Sports and Society Initiative offers real-world experience for students in sports, explores intersections with society
The Ohio State University and sports are almost synonymous with one another.
Which is why in 2017, Janet Box-Steffensmeier, then dean of social and behavioral sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, partnered with sports-focused economics professors Trevon Logan and Lucia Dunn to create the Ohio State Sports and Society Initiative.
Since then, the initiative has grown to engage in sports across all academic areas, with a focus on research, programming and student career-readiness. It is a hub for the sport-focused faculty across Arts and Sciences, and beyond, to collaborate and engage with topics that will advance the understanding of how sport and society intersect.
“We want to fill the void for students on this campus who are so passionate about sports, but so not yet see how sports can be integrated in academics, research and as a career focus,” SSI Director Nicole Kraft said.
Careers in sports are, of course, broad. That is why the Sports and Society Initiative aims to branch out to a plethora of areas including journalism, broadcasting, economics, and much more. Suggested courses for those interested in SSI include classes from departments such as communication, African American and African studies, economics, kinesiology, sociology and more.
“We want people who are not athletes to understand the opportunities that exist in sports,” Kraft said. “We want to collectively understand sports better through the lens of society and how sport affects all of us in different ways. We want our students to be able to hit the ground running when they graduate.”
To best prepare their students for life after school, the Sports and Society Initiative offers a variety of programming and real-world experiences. Kraft, a practicing journalist and associate professor of journalism practice in the School of Communication, has partnered with Arts and Sciences Career Services to take students interested in sports journalism to Ohio State football games to watch the game in the press box and observe how sports journalists and sports information directors manage a fast-paced workday. Featured speakers on sports gambling, sports injuries and women in football are all scheduled for the fall 2023 semester.
“We are all about partnerships,” Kraft said. “We will train the students on what to do before they go and then Aaron Klein from career services and I host them while they are there. Aaron and I have a great partnership where he comes with great ideas and executes them with SSI.”
In addition to attending Ohio State’s football game against Youngstown State, students have previously enjoyed similar experiences with the Columbus Crew, Cleveland Guardians and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Kraft is also working closely with the School of Communication to develop a sports communication certificate that is on track to be launched within the year. The core class requirements include Sports Mass Media and Society, and either Sports Journalism or Sports Media Relations.
Kraft’s work with SSI extended beyond the College of Arts and Sciences in the summer of 2023 when she joined Dr. Brian Turner of Education and Human Ecology to help lead the European Model of Sport Study Abroad Program. Over the course of 11 days, students were able to meet with F1 journalist Aaron Deckers of RacingNews365 and French handball legend Michaël Guigou. They traveled through Milan, Nice and Barcelona and attended Inter Milan and FC Barcelona football games.
SSI is continuing to grow as Kraft and ASC Career Success explore ways to offer more experiences for students. Currently, they’re working on what Kraft calls a “domestic study abroad” program that would afford students similar opportunities on American soil.
“We would train people how to work in the sports space and ultimately end up in a major sporting event like the Indy 500 or the Super Bowl or something like that,” Kraft said. “We are working to make it an opportune experience for a variety of people and want to attract students who have interests in a variety of sports-related careers.”
For any students interested in becoming involved with SSI, the SSI Student Club offers a variety of programming with a focus on creating networking opportunities and events with other student clubs.