Wednesday, August 01, 2007


As a history major who writes a lot of papers about similar subjects, I often find myself using a favorite word over and over again in a paper. For the last year or so, that favorite word has been agency.

When you hear that word, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? CIA...correct. Except if you look down the dictionary a little bit, you will find an alternative definition of agency: the means or mode of acting; instrumentality.

Now why on earth would I be writing a blog entry about a word with such a sexy definition? Well outside of my obsession of describing the struggle for and implementation of agency in my various historical subjects, I have found myself looking at our society and realizing that this word lies at the heart of so many things. Especially in sports.

Growing up in that long-ago time known as the early 1990's, professional sports, on the whole, were very important to fans and cities, but only in a particular context. The sports fan certainly patronized the club, cheered for his team and followed them in the newspapers. But ultimately, that fan did not have a particularly well-articulated explanation for his involvement in sports. When that persons' spouse reminded them that their watching the game would not affect the outcome, that spouse ended most of the discussion right there.

The sports industry was made up of players and fans. The players played games and the fans watched. The roles were very clearly defined.

Somewhere along the line, a bunch of students in Durham, NC realized that their collective activity as a fanbase could actually significantly improve their home team's chances of winning. The Duke Blue Devils burst onto the college basketball scene in the early 90's with two national titles and the crazy antics of students filling the 9,000-seat Cameron Indoor Stadium became the benchmark for fan activity.

These days fans yell and cheer with the express purpose of "getting into the opponents heads." It's no longer about a distant relationship between entertainers and their thankful patrons, it is about the 6th man, the 12th is about agency.

While sports have always constituted an important lifestyle element to the American leisure culture, they are now the vehicles through which so many lives are directly led. In the past year alone, an estimated 20 million Americans acted as professional sports general managers as they played fantasy sports and competed for championships.

In 2005, EA Sports sold a record 1.7 million copies of its popular Madden football game in the first week of release. The 2008 edition of the game is scheduled to hit shelves this month and EA Sports plans to spend nearly $10 million promoting the title. While it is not earth-shattering that sports video games are putting up such impressive numbers, it is interesting to note how these latest video games have revolutionized the experience of the player.

With online capability, national tournaments and expanding new media integration, the new Madden titles have created agency. Players can now participate in a Hall of Fame mode wherein they can only control the game actions of one player on a team in the NFL. Players are immersed in an environment that tries to closely resemble the career of a real pro football player and from that immersion comes an illusion of agency, acting with significance: I am significately impacting a digital world that has become increasingly less virtual as ESPN analysts, national tournaments and even the players themselves engage with the video game as if it were real. "If it's in the game, it's in the game."

As sports fans, we are no longer content to pull for a team. We feel as if our involvement should always present us with evidence of our agency and ability to affect change on the games we love, even if that impact is only an illusion.

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