Call for Papers | “Burn it all down”: Policing the crisis of sexual abuse in sport | Special issue of Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies. Call ends June 1, 2018

Guest Editors:

  • Synthia Sydnor
  • Michael D. Giardina

On January 24, 2018, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, and convicted serial child molester, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison “after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over the past two decades” (Levenson, 2018). On February 5, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to several additional charges of sexual assault.

The case of Nassar and his two decades of abuse of athletes under his care took the country by storm, amplified by the courageous public acknowledgments and chroniclings of their abuse by well-known Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Simone Biles. Throughout the court proceedings, as 156 women read victim impact statements into the sentencing record, it became increasingly clear that Nassar had been shielded from scrutiny and protected of wrongdoing by both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University; that victim after victim had been brushed aside, ignored, or chastised for bringing complaints against Nassar; and that it was only through the tireless efforts of these survivors in the face of much social and cultural pressures – especially Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to public state that Nassar had abused her – that justice would finally be served.

In the wake of the current Nassar crimes, the two institutional actors most responsible for enabling Nassar have rightfully come under much scrutiny: Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned, and the entire board of directors of USA Gymnastics (USAG) was forced to resign as a requirement of the United State Olympic Committee (USOC) lest it be decertified as the sport’s national governing body. And while these reactive measures are certainly welcome, more needs to be done. In the 20 years since Joan Ryan (1996) chronicled the condition of youth athletics in her landmark book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters, the price paid by such athletes has only gone up. We need critical conversations about the Nassar-Michigan State-USAG scandal, because whilst the scope of abuse is horrific, the instance of such abuse is not an aberration: We live in a culture that produces if not sanctions systemic sexual violence, from military academies (see Ukman, 2011) and religious institutions (see Goodstein, 2012) to everyday spaces of daily life (see Rabin, 2011), popular music and television (see Dines, 2011; Silverstein, 2009), and, increasingly, legislative acts (see Davenport, 2012).

At a time in which Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement has fast grown into a cultural flashpoint in the wake of allegations of abuse against prominent entertainment, news, and political figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Mario Batali, Leon Wieseltier, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Ryan Lizza, Al Franken, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump, the Nassar case reveals a cultural and political climate in which women are devalued and disbelieved, in which institutions actively look the other way in pursuit of profit or status, and, importantly, in which women are increasingly striking back against patriarchal capitalism.

This special issue of Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies encourages manuscript submissions that help to illuminate/revision the historical present toward a different future, to engage with the pain of understanding, the promise of hope.  We seek to consider manuscripts that relate to the Nassar-Michigan State-USAG case directly, and/or in a broader sense.  Manuscripts may include, but are not limited to, (at least) the following areas:

    1. crises of athlete abuse (broadly conceived) in the United States and elsewhere
    2. sexual exploitation in institutional settings
    3. sport policy, governance, and ethics
    4. media representation of sexual abuse/violence in sport and physical culture
    5. critiques of “olympism” and myths of the purity of sport; denotations on play and sport
    6. spaces of resistance
    7. politics-cultures of secrecy, silence, privacy
    8. cultural-historical-contextual meanings of monsters, evil
    9. cultural critique and ethnographic work on athletic training, sports-medicine spaces

We will consider manuscripts from within or against the inter-/anti-disciplinary divides related to the above topics, especially in terms of race; gender; social class; mass media; sport; politics; education; violence; history; social work; economics; and the arts (as well as other interpretations of the call not listed here).

Manuscripts are due by June 1, 2018, with a word length of no more than 6,000 words inclusive of references, endnotes, and so forth. Manuscripts should be submitted via, noting that it is for the special issue. Questions concerning the special issue should be directed to or

  • Norman K. Denzin, Editor, Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies
  • Michael D. Giardina, Special Issues Editor, Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies
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