Interview with Dr. Dain TePoel
Professor Dain TePoel, who directs the Master of Science in Sport Science program at Lock Haven University, spoke with Tim Porter-DeVriese of Sportsdegreesonline.org about the benefits of teaching and studying at a smaller liberal arts college, how sports connects to social justice, and the exciting paths of Lock Haven Sport Science graduates.
About Dr. Dain TePoel
Dain TePoel is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management and Director of the Master of Science in Sport Science in the Sport Studies Department at Lock Haven University. In 2018, he earned his Ph.D. in American Studies (Sport Studies specialization) from the University of Iowa. He graduated from Ohio State University in 2012 with an M.A. in Sport Humanities. His work appears in Sport in Society, Journal of Sport History, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Sport History Review, Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, and the Iowa Journal of Communication. He has presented his research at the North American Society for Sport History, the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, the North American Society for Sport Management, the International Association for Communication and Sport, and the International Summer School for Young Researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Before starting his career in higher education, he worked with the Northwoods Collegiate Summer Baseball League, the St. Paul Saints Baseball Club, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. He teaches Contemporary Issues in Sport Management, Sport Media Communication Relations, Sport in American Culture, Sport Marketing, Research Methods, and collaborates with faculty in English and Biology in teaching Introduction to Environmental Studies.
Tim: Can you tell us about your journey to date? How did you decide to become a professor and program coordinator of the Sport Science master’s program at Lock Haven University?
Dain: I majored in Communication as an undergraduate, probably because the small liberal arts school I was at did not have a sport management or journalism major at the time. I was interning for a collegiate summer league baseball team after my freshman year, and an employee of the team suggested communication as a great major if I wanted to work in sports. I took his advice, and it turned out to be an excellent fit. The major afforded a lot of versatility and applicability to different kinds of positions in the sport industry, but it also worked out really well in terms of my academic interests in relation to examining sport as a mass phenomenon.
It took me about five years to find my path back into higher education, as my dream job out of college was to work in pro sports. I was really interested in media relations, community relations, writing about sports and broadcasting. I interned for a few more teams, gaining experience in some of those areas but also in game day event operations, promotions, and fan engagement, before realizing that something wasn’t quite fitting. I wanted to go further exploring the meaning of sports at a deeper level. I had gotten a taste of researching sport in college, and I wanted to get back into it.
After a few years working outside of sports entirely, I committed to going to graduate school, and found a graduate program called Sport Humanities at Ohio State University. The faculty worked closely with Sport Management, and I wanted to further my knowledge and experience in that area as well. I kind of went to OSU still on the fence – did I want to add some skills and get back into looking for work in sport, or would I pursue a career as an academic? I realized fairly quickly during the first semester that my passion and energies gravitated toward research and writing about sport as something worth serious study and examination for its social, political, economic, and cultural significance. Presenting research and getting a taste of my first academic conference at the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) solidified the decision.
I realized fairly quickly during the first semester that my passion and energies gravitated toward research and writing about sport as something worth serious study and examination for its social, political, economic, and cultural significance.
I earned my master’s from OSU and then went to the University of Iowa for my PhD. The program at OSU unfortunately dissolved, at least at the grad level, and Iowa was an excellent fit personally (my wife is from the area, and my roots are just to the north in Minnesota) and academically, as one of the stronger Sport Studies programs in the country. I took a range of courses there in American Studies and cultural studies that had a major influence on me as well, in continuing to widen my perspectives and broaden my understanding of what counts or can count under the umbrella of “sport.” Toward the end of my graduate studies, when writing my dissertation, I applied for the job at Lock Haven University. From what I could tell from my research on Lock Haven, and after my campus visit, I was attracted by the thought of returning to a place similar to where I started out: a smaller liberal arts type of college, with a tight-knit, close campus community feel, but with the added bonus of being able to work with graduate students. The faculty were very supportive of my background and what historical and cultural perspectives can offer for sport management, and vice-versa.
Tim: Why is a master’s in Sport Science a great choice for students planning careers in the sports industry?
Dain: I think we stand out because we offer both sport psychology and sport management. We are one of only a handful of programs in the nation to offer an online grad program in sport psych. We have also recently added international sport management as a third track, and we have an educational partnership with the Wolverhampton Wolves of the English Premier League. We are working on expanding opportunities for students in all three of our tracks. Obviously, graduate level education is important in the growth and development of students’ professional careers. The degree helps them to advance more rapidly through the industry.
The program is perfect for high school teachers wanting to continue their education, and high school and college coaches who want to expand their knowledge and education and potentially pursue administrative positions. We also attract a fair number of high school administrators who want to expand or refresh their knowledge on pertinent topics within the sport industry to enhance their careers. We are also positioned well to serve graduating undergraduate students with a passion for sports. On the sport psychology side, our program is an opportunity for those interested in continuing their education to possibly pursue a doctorate, and also for those who wish to obtain their Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).
Tim: What do you love about Lock Haven University as a whole and about the Sport Science program specifically?
Dain: The program is small and intimate, yet we have really impressive students, opportunities, and outcomes. We are designed to be flexible to meet the needs of both traditional students and nontraditional adult students in the workforce. As faculty, we know our students by name and help them advance in their chosen areas. The master’s program specifically is delivered online asynchronously to accommodate the daily lives of our students. Many are working full or part-time already, and we’ve been recognized as one of the most affordable online master’s programs in sport. The program is continually growing. The practical experiential learning experiences are a strong suit. We also have the capstone research or policy project option in sport management, and as a required part of the sport psych track.
Tim: What are some of the cool and interesting things Lock Haven Sport Science grads have gone on to do?
Dain: Grads from our program have gone on to pursue doctoral work, while others go right into the industry. They have pursued careers as athletic trainers, coaches, health and wellness teachers and professionals, and so on. They go on to work as sport psychology consultants with athletes and teams, in other supportive roles in athletics. Our sport psych grads have also applied their skills and sport psychology principles in other settings, such as business, medicine, and the military.
Sport management students have worked in sales and sponsorship for IMG and for various professional sports organizations such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. One of our current master’s students just got a full-time job with an NBA team, and another has been working for Poconos Raceway. Others work in intercollegiate athletics as coaches or in administration, academic advising, event management, facilities, and operations. One of our current faculty, James Mattern, is a graduate of the program actually. He and another alumnus who works as a manager of ballpark and even operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates recently volunteered at the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay with the host committee. We’ve been active in taking students to gain work experience at major events like this, such as the College Football Playoff, NFL Draft, NCAA championships, and not far from us in Williamsport, the Little League World Series and the Little League Classic, among others.
Tim: You’ve written extensively about the relationship between sport and society at large, especially through the lens of activism and social justice movements. How does our current time compare to other times in our history when the relationship between sport and activism was in the spotlight and what are our sports revealing about our culture now?
Dain: I have been reading texts like Harry Edwards’ Revolt of the Black Athlete and Howard Bryant’s The Heritage along with students in my graduate Sport in American Culture class this semester, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. From the mid-1970s and well into the 2000s, there was little acceptance or tolerance for activism in sports, or even the fact that sports could be considered alongside issues like race, class, gender, and sexuality. Yet at the same time, athletes from marginalized and oppressed groups regardless of era, know that their participation is political. For black and brown athletes, for impaired athletes, gay and lesbian athletes, queer and trans athletes, participating inherently involves a struggle for access to sports, to resources, opportunities, respect. So that’s one thing.
Specifically relating to race and Black Lives Matter, our time compares to the past in the sense that our nation still needs to confront racism, white supremacy, and its corrosive effects in practically all facets of everyday life. Not having lived through other flashpoint moments of activism in sports, I’d also say that this moment is uniquely shaped and informed by the social currents, political developments, and media-communications networks of our time, just as the others were shaped by those forces in their time. Here I’m thinking of the differences between broadcast television and the newspapers versus 24/7 cable tv and social media. Or the influences of the women’s movement, civil rights movement, antiwar movement, etc., on culture, fashion, music, language, and so forth then, compared to the influences that Black Lives Matter, Youth for Global Climate Action, the Dreamers, the LGBTQ movement and the movement for economic justice have had over the past decade. These factors all play a role in constraining and enabling the possibilities for activism and related social movements that interface with sports.
As for what sports reveal about culture now, I’d like to think that we are seeing the impact some of these movements are having or will have on those in positions of power, to do a bit more turning inward. Sport institutions – leagues, teams, franchises, brands, media – are still disproportionately owned, operated, and controlled by wealthy, white, cisgender men. They should not co-opt the movements, but I hope, and we’ve seen at least some signs of this mostly led by the players, that there will be more of a willingness from front offices to look internally at how their own organizations perpetuate the problems, and to correct that. Finally, beyond public relations, charity, and messaging, Gen Z, from some of the reports, is apparently demanding genuine action from big brands and companies. They want to see results. We’ll see how this plays out and if any of the leagues’ initiatives last, or if progressive activism will be eventually muted and stifled as the sports world emerges from the pandemic. Because that’s the real take away – these struggles are always ongoing and will be, and we are seeing some of the backlash already in multiple states banning trans youth from sports.
Tim: How can people learn more about you and about Sport Science at Lock Haven?
Dain: They can follow us on Instagram at lhu.sportstudies, @LHUSportStudies on Facebook, or check out our website https://lockhaven.edu/sportscience/. I’m @DainTePoel on Twitter, and also here on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dain-tepoel-964b2245/