Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Madness: Basketball and a Sociologist's Run for Congress

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, SAN ANTONIO, TX – I just got back from San Antonio where I attended the Urban Affairs Association Meeting (UAA). Little did I know that San Antonio is one of the venues for the college basketball “March Madness” championship. This couldn’t have been a better coincidence because one of the professors attending the UAA meeting is not only a former basketball player but running for congress as well. Virginia Institute of Technology Urban Planning Department’s Derek Hyra is that sociologist and he’s running for Virginia’s 8th District congressional seat held by Democratic Representative James P. Moran for over 20 years. Moran is retiring. If Hyra were to win, he would be the first sociologist to be elected to Congress since Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  



I became friendly with some of the Iowa State players and a lot of the fans because they were staying at my hotel. I also heard Professor Hyra’s stories about the campaign trail. What I realized about March Madness is that whether you’re a basketball player, a fan – many of whom are kids and seniors – or running for congress it’s a grueling yet exhilarating ride. It takes dedication and passion, and I think in the end, the experience is more important than winning. Perhaps those in the ‘game’ wouldn’t agree with me on this, but I was impressed with all the enthusiasm and endurance. One of Iowa State’s star players was injured but the team overcame this adversity to beat University of North Carolina today. That's a real win.

Hyra like Iowa State is competing against a wide open field, many of whom are season politicians with large monied war chests. In this sense he’s an underdog. But unlike his opponents he’s the one who really knows policy and has a deep policy team, like Iowa State has a deep basketball team. Hyra's expertise is housing policy as well as economic and community development. His “4E” platform – economy, education, environment, and equity – calls for more inclusive strategies for economic prosperity. In fact, his platform is driven by the main issues he’s explored in his ongoing research – and the very same issues that Obama talked about in his State of the Union and included in the budget he recently sent to Congress.

An eclectic field of 11 democratic candidates are running in this North Virginia district primary including several locally-elected public officials, a car dealer, a liberal talk show host (“The Aggressive Progressive”), and an openly gay state senator. But Hyra is the only one bold enough to talk about economic inequality. And while it’s too soon to tell who the favorites are, whoever wins the primary will probably get this liberal district’s congressional seat. So I hope Iowa State keeps winning March Madness and Hyra does the same by climbing up the brackets and upsetting the field with a well-earned win.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. She can be reached at

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