A Healthy Relationship? The Entanglement of State, Corporate, and Labor Interests in Gender-based Violence Sport Policies

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Gender-based violence (GBV) within professional sports made headlines in 2014 following the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, prompting a Congressional hearing with the four major men’s sports leagues in the United States. This hearing resulted in the implementation of several sport industry-wide policies addressing off-field conduct for players and employees, including ones specifically focused on interpersonal relationships. Despite the cultural prominence of corporate sport entities such as the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball, in addition to the fervor for institutional accountability in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there has been limited academic scholarship examining the scope and efficacy of these policies (see Brown, 2016; Augelli & Kuennen, 2018)

Drawing upon the findings of a thematic analysis of Senate Hearing 113-725: Addressing Domestic Violence in Professional Sports, this thesis utilized a governmentality analytic to critically analyze the motivations, assumptions, and tensions which underpinned the institutionalization of GBV policies in corporate sport. The findings demonstrate that while the parties present at the hearing problematized sport culture at large as a producer of GBV, their remarks characterized professional male athletes as perpetrators, reifying the idea of the “violent (Black) male athlete” and violence as an inherent trait in professional sport more generally. Instead of critically interrogating the structure of professional sport, legislators instead focused on expanding the governing capacity of sport leagues, and effectively the state, to discipline and punish perpetrators of GBV by encouraging the implementation of new extra-legal policies. I argue that this hearing reinforced the neoliberal entanglement of state, corporate, and non-profit actors in the movement to reduce GBV in society, strengthening the dependency that the state has on corporate social responsibility to solve leading public health issues, and compelling GBV advocates, activists, and scholars to engage with corporations in order to receive critical funding and legitimacy in their work. Meanwhile, suggested legislation to improve economic and workplace conditions for survivors was ignored as labor issues were positioned as oppositional to GBV accountability efforts. Through articulation and radical contextualism, this thesis sheds new insight into the origins and methods of corporate GBV policies in sport as well as the intricacies of contemporary neoliberal governance, and ultimately argues that the state response to GBV must shift from one of punishment and surveillance to one of preventative care through improved economic and labor conditions for all workers.