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To achieve our vision of making a positive impact on the global sports community, we must dig deeper into the critical issues affecting sport today and in the future — placing scholarly research at the core of nearly everything we do at the Global Sport Institute.
As an interdisciplinary institute operating independently of any specific college within Arizona State University, we have the opportunity to support a variety of sport-focused research interests that contribute to our overall goals. We do this through our own research efforts and by providing grants to researchers in individual disciplines.
Below is a Q & A with our very own Luke Brenneman, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Global Sport Institute, who will help guide some of our research initiatives for this academic year.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Global Sport Institute. In this role, I do a variety of things that blend research and application of that research. Previously I had the role of Events and Communications Manager, where I had the opportunity to conceptualize programming and collaborate with communities within and outside of Arizona State University.
What were you up to before joining the team? How did you become involved with GSI?
I did my masters and PhD at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at ASU. In my 5 years getting those degrees, I focused on intercultural communication and conflict resolution. I started applying those concepts at sporting events at the 2014 Men’s World Cup in Brazil. I then continued this research at the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, and then it culminated with my dissertation research, where I gathered data at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
My research focused on fans, so fan interactions, fan experiences with each other, at the event. Lots of times people hear that I did research at these sporting events, and they think that I was interviewing athletes. I wish! But the fans are really the bigger population that engages with the event itself and they are far easier for a grad student to access.
I got involved with the Global Sport Institute through a different avenue of sports, interestingly enough. I play in a recreational sand volleyball league and my wife and I were playing on a 4-on-4 team with another couple. One of them went to ASU and was getting her PhD at ASU at the W. P. Carey School of Business. She was in a meeting with Karina, our COO, and told me about what was developing with the Institute. So I reached out to set up a meeting with Karina and later with Ken, our CEO.
What brought you into the world of sport research?
Growing up I was always playing sports in a very normal way. I played all the little league sports, in high school I did track and cross country, and college I played intramurals. I was always engaged in sport and liked to stay active. I also watched a lot of sports. My dad and a lot of my family are die-hard fans of a lot of teams back in Ohio. My favorite sporting events and moments to watch were always the Olympics and the World Cup. I always love the events as a whole, so when I moved out to Phoenix before my master’s and PhD program started it was July in Arizona and I didn’t have much to do. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job at that point so I watched the 2012 London Olympics for 12 hours a day because it was way too hot to be doing anything outside.
I remember as I went to sleep one night, I realized that the timeline for when I needed to do my dissertation data collection, which is before you write the dissertation itself, was in Summer 2016. So if I stayed on track with my classes and projects then I would be ready to collect the data during the Rio Olympics. At that time I didn't know I wanted to study sport, but I knew the Olympics was a huge international sporting event with tons of fascinating and interesting intercultural communication and potentially conflict components that happen. So I talked to my advisors in the first few weeks of my program and shared the idea. They advised me to keep it in mind and stay on track, and we’d see if it could happen. Guess what? It happened!
It was pretty amazing because a lot of people usually agonize over what they will do their dissertation over, and I was able to plan it out in the beginning. There were a lot of details to work out in those 4 years, but knowing the context really helped me shape it. It also helped me prepare with the background of going to Brazil, where I went to in 2014 for the Men’s World Cup. That is about the best preparation you can have for an event which will happen in the same place in 2 years.
Is there a favorite research project you have worked on? Why was it your favorite?
My favorite was definitely my dissertation. Although, there were moments when I was finishing it that it definitely wasn’t my favorite, and at times, I was hardly sleeping. Being in Rio during the 2.5 weeks that the Olympics were happening, I was averaging somewhere between 2-4 hours of sleep at night because I was doing full-time research while trying to balance being a fan of the event. It had components of me just being a person and wanting to enjoy it since I was there, but also the research because of my focus on the fan experience.
It helped to be a fan having a similar experience to the people I was interviewing, and it gave me insight into some of the things they were telling me. I dug deep into their experiences with other people from different national, ethnic, and religious groups. So to be able to engage with them about their experiences, it resonated with me in a way that allowed for follow-up questions that let me dig deeper. If I hadn’t experienced something similar to them or I hadn’t known what it was like to wait in line at the concession stand, or if hadn’t known what it was like to be sitting in the Copacabana sand volleyball arena with people going nuts, then I wouldn’t have been able to understand them as thoroughly. Even months later I knew some of the details that surrounded them at that moment, which helped inform the overall research.
As a scholar, I also have to say I acknowledged those things in my dissertation. I said I had an experience and used that experience to inform the research, so there are ways my experience may have affected my interpretation of others' experiences. You have to acknowledge that or you might be letting your perspective cloud data, imposing your experiences on other people’s.
Do you have any research projects going on right now? If not, are there any you plan to start?
I am about to start one with Dr. Scott Brooks, our Director of Research, and we’re working out some details right now. When looking at our current theme of Sport and The Body I looked at my personal and academic background and how I could incorporate this into our research. I haven’t studied many topics around the body itself, but I have studied identity.
I’ve also studied individual identities and how we communicate our identities, how when others are communicating to us it can influence the perception of ourselves. The overall plan is looking at our relationships with our athletic bodies. So the relationships between our mind, mental health, and physical health. I don't have a background in mental health, so I will be reaching out to a lot of ASU experts. It is a great asset to have a large network of professionals here at the University that we can tap into.
There is a personal tie-in with my background, being a kid who loved sports but was really late to puberty, and how that presented a variety of challenges personally, physically, and mentally. I’ll be writing more about that as the project develops.
What has been your favorite moment or experience so far with the Global Sport Institute?
I would say two things. One would be being around the Olympic legends of 1968 like John Carlos, Wyomia Tyus, and Harry Edwards. I got to be with them at the track where they competed and won medals in Mexico City. Getting to hear their perspective on their athletic achievements and how their endeavours outside of that went hand in hand. Plus, I got to sit down with John Carlos at dinner for an hour and a half and I thought, “who gets to do this?” So all of that was really amazing.
The second would be my experience with directing and facilitating the workshops for the Institute, often times related to diversity and inclusion. We had the opportunity to facilitate one with the adidas She Breaks Barriers campaign, in which we were able to help identify 6 key barriers between girls and sport. The workshops are usually around problem-solving, idea generation, and project planning. It was something I was trained in for my PhD and I really love helping organizations and companies achieve a worthwhile goal.
You’ve expressed you’re a fan of sport, so what has been your favorite sport moment?
I have significant moments in sport that I vividly remember. In the first page of my dissertation, I recognize Kerri Strug, who in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was the gymnast who basically obliterated her own ankle on the vault to help the US women's gymnastics team win a team gold medal for the first time. It was such a memorable moment and image. I was only 6 or 7 years old, so it was the first massive sports moments for me. Same with the 1999 US Women's national soccer team with Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.
I grew up a Cleveland sports fan so there are all sorts of tragic moments that stick out in my memory. I remember I had a disdain for Michael Jordan because of "The Shot" in the Conference Finals against the Cavs. Obviously he is still a legend, but for a long time, he was not my favorite.
Why does sport matter?
I have witnessed first-hand at sporting events why sport matters. Sport has a tremendous power to reduce prejudice between different ethnic, national, and religious groups. Sport creates a context where people care more about what they have in common with others, than differences that might drive them apart. Sport also creates a context where people celebrate those differences in others, they don't just tolerate or acknowledge them, but seek it out and celebrate it. I saw this first-hand with the Olympics and it is the reason I dove into more of why and how that happens. What happens with a sport context can not be replicated anywhere else, so we need as many avenues as possible to have these types of positive experiences.