of the program’s emphasis on diversity and social issues.

“I’m not an athlete but I was very interested in the connection between education and athletics,” Olusekun said. “The term ‘coach’ and ‘teacher’ can be interchangeable.”

In order for women and minorities to progress through the ranks of sports management, athletics organizations need to understand how diversity ties into the overarching goals of a successful franchise, said panelist Nicole Melton, an assistant professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Melton said that her research into Division 1 programs suggests that the most diverse programs are also the most competitive.

“We saw that the ones that had the most diversity and the most inclusive practices, they out performed other D1 leagues, they made more money,” Melton said.

Making these changes across the world of athletics, however, has to be about more than just PR to be effective. According to the panelists, it requires a cultural shift away from “tokenism,” the pursuit of diversity for diversity’s sake, in exchange for ongoing support of inclusive workplaces that encourage employees to reach their full potential.

“It can’t just be, ‘oh we need to hire some diversity’,” Melton said. “It needs to really be tied to the message [of the organization] so that people understand why this is beneficial.”Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.21 PM

Fleurette King, director of the Rainbow Center at the University of Connecticut, likened this shift to the recent changes in how the NFL and other leagues handle concussions among players. No matter how supportive an organization’s policies surrounding concussions may be, King explained, players are still at risk if league culture values keeping them in the game over their long term health.

“If you don’t change the culture around how people feel about the concussion, and how they feel before and after the concussion, it’s not going to help,” King said.

Similarly, women, people of color and LGBTQ people can’t be fully appreciated in sports leadership positions if they are viewed as tokens of diversity rather than accomplished colleagues who deserve to be there. This is part of the reason why policies like the Rooney Rule, which requires the NFL to interview minority candidates for open coaching positions, can be less than effective even when they do result in a minority candidate getting the job.

Another issue with this type of hiring policy is implicit bias, the human tendency to be most comfortable with familiar people. As an example, Melton, a Texas native, admitted she would feel an immediate bond with anyone from the south even if she knew nothing else about them. The impact of this implicit bias can be as simple as who someone decides to start a conversation with or, in this case, as high stakes as who gets chosen for a head coaching position.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.35 PM“We see with research that we tend to think similar things with race, with gender, with sexual orientation,” Melton said. “If there’s only three old white dudes on the search committee, they might not recognize the implicit bias that they have.”

Laura Burton, an associate professor of sports management at UConn, said she believes exposing athletes to female coaching early on could help remove the barriers to women at the university and professional levels. While there remains a mix of male and female coaches for women’s sports, encouraging female coaches to stick with youth sports past middle school could help shake the idea that male players require a strong male presence to perform on the field.

“It could mean a mix of men and women at all levels, and I don’t know if I’ll ever live to see that but I’d like to move us in that direction,” Burton said. “We need to recognize that right now women only have access to one group.”

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Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Article written by Abigail Mace, Courtesy of NEAG School of Education Spotlight

Whether it’s the MLB, NFL, or NHL, the world of sports has been cast as a hypermasculine, hypercompetitive environment. While this atmosphere may build toughness and encourage physical fitness, its acceptance toward athletes who identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is still in need of practice.

Neag School faculty member Laura Burton is working to change the athletic world’s perception of LGBT athletes – starting with her own students. The sport management associate professor says change must be implemented in every level of sport. LGBT issues in sport is a key topic in her Introduction to Sport Management and Management of Sport Services courses.

From the time children begin playing sports, Burton says, they are often exposed to language that is negatively charged toward LGBT individuals, but unfortunately commonplace in athletics. For example, parents and coaches may find it acceptable to call kids “fags.”

“We need to educate parents and coaches to watch their language to make the environment more supportive and welcoming, so it’s safer for kids to come out,” Burton says.

A supportive environment is what Burton discovered to be the winning recipe in the coming out of LGBT athletes. One of her research studies, titled “Playing it Out: Female Intercollegiate Athletes’ Experiences in Revealing their Sexual Identities,” studied “out” lesbian or bisexual female intercollegiate athletes. The qualitative study, which comprised in-depth interviews with 14 athletes, found it was easier for athletes to come out if other teammates had previously done so. It also discovered that once athletes were out, female teammates were generally accepting – a reaction that took many of the “out” athletes by surprise, but led to greater happiness afterward.

Similar research was conducted at Texas A&M University surrounding workplace culture and LGBT employees in college athletics. In alignment with Burton’s study, a 2015 research paper titled “Creating and Sustaining Workplace Cultures Supportive of LGBT employees in College Athletics” concluded athletic departments with more diverse and welcoming climates were more successful. LGBT employees who could express their true identities and had employees who celebrated those identities had a positive and successful work experience.

‘Lean into the discomfort’

As essential as acceptance is to creating a pro-LGBT environment, Milagros Castillo-Montoya, a Neag School assistant professor of higher education and student affairs, says mere acceptance of LGBT individuals is not enough. In her Leading Toward a Multicultural Educational Environment course, she and her graduate students discuss issues of difference in higher education, including sexual orientation. An early component of the course is analyzing the effect a campus’ culture has on LGBT students.

“Colleges need programming that not only celebrate differences, but foster dialogue across differences,” Castillo-Montoya says.
This means individuals should not only be accepting of LGBT peers, but also able to discuss their identity differences in an honest but noncombative manner. Castillo-Montoya encourages students to first become self-aware and consider their own multiple identities – both the privileged and the marginalized. She uses what is called the LARA Method to teach students the process of effective dialogue: listen, affirm, respond, and ask more questions. With this approach, students can engage in more truthful and meaningful conversations about different identities, such as sexual orientation, race, religion, and ability.

“I ask students to lean in to the discomfort of having conversations across differences,” she says. “They learn to confront the idea, not the person. By doing this in a classroom setting, they build the capacity to talk about and through differences.”

Coming Out in Professional Sports

Transitioning from the classroom to sport, Burton says publicizing one’s LGBT identity can be easier once professional athletes get the ball rolling. When Bryant University men’s basketball coach Chris Burns this fall revealed to USA Today he was gay, the news was welcomed by the public. As he was already well-regarded, Burns’ image did not change.

“People say, ‘Oh, I like him, he’s a good guy; I know him,’” Burton says. “When athletes or coaches at the professional level [come out], it trickles down to the youth level.”

Burton says this trickle-down effect makes the process of coming out seem more attainable and acceptable to college, high school, and youth athletes. She also referenced the U.S. women’s soccer team, which had three players and one coach publicly out at the 2015 World Cup.

Such an inclusive environment has been found in UConn women’s athletics, too. Jenny Gobin ’14 (ED), a graduate of the Neag School’s sport management program who now works for ESPN, has experienced firsthand the power of supportive teammates in making LGBT athletes feel not only accepted, but normal. As an “out” lesbian, Gobin says she was treated just like any other student while at UConn, where she was a student manager of the women’s basketball team and a founder of the ultimate Frisbee club. Today, as the coach for the UConn women’s ultimate Frisbee team – a national contender on the club sports scene – Gobin continues to work closely with lesbian and bisexual athletes.

“We just have to be aware of [differences] and make them seem normal,” she says. “Differences make us stronger as a team.”

However, publicizing one’s sexual identity is at times met with varying reactions based on gender. In an environment where a “macho” mentality is the norm, the process of coming out for male athletes is associated with a legitimate, physical fear of being perceived as incapable or weak. Female athletes don’t face this same fear of ostracization because being lesbian isn’t seen contradictory to being a successful athlete.

LGBT in Sports at UConn

Although Burton says most athletes wait until after college to come out, she’s found UConn to be a safe, supportive environment for those who choose to do so.

“UConn has become a more welcoming place for LGBT athletes and those who are LGBT in the athletic department,” Burton says. “I haven’t heard of negative responses.”

There are resources on campus for LGBT student-athletes, as well as those who aren’t athletes, including athletics support groups, the Rainbow Center, and various cultural centers. UConn’s cultural centers, Castillo-Montoya notes, frequently engage with University faculty regarding all forms of marginalized identities, including the LGBT and student-athlete populations, and are intended to better prepare faculty to lead effective dialogues with their students.

However, Gobin says many athletes prefer to look for support from those they trust most – their teammates and coaches.

“I had an athlete who told me the reason she came out was because of the ultimate [Frisbee] community,” she says. “It’s welcoming, open, and progressive.”

An area that requires more focus, however, is that of bisexual and transgender athletes. Research regarding these identities is less developed than that of gay and lesbian identities. Burton says bisexual individuals experience a sense of invisibility, as they are caught between heterosexual and homosexual identities.

For transgender athletes, questions regarding athletic eligibility are at the forefront of discussion – within the past five years, the NCAA has implemented policies regarding these athletes. Current NCAA policy allows trans male (FTM) athletes to compete for men’s teams, but not women’s teams. Trans female (MTF) must continue to compete on a men’s team.

Gobin recalls an ultimate game in which UConn was playing Smith, an all-women’s college. Smith’s team had one trans male player; because the game was at the club level, the transgender athlete was eligible to play.

“It was interesting and enlightening for my players,” Gobin says. “We had never had that experience before, so it was good to expose that to them.”

Tackling LGBT issues that occur both on and off the playing field has allowed Burton and Castillo-Montoya’s students to become more aware of themselves and of others. Castillo-Montoya’s students write reflections throughout the semester, a “satisfying” indicator of their transforming ability to discuss sensitive subjects regarding diversity.

Meanwhile, Burton reminds her students they must keep in mind that the LGBT community is one of many groups impacting decision-making when it comes to implementing policies in sport and sport management. By representing this community on a level playing field with other groups, more equitable policies will be made.

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor of UConn’s Sport Management Program, recently attended the second annual Black Student-Athlete Conference, a three-day summit from January 6-8, 2016, hosted by the African American Male Research Initiative and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. The summit was a three-day gathering that openly examined and candidly discussed the numerous and complex issues surrounding the black student-athlete.

Joined by scholars, coaches, conference commissioners, athletic directors, academic advisors, student affairs professionals, principals, present and former student-athletes, journalists, and others, this was a “must-attend” event which constituted the most comprehensive national forum on issues related to the black experience within amateur athletics.

The conference was streamed live on the internet and can be experienced by anyone who missed it by checking out the three days of video archive links by clicking here.

To watch Dr. Cooper’s presentation directly, click to the day 3 link and scroll to 2:33:17-2:36:00 and 2:40:00-2:50:00 of the video link.

Conference Focus: Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education

Conference Focus: Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education

Dr. Laura Burton (Associate Professor, Sport Management) and Dr. Jennie Weiner (Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership) represented the Neag School of Education, Department of Educational Leadership at the 2015 University Council for Educational Leadership conference in San Diego.

The conference theme was “Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education: Leadership With/In Transnational & Transcultural Spaces”. Dr. Burton and Dr. Weiner presented their paper “The Double Bind for Women: Exploring the Gendered Nature of Turnaround Leadership”. The paper explored how leadership development within the context of a principal preparation program differentially impacted male and female participants.

Other members of the Department of Educational Leadership, including Casey Cobb, Erica Fernandez, Michele Femc-Bagwell, Morgaen, Donaldson, Sara Woulfin, Eric Bernstein and Richard Gonzales, presented research papers or book chapters, participated in panel discussions, and/or chaired sessions at the 2015 University Council of Educational Administration annual convention.

Faculty Op-ed: Dr. Joseph Cooper – Athletes & the Power of Social Activism

Faculty Op-ed: Dr. Joseph Cooper – Athletes & the Power of Social Activism

Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor of Sport Management, recently published an op-ed article entitled “University of Missouri Athlete Activism Dispels the Myth of a Post-Racial U.S. Society” that was featured in the NEAG School of Education Spotlight.

Read the full article

UConn Sport Management Faculty/Student Presentation at NASSS Conference

UConn Sport Management Faculty/Student Presentation at NASSS Conference

The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport holds an annual conference in varying locations. This year the conference was a held in the delightful town of Santa Fe and took the thematic approach of Sports at / on the Borderlands: Translations, Transitions, and Transgressions. From November 4th through the 7th sport sociologists gathered to share ideas, see old friends, and make new connections. Every year the conference plays host to a number of young scholars and well-seasoned faculty members to congregate and share ideas ranging from Environmental, racial, gender, youth, violence, current events, and new / old media the conference provides something of interest for everyone.

Representing from the University of Connecticut’s Sport Management program we had Dr. Joseph Cooper and first year masters student Charles Macaulay. Charles and Dr. Cooper collaborated and presented a piece discussing the challenges and processes researchers face and should use when working with racially similar and dissimilar ethnic groups. Using poststructuralist theory to examine the socially constructed nature of racial identities we posed an approach for disengaging institutionally imposed racial identities with the hopes of providing participants an opportunity to articulate their own identities in academic research.

In addition, Dr. Cooper presented two pieces discussing the prominence and downfall of the Negro Leagues and gave a presentation on Collective Uplift. Every presentation was well attended and received ensuring UConn was once again well represented. Hopefully in the coming years we can increase our presence at NASSS as it is a wonderful opportunity to expand networks and share ideas that are pertinent across the athletic world.

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Dr. Cato Laurencin is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students and young doctors. Here he addresses participants in the CICATS Young Innovative Investigator Program. (UConn Health Photo)

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Courtesy of UConn Today, written by Kristen Cole

After famed boxer Mike Tyson defeated Buster Mathis in the third round of a 1995 bout, the former heavyweight champion of the world waited for the referee to call the match, then hugged his contender.

Just a few feet away, Tyson’s ringside doctor witnessed this simple gesture between the two men, who moments before had vied for the heavyweight title by delivering each other blows.

That doctor was Cato Laurencin, now University Professor, Albert and Wilda Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn.

Laurencin has worked as a ringside doctor for the past two decades. In August, he traveled to Venezuela as the physician for the USA Boxing Elite Men’s National Team for the American Boxing Confederation Championships.

“I’ve always loved the sport and the personalities,” he says. “Boxing teaches sportsmanship – the lessons for life are incredible.”

For Laurencin, who uses his hands for healing, his interest in a sport that uses hands for fighting has many motivations, one of them being the camaraderie that exists in much of professional boxing and in amateur boxing.

“In the amateur ranks,” he says, “the first thing boxers often do at the end of a fight is hug each other, then go to each corner and give thanks to their coaches, then the referee.”

Boxing, he notes, has a positive influence on young people. Those participating in the sport are encouraged to stay in shape and stay away from drugs and alcohol. The rigor of training helps instill in them a positive work ethic.

“Boxing could be a savior to folks in the inner city,” he says.

Laurencin volunteers as a doctor for amateur boxers as well as professional ones, facilitating a sport that provides direction for young athletes. At UConn Health, he provides direction for students and young doctors. He is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students, demonstrating a dedication that earned him a Presidential Award for Excellence from President Barack Obama.

A Black man who earned degrees from Princeton, MIT, and Harvard Medical School, and whose curriculum vitae includes nine single-spaced pages of awards, Laurencin is undeniably a role model.

His road to medicine began in his family’s row house in North Philadelphia, where his mother operated a clinical practice and research laboratory out of the first floor.

He refers to himself as a “surgeon-scientist” – pursuing both the clinical work that allows him to interact one-on-one with families, and performing the cutting-edge research that recently led to his receipt of the prestigious National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award. Just a few years ago, National Geographic hailed Laurencin’s research into the regeneration of ACL tears – one of the most common knee injuries – among the “Scientific Discoveries of the World.”

Like his role at the operating table, being ringside doctor is a post that comes with a lot of responsibility. Laurencin has the authority to determine whether an injured fighter can continue a bout – in essence, whether to stop the fight.

“My role is to ensure the safety of the boxer,” he says. “That’s why I’m there.”

Doctoral Student Focus: Michael Mudrick appears on COMMPENDIUM podcast

Doctoral Student Focus: Michael Mudrick appears on COMMPENDIUM podcast


Be sure to check out Episode 007 of COMMPENDIUM, the COMM 1000 podcast hosted by UConn Department of Communication’s Assistant Professor Steve Stifano on April 10, 2015, where Doctoral Candidate and guest speaker Michael Mudrick discusses the field of Sports Communication, his research, and the intricate relationship between individuals and the sports (and teams) they enjoy.

Click here to listen to the podcast!