Arthur Bochner1 wrote that even though he’d written about grief, he never really understood it until the death of his father. I suspect many of us recognize a truth in what he said. Often unannounced, death creeps like an unwelcome stain into our lives. I wonder how many of us are ready for it, and what narrative scripts are available to us at these times as we try to make sense and bring meaning to our loss. In sport, the path that I trod for my first occupation, the pervasiveness of the performance narrative means that following the death of a parent, an athlete is expected to continue with their sport, regardless of their pain and grief. “The show,” or that competition you trained so hard for, so the story goes, “must go on.” Within high performance sport the grief and loss experienced by well-known athletes seems also to provide an additional newsworthy opportunity for reporters and journalists to spice up their copy with stories of how “I did it for Dad.” But is winning the only way to represent or honor this relationship? And what of those athletes who never win? How do they honor their dead? Over the past twenty years, I have often drawn on my own experiences in professional sport to challenge the dominant performance narrative that frames winning as the only accepted and valued goal of the athlete. In this performance autoethnography I hope to extend my previous work by turning the spotlight on some of the ways the performance narrative frames how athletes and media alike represent grief and loss and what the father–child relationship means. My aim and purpose in this work is to contribute to the creation of counterstories and alternative narrative maps. Through creating such resources it may provide some athletes whose lives and experiences are currently disenfranchised or silenced, and I include myself in this group, a way to negotiate this difficult terrain in ways that are more authentic. In Mark Freeman’s terms, I seek to “break away” from this powerful monologue and sap its “coercive power.”2
“And I dedicate this win to…”: Performing Grief in High-Performance Sport
Kitrina Douglas is a video/ethnographer, storyteller, songwriter, performer, and narrative scholar whose research spans the arts, humanities, and social sciences. For the past twenty years her research has coalesced around identity development, transitions, and mental health. With David Carless, she has carried out research for organizations as diverse as the Department of Health, Addiction Recovery Agency, Royal British Legion, and Women’s Sports Foundation. She currently holds a professorship at the University of West London, School of Human and Social Sciences.
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Kitrina Douglas; “And I dedicate this win to…”: Performing Grief in High-Performance Sport. Journal of Autoethnography 1 July 2021; 2 (3): 334–344. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/joae.2021.2.3.334
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