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Illocutionary Discourse

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Created: February 28, 2003
Latest Update: February 28, 2003

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Site Teaching Modules Sports as a Tool for Illocutionary Discourse

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, February 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This essay is based on an article in the Los Angeles Times by Bill Plaschke on February 28, 2003: Waving Her Right Sports section, at p. D1. Backup.

Critical thinking means thinking about the world around you in a whole new way, a way in which you recognize yourself as responsible for choosing a path that works for you and your values, a path among many. It is more traditional to just accept the path of dominant discourse, accept the sound bites from TV news, without questioning the authority of those who speak, without considering that not thinking things through may lead to complicity in things you'd prefer not to support.

Remember that illocutionary discussion is discussion in which we try to listen in good faith to the position of others. It doesn't mean that we agree with their position. It means that we recognize the importance of not denying their voice in the presentation of their validity claims. They might be wrong. But if we suppress their right to be heard, we are foreclosing the possibility of discovering alternate perspectives. Not a good thing to do in a world as crazy as ours. In case we haven't noticed, there's a lot that's not working.

Bill Plaschke's article is about a young woman, a senior in college, who is choosing to use the forum she is afforded by her sports' skills, to remind us all that the values we consider important are not always the values we act upon under the name of our flag. Bill Blaschke reminds us that it is through exercising such rights of free political speech that the nation in which the people maintain sovereignty and tyrants are defeated is upheld.

Plaschke quotes John Carlos, who says "I feel her." This is not about whether she is right or wrong. It is not about whether we are right or wrong. It is about the legitimacy of a political system; about the need to avoid the suppression of any validity claim, on the grounds that we humans are not privy to any absolute truth.

Discussion Questions

  1. One of the reasons I uploaded this material quickly was that John Carlos and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico were included. Why is that important?

    Consider how many of you were born after 1968. Or if you are older, consider how well you have imparted the history of that moment in the Olympics in 1968 to your children. Cornel West once said that the most important task for a liberal in conservative times is to keep the memories of our liberal past alive for the next cohort and for history. (In Kairys)

  2. Consider the young woman's reasons for her protest:
    "A lot of people blindly stand up and salute the flag, but I feel that blindly facing the flag hurts more people," she said. "There are a lot of inequities in this country, and these are issues that needed to be acknowledged. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and our priorities are elsewhere."

    Toni Smith, 21, Senior, athlete, Manhattanville College.

    Is her reasoning unpatriotic?

    Consider the US claim to justice and equal opportunity. Consider the the US claim to a "classless" society. Consider the extent to which today's activities tend toward the values of markets and profits. Consider the definition of unpatriotic? Does it mean expressing solidarity with others of the same nation-state? Or does it mean upholding responsibly the values of the nation-state, and regarding yourself as complicit if you remain silent before the neglect of those values?

  3. Who gets to say what is patriotic? Is there some patriotic program on which all Americans agree?

    Consider the role of power and wealth in gaining access to the media and other forums for promulgating one's version of patriotism and patriotic response in given settings. Consider the access to forums for those who have different patriotic responses.

  4. Why are sports a good forum for political protest?

    Consider the need for an audience to hear your protest. Sports get attention. Wealth earns the control of sports and the media and so gets attention. But athletes also get attention. Consider the use of that attention as a means of countering the wealth of the dominant discourse.

  5. What are the costs to an athlete for political protest against the dominant majority?

    Consider exclusion, consider the response of the dominant majority.