Anthropology of Sports

For my dissertation, I founded the Human Biology of Stress and Sports research team at the University of Washington (, funded by the Center for Leadership in Athletics. Our team has since started multiple projects, but my original question focused on whether physical activity modifies the relationships between psychosocial stress and telomere length, nucleotide repeats that cap the ends of our chromosomes and shorten with age. The relationships between psychosocial stress and aging are posited to connect psychosocial stress to various adverse health outcomes, including mental health disorders, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Uncovering how physical activity modifies these relationships could offer a better understanding of how psychosocial stress impacts health across the US and globally and what roles stress played throughout human evolution. For this project, I purposively sampled NCAA student-athletes and non-athlete students from the same schools in the US. This strategy allowed me to isolate important societal and cultural factors while examining differences in physical activity.

Importantly, HBSS and our collaborators are motivated to increase the study of sports, and collegiate student-athletes in particular, and the participation of athletes in research (both as participants and leading research themselves). Specifically, most of our work lies in the Anthropology of Sports. This is a relatively underexplored field that utilizes anthropological theories and methodologies to better understand the influences and roles of sports in society as well as the experiences of athletes. The roles and importance of sports in society, particularly in the United States, are rarely challenged or critically examined, even in academia. However, examining sports as an academic topic allows us to take myriad strategies to better understand human biology as well as how society, behavior, and biology continually feed back into each other. Importantly, this topic also provides an accessible avenue for students and the public to learn about our field, engage our research participants, and integrate with practitioners and other stakeholders.