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Unique "Athlete's Body" conference scheduled for May 11- 13
STANFORD -- Ask yourself how it is that athletes like Joe Montana and Edwin Moses achieve all that they do.
"It's a difficult question to answer," said Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, professor of comparative literature. "But the one thing we probably do know is that their success can be neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical."
The coincidence between the mental or spiritual and the physical is the heart and core of "The Athlete's Body in History, on the Field, in Society," an upcoming free, public conference at Stanford that is being organized jointly by the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (see schedule, following this story).
Scheduled for May 11-13, "The Athlete's Body" is an interdisciplinary forum -- which organizers say is the first of its kind on a college or university campus -- that will explore the place of sports in contemporary society. Participants include a number of well-known current and former Stanford athletes, coaches and sports fans such as Provost Condoleezza Rice and economist Roger Noll, one of whose areas of interest is the economy of professional sports.
"The real thrill of it is the opening of the academic world toward people who are famous athletes and coaches," Gumbrecht said. "So far, the collaboration has been just amazing."
Internationally renowned humanists will sit side by side with internationally recognized athletes to consider such topics as the history and sociology of sports, the importance of the spectator, and the relation of mind to body in athletic performance. Participating athletes include golfer Tiger Woods; swimmers Pablo Morales, Summer Sanders and Jenny Thompson; gymnast Jair Lynch; football player Justin Armour; and diver Eileen Richetelli. Stanford coaches Mike Montgomery (basketball), and Skip Kenney and Richard Quick (swimming) also are scheduled to take part.
"There really hasn't been much relevant research done on sports in either the sciences or the humanities, and it's been relatively marginal in medicine," said Gumbrecht. "For instance, never before has a philosopher of the stature of Fred Dretske [professor of philosophy at Stanford] been asked to reflect on the brain-mind threshold as it applies to questions of sports."
Recognizing that sports are articulated very differently in their home cultures, the conference organizers included panelists from diverse nationalities and backgrounds.
"We invited the captain of the French national rugby team, Jean-Pierre Rives, and one of the organizers of the Tour de France, Jean Cormier, because those two sports -- rugby and bicycle racing -- are so identifiably French," said Gumbrecht.
"Then we have the 'pope of sports history,' Amherst's Allen Guttmann, speaking about 'Eros and Sports,' and sitting beside him will be Luiz Costa Lima, one of the finest literary theorists around, who also happens to be a soccer fan, discussing the inter-relationships of soccer and society in Brazil."
The collaboration between the comparative literature department and the financially more prominent athletics department has been developing for more than a year on the Stanford campus.
"It's true that I'm a sports freak, but this is not a case of my riding my hobbyhorse," Gumbrecht explained. "When we first contacted the athletics department, we didn't have a clue as to whether [Director of Athletics] Ted Leland would be interested. But his enthusiasm was fabulous from the first moment."
As plans developed, Gumbrecht and Jeffrey Schnapp, chairman of the comparative literature department, offered a trial seminar during the winter quarter on sports and culture. "We had top athletes from the men's basketball and football teams, as well as a member of the women's golf team, and we set out to really chart the territory, looking at the concept of sports in Western culture," Gumbrecht said.
With the success of that seminar in their administrative pocket, the two professors felt confident about approaching speakers for the planned conference.
"We wanted to ask Judith Butler [University of California- Berkeley], who is the leading gender theorist in the country, but thought it might be very hard to persuade her," Gumbrecht said. "The first moment she heard about it, she said it sounded great. I was astounded."
More difficult to persuade was Regina Casper, professor of psychiatry and wife of Stanford President Gerhard Casper. "Her main field of research is how your self-image has an impact on your performance, so she seemed a natural to us. We thought that her work was absolutely pertinent, but she had never worked in sports research and really had to be convinced."
Casper not only agreed to participate, but ended up doing a research project with Stanford athletes in preparation for the conference.
The schedule is as follows:
Thursday, May 11, Race
8 to 10 p.m.: Henry Louis Gates, Harvard University, "O.J. Simpson and the Representation of the Black Body," followed by panel discussion with Cedric Dempsey, Rodney Gilmore, Barbara Jordan, Richard Lapchick, Tiger Woods. Kresge Auditorium.
Friday, May 12, The Athlete's Body in History
9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Glenn Most, Heidelberg, "The Athlete's Body in Ancient Greece"; Carlin A. Barton, Amherst, "The 'Moment of Truth' in Ancient Rome: Embodiment in a Contest Culture"; Robert Davis, Ohio, "Early Modern Boxing and Venetian Ritual Battles." Panel discussion with Bonnie Warner, Summer Sanders, Louise Fradenburg, Skip Kenney, Richard Quick, Jenny Thompson. Arrillaga Sports Center.
Friday, May 12, Sports Appeal
2 to 6:30 p.m.: Allen Guttmann, Amherst, "Eros and Sports"; Luiz Costa Lima, Rio de Janeiro, "Inter-relations: Brazilian Soccer and Society"; Walter Moser, Montreal, "Professional Sports and Intellectuals: Berlin 1920s"; Bernhard Siegert, Berlin, "Early Sports Broadcasting: Berlin 1920s." Panel discussion with Günter Blamberger, Jean Cormier, Leonard Koppett, Roger Noll, Justin Armour, Rick Telander, Pablo Morales. Arrillaga Sports Center.
Saturday, May 13, Embodiment(s)
9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Francisco Varela, Paris, "Embodiments/Psycho-Physiological"; Fred Dretske, Stanford, "Where is the Mind When the Body is Performing?"; Regina Casper, Stanford, "Body and Self-Image in Athletes"; Cynthia Ferrell, MIT, "The Nuts and Bolts of Building a Robot Athlete." Panel discussion with Marsh McCall, Glen Albaugh, Larry Meredith, Mike Dillingham, Eileen Richetelli, Jair Lynch. Arrillaga Sports Center.
Saturday, May 13, Watching Athletes
2 to 5 p.m.: Wlad Godzich, Geneva, "The Cinetic Body"; Peter Nadermann, Cologne, "Alternative Sports Programming"; María Menocal, Yale, "Sons and Mothers, Men and Women: Sports and the Family Romance." Panel discussion with Jean-Pierre Rives, Pitch Johnson, Leon Campbell, Mike Montgomery, Leonard Koppett, Bliss Carnochan. Arrillaga Sports Center.
Saturday, May 13, Sports, Sex and Gender
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Judith Butler, Berkeley, "Athletic Genders: Hyperbolic Instance and/or the Overcoming of Sexual Binarism." Panel discussion with Allen Guttmann, Condoleezza Rice, Mariah Burton Nelson, Julie Anthony, Patricia Parker, Carla Freccero. Annenberg Auditorium.
In addition, there will be a related roundtable discussion from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at the Goethe-Institut of San Francisco at 530 Bush Street. For more information on that event, call (415) 391- 0370.
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