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The Q&A: Janice Todd

In this week's Q&A, we interview Janice Todd, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

Janice Todd is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s Coll…

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Janice Todd is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. She and her husband, Terry Todd, are the founders and co-directors of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center, the largest archive in the world devoted to the study of physical culture, sport, resistance training and alternative medicine.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Can you tell me a bit about your recent research in regards to the history of exercise, particularly the history of strength and the history of doping?

Janice Todd: I think that my research has two paths it follows. I do work on the history of exercise, primarily on the history of strength and conditioning, and a particular sort of sub-area within that is the role of strength coaches and the acceptance of dissemination of information about strength and conditioning practices.

I also do work on the history of doping, which is something that’s quite interesting to me. One of the classes that I teach at the university is “Sport and Ethics,” and for many years that’s been a fascinating topic for me because the complexities there are so great. As we move forward with new medical technologies and more opportunities for things like, perhaps, genetic building, people have already begun talking about using this to enhance performance in different ways.

Those are the areas I primarily work in, but in terms of recent research, I published an article last year about the 1983 Pan American Games, which was held in Caracas, Venezuela. The reason for that article was twofold: One was, 2015 was the year that we held the Pan American Games and I had been invited to speak at a conference there about the history of the Games. And the other reason was that 1983 was America’s first national drug outbreak.

What happened at the Games that year was that the IOC decided they were going to start testing for testosterone for the very first time. So when they announced this to the athletes, there were people caught, but more importantly, there were large numbers of athletes who left [the Games] and that created the big scandal.

Trib+Edu: What has been your most interesting finding recently?

Todd: Our attitudes towards drug use have always been somewhat conflicted. The value of winning is hard to ignore to certain types of organizations. While we want to talk — and I certainly want to talk — about ways to end the use of drugs in sports, at the same time, what we see is that the organizing groups who are trying to put drug testing in place are also happier when we’re not actually catching anybody.

In terms of strength coaching, one of the things that’s been really interesting to me is how we have created new provisions that are now fairly common — at almost every university and almost most public schools at the high school level — where there’s someone who’s designated as a strength and conditioning coach.

This is increasingly true at larger schools where the whole process of being certified as a strength coach has become more and more important, as well as the idea that this is a professional position with a professional association behind it that is increasingly of the same sort of weight as having a degree in athletic training.

Trib+Edu: Is there a role that academics, or the state, plays in making sure students make time during the school day for physical activity and exercise?

Todd: I absolutely think that it’s everyone’s responsibility to promote physical activity, particularly in the public schools. And I think it’s quite shameful that we’ve lost so many opportunities — like recess and required physical education — as we have.

The same thing has happened here at the university [of Texas at Austin]. We used to have required physical education here at the university for all students and that’s one reason why we used to have the Anna Hiss Gym and Gregory Gym.

But I do think, absolutely, that this is something we should all work toward, because the American College of Sports Medicine very clearly said, and adopted as its motto, that exercise is medicine, and increasing exercise, along with good nutrition and other things, is actually something that makes us much healthier.

I’m honestly not somebody who works with public schools and thinks about what schools can do specifically. But in an ideal world, it would be great if the Texas Legislature would agree that quality physical education mattered, and that we would allow budgetary allocations to hire more people.

I think what has happened in many cases is that after-school athletic programs have been allowed to, sort of, theoretically take place of some physical education classes in the public’s mind.

But the problem with this is that the number of students actually involved in those classes is much different than the numbers of students who used to be involved when we had more required physical education.

I agree that, ideally, every student should have some break for physical activity, hopefully every day. And I think it should be something that is taught and recommended as part of science education, so when they get to the classes where they learn about human physiology they can understand some of how that works.

And it obviously should be a part of any health education curriculum we have, but these have become bigger budgetary questions for school districts.

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