Thursday, May 8, 2008

Playing the Game of Sport

March 19th, 1966 started a new era in American sport history. The NCAA championship game, held in Cole Field House between Kentucky and Texas Western, became “the most significant game in college basketball history” (Wilbon, 2006). Don Haskins, the coach of Texas Western, started the first ever all-Black line up against openly racist Adolph Rupp’s all-White Kentucky team. Occurring within the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, this momentous event showed that African American participation in the prized American sport of basketball was no longer subject to the constraints placed on them by the color of their skin. It opened the eyes of the public and forged a new path for racial equality in sport. This country has made great strides in overcoming issues of racism, but the effects of racial inferiority and segregation still lingers. Despite living in a post-racist society, it is evident through contemporary sport that race continues have an impact in American culture.

Successes of African American athletes are oftentimes attributed to the enduring myth of the supposed “natural” black physicality. These Scientific Racism theories suggest that there are innate physical abilities that provide Black athletes with a competitive edge. By taking anthropometric measurements of the human body, it compares racial groups to show any superiorities or inferiorities (Schultz, 2008). When White Americans began loosing their footing over African Americans, they needed a method to rationalize the athletic success of Black athletes.

The widespread belief among whites that blacks were intellectually and physically inferior led many whites to view black athletes as a curiosity. Then, as black athletes gradually demonstrated their skills in certain sports, whites developed increasingly detail genetic explanation for black achievements. The more blacks achieved in sports, the more whites used those achievements as “proof” that blacks had animal-like characteristics, which made them socially inferior. (Coakley, 2000, p75)

Although they were considered socially inferior, Black athletes’ accomplishments in sport could not be denied. In order to justify their own defeats, White Americans claimed that the “primitive” nature of their African American opponents were the reason for their successes. Instead of accounting for the hard work and determination that would have been used to praise White athletes, society turned to biology to demean Black athletes.

The African American body is referred to as a “muscle-machine”, a belief that values the body over the mind. Black athletes are expected to play sports or hold positions that require strength and aggression instead of intellect and cunning. This belief dates back to the times of slavery where African Americans were characterized as primates and criminals.

The misrepresentation of athletes by sport category offers clear reinforcement of myths of racial difference. For instance, Black athletes were disproportionately represented in strength sports, especially boxing. Overrepresentation of Blacks in boxing reinforces the stereotype of Blacks as “brutes” and “savages.” (Hardin, 2004, p224)

African American athletes who do participate in sports involving more physicality and higher levels of aggression receive more attention from the pubic. It is acceptable for Blacks to gain exposure this way because they are already viewed as violent and abusive. African American athletes are thought to dominate in strength sports due to views of the genetic superiority of the body.

Sport is essentially one of the only areas where African Americans are accepted and praised when successful. The sporting environment creates a level playing field where African Americans have opportunities to display their athletic talents and outshine White Americans without public disapproval. In the past, the success of Black athletes was “seen as a threat to the dominant social order” (Schultz, 2008). White Americans feared that allowing African Americans into mainstream sports would result in a complete take-over of the games they treasured. However, those worries were nullified once it was realized that there were immense financial benefits to exploiting accomplished Black athletes (Coakley, 2000). In the past, this was displayed by the epic story of Jack Johnson and his journey of becoming heavyweight champion of the world (Schultz, 2008). Those same views are manifested today in collegiate sports where successful Black athletes are used to draw in media coverage and profits for universities. 

Even though slavery ended a century and a half ago, racial slurs and derogatory comments are still too prevalent in sport. It is 2008 and Tiger Woods was just a victim of a highly offensive remark by a sports commentator (“Golf Channel”, 2008). Americans are known as rowdy spectators who love to taunt and distract athletes, but it is important for our society to be aware of where to draw the line. In sports such as basketball, where a good seat could mean minimal separation between the player and the spectator, it is easy to exchange words. Dikembe Mutombo, a relatively controlled NBA center, was verbally attacked during a game by an opposing fan. 

I will not accept that. We are not in the '60s. People have paid the price for us to be where we are today. For him to call a black man a monkey in the middle of the game, he was in the second row, for him to stand up and call, `Mutombo the monkey,' is an insult. It insulted my integrity, my body, my family, my race. (Feigen, 2006)

Rarely is it ever appropriate to joke about race, and even then it is a very sensitive and uncomfortable topic. The racial remark made by the spectator and any others like it reverses the progress society has made over the past century. Unfortunately, it shows that the issue of race is still intertwined in sport and society. 

American society has evolved since the days of slavery, but issues of race still arise in contemporary institutions such as sport. As enduring as beliefs of African American inferiority are, great efforts have been made to propel ideas of equality. In comparison to other countries all over the world, the United States is still young and growing. More time must pass before the racial beliefs of our past are rectified. Until that time comes, it is important for current and future generations to learn from history and be conscious of the negative effects of racism. Some day American society will fully embrace racial equality, and hopefully sport will create a nurturing atmosphere to foster that change.



Coakley, J. (2000). A look at the past: Does it help us understand sports today? Sport in Society: Issues & Controversies, pp. 55-80.

Feigen, J. (2006, October). Mutombo nearly goes into stands; Center provoked by racial slurs, wants NBA action. The Houston Chronicle, p.6 (LN).

Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman suspended for ‘lynch’ remark about Tiger Woods. (2008). Retrieved February 23, 2008, from,28136,1701417,00.html 

Hardin, M., Chance, J., Dodd, J. E., & Walsdorf, K. (2004). Sporting Images in Black and White: Race in Newspaper Coverage of the 2000 Olympic Games. Howard Journal of Communications, 15(4), pp. 211-227.

Schultz, J.L. (2008, Spring). Module III: Lecture – Sport & the Emergence of Modern America, 1865-1920. KNES 293, University of Maryland: College Park, MD.

Wilbon, M. (2006, January 13). A Win for Texas, Western, A Triumph for Equality. Retrieved February 19, 2008, from


Scholarly Source Recommendations

Ferber, A.L. (2007). The Construction of Black Masculinity. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 31(1), pp.11-24, 14p.

Recommended Readings

The Jack Nicklaus syndrome – racism in sports, The Popular Condition – Column. (1996).        
Retrieved February 23, 2008, from

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jim Crow At Fenway

(Author’s Note: I cut this down significantly to make it into a somewhat reasonable blog entry. There’s a ton of information available on everything mentioned here. If you're interested, I think I have some more sources for you.)

Some younger sports fans must have been confused when, in the summer of 2007, power forward Kevin Garnett initially quashed a proposed trade to the Boston Celtics. The familiar storylines emerged soon, for those old enough to remember; another African American athlete, reluctant to play in the veritable seat of northeastern racism. Another proposed deal that summer was said to hinge on the willingness of Phoenix Sun Shawn Marion—also black—to accept a trade to Boston. Again, racism was seen as the culprit in many circles. To hear some critics tell it, the long residuals of the nativist sentiments that had made many American cities inhospitable for immigrants in the early twentieth century never entirely faded from the scene. In many cases, the resentment grew to incorporate the sports world (Schultz, 2008).

In the midst of an athletic renaissance in which many of the city’s most cherished heroes have been non-white—David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez—it appeared Boston had still failed to shed the prejudiced tag engendered by high profile conflicts—witness Stanley Forman’s 1977 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a young white protester proudly attempting to spear a black man with the American flag outside City Hall in Boston during a demonstration against public school integration and busing—and a cloistered mindset born of survivalist intolerance. And, as had been the case many times in the past, the racial ‘issues’ of the city came creeping up through the cracks of its hallowed sports tradition (Denton, 1980).

While traditionally known as a socially liberal enclave since its days as an abolitionist outpost, the greater Boston area was overwhelmingly white until World War II. In the early to mid twentieth century, Boston was the only major northeastern city with too small a black population to sustain a single Negro League team—though it had enough baseball fans to sustain two major league clubs (O’Brien, 2002). Writer and Bostonian Sharon O’Brien blames the lack of quality black baseball in the area for the reluctance of Red Sox management to embrace the possibility of African American players later on; the Red Sox were famously slow to integrate, becoming baseball’s last all-white team before the big league club brought up Pumpsie Green in 1959 (after leaving him mired in the minor leagues for six years) (Barney & Barney, 2007).

While Green languished in the minors, Red Sox manager ‘Pinky Higgins’ made his thoughts on integration known. He was famously quoted as saying "They'll [sic] be no niggers on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it" (Barney & Barney, 2007, p.4). He was a notorious racist, and, according to many, “his consistent and obvious ineptitude as field manager was both tolerated and even retained in the crony-oriented world of the Yawkey-owned (Red Sox).” (Barney & Barney, 2007, p.4)
Of course, the Red Sox could just as easily have been trailblazers. In the mid 1940’s, the team started to feel serious pressure from journalists and City Council members fishing for black votes (O’Brien, 2002). In 1945, the Red Sox relented and invited three Negro League players to try out at Fenway Park for Joe Cronin, Hugh Duffy, and assorted members of Red Sox management (Bryant, 2002). According to familiar baseball lore, one of the players, a young man named Jack Roosevelt Robinson, displayed a particularly dazzling array of baseball skills. Nevertheless, as the three prepared to depart, an unidentified voice—presumably belonging to a member of management—descended on them from near the entrance to the team front offices above: "Get those niggers off the field!" (Barney & Barney, 2007, 4) According to some, the voice belonged to Sox’ owner Yawkey himself (Bryant, 2002). In any case, none of the three ever heard back from Boston. A similar story was later told about a young Willie Mays. No dark-skinned ballplayer would wear the red ‘B’ until 14 years later (Bryant, 2002).

The world of Boston race relations was complicated well before the Green era. The influx of black workers during World War II caused tremendous unrest among white Bostonians, who felt they were being pressured out of their jobs. This sense of anxiety was arguably related to the uneasiness that had surrounded the ascent of black athletes near the turn of the century (Schultz, 2008). The black population grew too large for the traditional black enclave--nee ghetto--of Roxbury, and families spilled over into traditionally white neighborhoods. The typical exodus of white homeowners began, and with it, racist sentiment grew (O’Brien, 2002). In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a virtual war raged over the issues of integrated schooling and forced busing, stoking flames of tension between working class white and black Bostonians in particular (Green & Hunter, 1974).

Of course, Boston’s mien of xenophobia and class conflict was nothing new. Irish immigrants and native Bostonians had tangled since the mid nineteenth century (O’Brien, 2002). Boston Irish racism was linked to the Irish working-class “sense of being an oppressed minority themselves” (O’Brien, 2002, 178). Indeed, early Irish immigrants to Boston received exclusionist treatment in most sectors of society, being refused service and employment on the basis of race. This history of reciprocal prejudice brings us closer to a contextual perspective for thinking about the Red Sox' reluctance to sign black players in the middle of the twentieth century (O’Brien, 2002). In his history of the Boston Irish, Thomas O’Connor contends that Boston’s rejection of the Irish has deeply affected everything that followed:

The Boston Irish, despite the political power they came to enjoy, have a deep-felt belief that they are a beleaguered minority, combined with a need to consider themselves higher in the social and economic scale than African-Americans—and an inability to see the ways in which their class position in fact links South Boston and Roxbury. (O’Brien, 2002, p.179)

Michael Patrick MacDonald related the sentiments of his friends and family member in South Boston during his childhood. To people in his neighborhood, the desegregation of Boston schools was a “WASP plot…(that) allied the Yankee elite with Ireland’s English oppressors” (O’Brien, 2002, p.179-180). Naturally, the plotting ways of the ‘Protestant cabal’ included engineering social integration to steal jobs and other opportunities from the Irish. Among some members of the working class, such thinking became natural, especially in times of economic hardship. (O’Brien, 2002)

To find the true 'source' of Black-Irish enmity, though, we must go back even further. There had once been signs of an alliance between African Americans and Irish, during the nineteenth century (O’Brien, 2002). As fellow members of a common disenfranchised lower class, the two ‘races’ had been seen as natural brothers-in-arms by some leaders (O’Brien, 2002). The potential coalition was shattered when new Irish immigrants found themselves thoroughly beaten down in the new country, targeted by nativist sentiments and sometimes even pushed below slaves in the social hierarchy. (O’Brien, 2002) Naturally, says historian David Roediger, the Irish Bostonians did anything to advertise their own whiteness. “They sought to become insiders, or Americans, by claiming their membership as whites…Thus, blacks as the ‘other’ served to facilitate the assimilation of Irish foreigners” (O’Brien, 2002, p.180). When working class Irish Bostonians stayed put in working class neighborhoods, the influx of African-Americans combined with Irish feelings of resentment led to a cataclysmic racial divide that scorched everything it touched.

Boston was left with an ethnic majority—the Irish--still considering itself a minority race, despite its political control of the city. The African American ethnic minority, traditionally absent from Boston, sought to work its way up the ladder, but inevitably clashed with the prejudices—and memories of prejudice—of the old-guard Irish (O’Brien, 2002).

Similarly, the Red Sox management that kept the team so stolidly stuck in the segregationist era was predominantly Irish-American, featuring fan favorite heroes like former players Eddie Collins and Joe Cronin (O’Brien, 2002). Success by African American athletes was seen as a threat to the dominant social order—financially and implicitly. (Schultz, 2008) So, in the 1950’s, when teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers cashed in on the ‘new’ stream of talent from the Negro Leagues, peppering rosters with legitimate stars like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe, the Boston club would have no part of it. Many a Red Sox fan has bemoaned the loss of what ‘could have been’—some have speculated about a potential 1950 lineup featuring Robinson and Mays along with white Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and stars Vern Stephens, Walt Dropo, and Dom DiMaggio—but it seems doubtful that a Red Sox team featuring black stars would have gained widespread appeal at so early a date anyway. (O’Brien, 2002)

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Boston Celtics, while important to the cultural fabric of the city, were far more open to the inclusion of black athletes than the Red Sox, and thus far less popular at their peak. Red Auerbach was a New Yorker, a Jewish outsider with no connection to the Boston Irish community (O’Brien, 2002). He had no qualms about breaking the social taboos of the city’s complex ethnic network—or building a dynasty around a black superstar, Bill Russell (O’Brien, 2002). While the Celtics were a seminal dynasty, they never achieved anything quite like the Red Sox’ level of popularity.
Russell is said to have hated Boston. He was once quoted as saying, "I would rather be in a Sacramento jail than be mayor of Boston," and he called the city a “flea market of racism” (Bryant, 2002, 54-58). He was often embittered by the lack of attention the city gave him and his team, to say nothing of several well documented cases of overt harassment (Heaphy, 2005). Even if Mays and Robinson had found themselves in crimson, it would have been a hard road to stardom in Boston.

The Red Sox’ structure of institutional racism—and the prejudices of some of the fans--may have held the team back on the field, but the all-encompassing grudges of the organization stretched beyond Yawkey’s reign, into the bleachers, concession stands, and press box: as late as Pumpsie Green’s inaugural season at Fenway, not one African American was employed at any level of the organization, “not even as a janitor or ticket collector” (Essington, 2004). One of the Red Sox’ most vocal public ‘representatives’, Will McDonough, the beloved Boston Globe baseball writer of the 1960’s-1980’s, “advocated an Irish stance on all sorts of issues, integration among them.” (Barney, 2007, 7) That there was a well-known ‘Irish’ stance on integration speaks volumes about the temperament of the times. McDonough “pandered to the party line crafted by Yawkey and his associates” and steadfastly denied allegations of institutional racism, discrediting the work of many of his colleagues in the process. (Barney, 2007, 7) By the time McDonough retired, the belief that Boston was a racist sports town was akin to scripture among the professional athletic fraternity. Into the 1990’s, black players wrote clauses into their contracts stipulating they not be traded to Boston (Essington, 2004). The change, assuming a change has occurred, was recent indeed.

While many of the old wounds associated with Boston’s sports past have seemingly healed, it’s impossible to say how many still fester.
As recently as 2002, the Red Sox were criticized for featuring only two entries between 1941 and 1967 on the team’s “Special Moments in Boston Red Sox History” web page. The two signature dates omitted were those of Pumpsie Green’s debut, in 1959, and Earl Wilson’s 1962 no-hitter. While such criticism may seem to fall a bit on the facile side, modern Boston is still the third ‘whitest’ major metropolitan area in America, and is far from colorblind in its rooting interests. Even almost a half century after the Sox caved and let Green on the field, seeds of dissent remain (O’Brien, 2002).

In a 2002 panel discussion featuring the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and Boston Magazine, racism and segregation were the topics of discussion. Harvard professor and CRP co-founding director Gary Orfield quoted statistics to the effect that Boston is becoming a “city of minorities”: In the 1990s, the white population fell by one percent, while black and Latino populations rose by 30 and 47 percent, respectively. (Potier, 2002) In short, the racial makeup of the city is gradually beginning to resemble the racial makeup of one of the city’s cherished sports teams.

While a special murmur still goes through the crowd when little-used Brian Scalabrine, a white man, checks into the game for the Celtics, it bears repeating that, although old habits die hard, progress is being made. The fact that the nearly anonymous bench player arguably fetches more cheers than any of the Celtics’ African American superstars doesn’t need to be an indicator of still-lingering hatred. This, too, can be seen as a long residual of the intense nativism that long dictated the rooting patterns of Bostonians (Schultz, 2008). Scalabrine is light-skinned with red hair. In him, the fans see something of their past. But as the city itself becomes more diverse, fans arguably need look no further than teammates Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and company to see something of their present and future.

Works Cited:

Barney, R. K., & Barney, D. E. (2007). "Get those niggers off the field!" :Racial integration and the real curse in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. 16.1, 1-7.

Bryant, H. (2002). Shut out: a story of race and baseball in Boston. New York, NY: Routledge.

Denton, H. H. (1980, December 7). In reborn Boston, race hatred still festers. The Washington Post, p. A1.

Essington, A. (2004). Review: shut out: a story of race and baseball in Boston. The New England Quarterly. 77.3, 503-505

Green, J. & Hunter, A. (1974). Racism and Busing in Boston. Radical America. 8.6, 1-35.

Heaphy, L. (2005). Race, baseball, and Boston. Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. 14.1, 165-175.

O’Brien, S. (2002). We Want a Pennant, Not a White Team. New York, NY: NYU Press. Sports Matters, edited by John Bloom, Michael Nevin Willard.

Potier, B. (2002, November 7). Has Boston shed its racist reputation? . The Harvard Gazette, p. A1.

Schultz, J. (2008). “Module III: Sport & the Emergence of Modern America, 1865-1920”. Week 4. University of Maryland, College Park. Speaker, 2008.

Recommended Reading:

Edes, G. (2004, June 18). Blasting zone: Bonds makes a powerful statement on, off field. The Boston Globe, p. C1.

Gonzalez, J. (2008, January). Playing through the pain. Boston Magazine.

O’Connor, T. The Boston Irish: A political history. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Baseball’s Greatest Slugger? Depends on Who's Telling the Story.

“---- ------ was the … Leagues' greatest home run hitter and one of the most feared sluggers of any era… ------ used a short, compact stride and a massive upper body to crush line drive home runs in ballparks all over… In one of the games played in Yankee Stadium he slammed a home run into the left field bullpen that traveled more than 500 feet. Fans for years after would claim it as one of the longest drives ever hit in that ballpark… ------‘s slugging drew big crowds… ------'s clouts were so impressive that fact and myth soon became blurred…” (“Josh Gibson,” 2006). History would lead us to believe this passage is about none other than “The Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth. However, it is actually referring to the not-so-well-known Josh Gibson, who played many years ago in the Negro League.

A long residual that has continuously reoccurred is the plague of racism in America’s national pastime (Schultz, 2008). Ever since the creation of baseball as an organized sport, African Americans and other talented players from different ethnic backgrounds have struggled to find their place in this country’s favorite pastime. This is all too clear when taking a critical look at the life and careers of Babe Ruth and “The Brown Bambino,” Josh Gibson.

Sports, for many years and on many different occasions, have mirrored our society; they share a two-way and mutually reinforcing relationship (Schultz, 2008). Society was never quick to allow African Americans their due rights and baseball was no different. Many would even believe that the first black professional baseball player was Jackie Robinson when he crossed the color barrier in 1947 (“Blacks in Baseball: Integration,” 2008). However, that is not true. There were about 50 players who participated on white professional baseball teams before 1887, including the actual first black professional ballplayer, John K. ‘Bud’ Fowler, who played on an all-white team in 1867. However, mirroring society’s segregation at that time, there was the creation of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” reached in 1887. This was an unspoken rule that no blacks would be signed to a professional team and it was not, however, until society was further along in accepting African Americans that acknowledgment has been given to blacks playing baseball (“Blacks in Baseball: Segregation,” 2008). Since those running baseball, following the ways of society, were not accepting of African Americans until Jackie Robinson, the story has been told that he was the first to cross the color barrier.

The twenties was a time when nervousness of the post-World War I generation provided fertile soil for the growth of a particular kind of heroism. The arrival of the twenties saw the cult of the hero—the man who provided living testimony of the power of courage, strength, and honor and of the efficacy of the self-reliant, rugged individual who seemed on the verge of becoming as irrelevant as the covered wagon. Given the time that Babe Ruth emerged and the way he stood up against pitchers gave him a heroic presence that society was yearning for (Nash, 2008).

Many would believe it was Babe Ruth’s raw talent and ‘heroic’ stature that appealed to America, but if you look at the comparison between he and Josh Gibson, a different idea might come to mind. Gibson came shortly after Ruth, so it can safely be assumed that America was still in need for that ‘hero’ figure. It can’t be due to talent alone, because it is believed that Gibson hit around 962 homers, with some accounts being closer to, or over, one thousand and one year alone of 84. Many sports historians even believe that Gibson’s offensive numbers are lower than they could have been because of the fact that many fields he played on were without fences (Janik, 2008). These numbers would have easily surpassed the Babe’s. It has also been said that Ruth was such a good athlete due to his amazing pitching ability. However, Gibson was just as good a catcher as he was a hitter; it has been long believed that being a catcher hurts one’s hitting ability due to the amount of strain put on the legs from the constant amount of crouching that is required. They both did have their negative aspects, be it drinking or other unhealthy habits. However, America accepted their lifestyles in very different ways. Ruth was viewed as a charismatic man who just loved life. Gibson, who actually drank to fight off the symptoms of his mental health issues which contributed to his untimely death, was received as a perfect reason for why not to accept a black man into baseball. They have more or less been made out to be the same type of the player with very similar stats, yet something has set them apart.

Babe Ruth chose a lifestyle of excessive eating, heavy drinking, and sexual promiscuity. His ‘human’ lifestyle is what people liked about him. He was much more outgoing than Gibson and many believe this might be the distinction between him and Gibson, added with the fact that he was white and Josh Gibson was black in a time of racial tension in America, which allowed Ruth to reach his popularity.

That did not work out so well for a different black athlete around this time. Jack Johnson was a prizefighter in the early 1900’s who, like Babe Ruth, was on top of his game. In a sport like boxing, where it was literally one on one, nobody could stand in the same ring as Johnson. He too liked to live a similar lifestyle of Ruth. “He was a big spender who loved the high life—flashy dress, champagne, night clubs, fast cars, and willing women” (Radar, 2004). However, unlike the Babe, Johnson was persecuted by society and never reached the same ‘hero’ status. By living the way he did, whites were made nervous by him and blacks felt he was worsening the racial tension for them. Though he has his place in history now, Jack Johnson was never fully embraced into that ‘hero’ status and it has a lot to do with the way he lived his life.

History is political and sport history is no different. The dominant class writes history and what we know all depends on whose version of the story is told (Schultz, 2008). A common thought for why not many people know of Gibson is because of the color of his skin. Given the similarity of his statistics with Ruth’s, it would be hard to refute that thought. Josh Gibson has numbers that are as good, if not better than Ruth’s. Mainstream America was not as accepting of blacks back then and that is why more people don’t know about the legendary African American slugger. So the next time you ask somebody about anything that happened many years ago, make sure to ask yourself, “Whose version of the story am I being told?”


(2006). Josh Gibson. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from Gibson 1911.

Blacks in baseball: Integration. (2008). Encyclopaedia Britannica's Guide to Black History. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from

Blacks in Baseball: Segregation. (2008). Encyclopaedia Britannica's Guide to Black History. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from

Janik, J.M. (2001). Legendary POWER. Boys' Life, 91.8, Retrieved March 18, 2008, from EBSCOhost MasterFILE Premier.

Nash, R. (2008). Sports heroes of the 1920s. In S. A. Reiss (Ed.), Major Problems in Sport History (pp. 324-326). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Radar, B.G. (2004). Jack Johnson. In B.G. Radar (Ed.), American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, 5th ed. (pp. 151-154). Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schultz, (2008). Module I: What is sport history? Week 1. University of Maryland, College Park.

Recommended Reading

Nelson, K. (2008). WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion.

Papazian, R. (Producer), Sullivan, K. R. (Director). (1996). Soul of the Game [Motion Picture]. USA: HBO.

Zoss, J. & Bowman, J. (2004). Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball. New York: University of Nebraska Press.

The Most Popular Soap Opera in the World: Professional Wrestling

Since the beginning of sport, Americans have thoroughly enjoyed seeing people going at it. From eye gouging, to bare knuckle boxing, to today’s professional boxing, to mixed martial arts, America loves fighting. We love to see the blood fly, to see people get hurt. It is why people cheer fervently for fights at a hockey game and why people desperately want to see a knockout in a boxing match. Americans are also in love with their soap operas. Soap operas give us times to get away from our lives and fall into the twists and turns that dramas like Days of Our Lives and As the World Turns give us. The plots are so irrational and the acting so over the top, that as a viewer you just cannot get enough of it. Soap operas such as these have been such an extreme success that they have been running continuously on the air for over twenty years. When you combine the bloody battles and the ridiculously soap opera storylines you get sports entertainment… you get professional wrestling.

Professional wrestling has been around for centuries, but not exactly in the form that we know of now. The Greeks and the Romans were the first to wrestle professionally back around 3000 B.C (Beekman 2006). At the time, professional wrestling was a completely real sport. Through the 19th century, fights were so brutal that they sometimes resulted in severe injuries, including fighters being paralyzed and even killed (Beekman 2006). At the turn of the 19th century, William Muldoon was seen as the epitome of a professional wrestler. He was the world champion; he dominated in his fights, and had the personality to go with the status. Muldoon was such a good professional wrestler that he was compared to John L. Sullivan in boxing (Beekman 2006). Muldoon also fit the bill of Muscular Christianity, which is becoming a physically fit Christian and thus a good role model for others to look up to (Schultz 2008). Incorporating religion with sports was quite common during this time period. For Mundoon (the father of professional wrestling), the sport in general was about change drastically.

In the 1920s, after World War 1, fans were not happy with the big muscular wrestlers battling one another each night. They demanded agility and speed, which at the time boxing provided them. Thinking about their profits, professional wrestling switched from being a legitimate fighting sport, to being sports entertainment (Lindman 2000). The switch from genuine fighting to staged fighting caused professional wrestling to lose its mainstream coverage. This included the loss of exposure in the sports section of newspapers. However, fans started to rally behind this new form of wrestling, especially with the new medium of television. (Lindman 2000) This allowed fans to cheer on their favorites and jeer at their antiheroes each week.

Since then, fans have been enamored with professional wrestling. In the 1940s, Gorgeous George (George Wagner) captivated fans with his elegant robes, elaborate entrances and long bleached blonde hair (Slagle 2000). Gorgeous George was one of the characters who led professional wrestling to where it is today. Wagner influenced wrestlers like “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, to not only be good in the ring, but to have over-the-top personalities out of the ring. The wrestler’s charisma contributed to his success and to the business overall. Fans wanted the ridiculousness of characters, not the oversized goons they saw back in the day. These characters are what led to today’s version of professional wrestling, including the immortal wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Thanks to professional wrestling, celebrities like Hogan, Austin, and Johnson are all extremely popular in mainstream society. All three men have used wrestling to expand their horizons, with Hogan going from the most famous wrestler in history in the 1980s to one of the paparazzo’s golden boys in the 2000s. Austin is currently dipping his toes into the movie business, while Johnson has become extremely successful in the motion picture industry. Professional wrestling led these three men to stardom, as the popularity that they gained there led them to being able to thrive in other areas. Fanatics of wrestling became attached to these men, not just for their ability to wrestle, but because they could relate to them. Hogan was the super hero, the man that could overcome all of the odds. Austin was the rebel, the man that everyone has inside of them who just wants to stand up to their boss and stick up the middle finger. Johnson, known as “The Rock” during his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) days, was the overly charismatic, sarcastic figure that the crowd just ate up. Fanatics loved to see these and all of their other favorites “fight to the death” over a ridiculously soap opera-ish story line.

Today, WWE has gone back to the days of finding the big muscular fighters, thinking that is what draws the crowds. Vince McMahon, the Chairman of WWE, believes going after legitimately tough amateur wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Bobby Lashley are what the fans crave, rather than the smaller, faster charismatic wrestlers (Glader 2003). However, McMahon is not looking back at the long residuals that wrestling has given him to follow (Schultz 2008). It is not the ridiculous bodies that people come to see, but the ridiculous characters and story lines. Wrestling is about athletes beating each other senseless, for reasons that are so unfathomable that they cannot possibly real. That’s good because the reasons are not real; they are all a show...A show in which the fans will always continue to love.

Works Cited

Beekman, S. (2006). Ringside: A history of professional wrestling in America. Minneapolis, MN: Greenhouse Publishing Group

Glader, P. (2003, September 12). “WWE pins its hopes on ‘real’ wrestlers” Wall Street Journal, pp B1

Lindman, M. (2000). “Wrestling’s hold on the western world before the great war”. The Historian.

Slagle, S. (2000). “Professional wrestling hall of fame”. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from

Schultz, J. (2008a). Module 2: Sport in the New World (2008b). Module 3: Sport and the emergence of Modern America.

Recommended Readings

History of professional wrestling volumes 1-7. Crowbar Press.

Official Site of World Wrestling Entertainment. (2008). Retrieved April 5, 2008, from

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering the Titans and all those who came before: Desegregation of College Football in the South

Denzel Washington, as Coach Boone, stands next to a tree panting and gasping for breath as he turns towards his high school football team.

“Anybody know where this is” he asks. “This is Gettysburg. This is where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today. This green field right here, painted red, bubblin’ with the blood of young boys. Smoke and hot lead pouring right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men. I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family. You listen, and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other. And maybe—I don’t know, maybe, we’ll learn to play this game like men.” (Remember the Titans 2000)

Depicting the story of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, the year is 1971 and the integration of black and white students into the same school system is still a new phenomenon. This movie tells the story of how an integrated football team was able to work together and achieve the perfect season. However, long before the Titans, black football players fought for respect and dignity, on and off the field.

The “segregation” of college football came side-by-side with the promotion of all black colleges and universities in the early 1900s. Although many universities in the northern part of the country, like Amherst and Harvard would have their first black football players as early as 1888 (Levy 2003), it would take up until the 1966 for blacks to play in the SEC, and even longer for them to gain the respect they deserved (Wolff 2005). Black football players who ventured onto all-white teams risked their lives during games, at practice, and even off the field. Greg Page would be one of two black players for the University of Kentucky—but he would never actually get to play in a game, as he was paralyzed during a preseason drill. Page died about a month after being injured, and it would be his black roommate, Nat Northington, who would become the first black player in the SEC (Wolff 2005). These events took place in 1967. One year later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be shot and that incident would continue to create uproar the following decade. But in 1967, when American streets seemed to be filled with riots and upheaval, the accidental killing of Greg Page was just another lost out of many, only helping to show the dialectic relationship between society and sport (Schultz 2007).

Looking at desegregation of college football in the South one can see clear signs of social injustice and the denial of athletic prowess possessed by black athletes at the time. Even those who integrated blacks onto their teams were hesitant to let them shine to their fullest potential. Blacks were often not permitted to score. If they were not moved to defensive positions, they were left in the game long enough to help carry the ball to a reasonable scoring range and then removed from play (Wolff 2005). These types of actions by coaches depict black football players in the 1960s as puppets for the amusement of others, particularly whites. The great athletic ability of black players was stunted. Darryl Hill, who was the first black to play in the ACC at the University of Maryland, seemed to be an exception to this. He set school records and would score crucial touchdowns. When the school yearbook came out, however, the football picture from the previous year was used and Hill was not mentioned at all (Wolff 2005). Integration of blacks and whites in the classroom was one thing; on the playing field was another story. In 1965 Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings was quoted saying “[w]hat we need is a team that will work and pull and fight together and really get a feeling of oneness, I don’t believe we could accomplish this with a Negro on the squad” (Wolff 2005). This quote only goes on to show the ignorant thoughts that contributed to the racism of the time.

Whether or not a unified team was created on the field, society was still crashing in from all sides demanding an end to this integration. In the movie Remember the Titans (2000), based on a true story, Alexandria, VA gets an eye-opener from these young men. A group, once split along the lines of skin color, learned to appreciate and respect each other. They learn to play the game like men (Remember the Titans 2000). At colleges and universities found in the South during this time, this feat is not as easily accomplished. In the story of the Titans one can see how it is not only the society which plays an impact on the football team, but also the football team which helps to smooth things over in the town. This dialectic relationship can also be seen in more negative ways like with Greg Page. Once the racial barrier began to be crossed, there was still the setback of fairness in the game and full recognition of one’s athletic ability (Levy 2003). Together though, these ideas show how the desegregation of college and university football in the South during the 1960s depict the idea of a dialectic relationship between sport and society, while at the same time showing the hurdles black athletes had to jump over in order to survive this sport.

Works Cited:

Levy, A.H (2003). Tackling Jim Crow: Racial segregation in professional football. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.

Schultz, J. (2008). Module I: What is sport history? Week1. University of Maryland, College Park. Speaker.

Wiggins, D. and Miller, P. (2003). The unleveled playing field: A documentary history of African American experience in sport. Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

Wolff, A. (2005, November 7). Long after Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier in baseball, these Southern college football pioneers desegregated a more violent sport, in a more violent place, at a more violent time. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Yakin, Boaz (Director). (2000). Remember the Titans [DVD]. Covington, GA: Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Recommended Readings:

Demas, L. (2007). Beyond Jackie Robinson: Racial integration in American college football and new directions in sport history. History Compass. Retrieved March 11, 2008 from Google Scholar.

Wolff, A. (2005, November 7). Long after Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier in baseball, these Southern college football pioneers desegregated a more violent sport, in a more violent place, at a more violent time. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Yakin, Boaz (Director). (2000). Remember the Titans [DVD]. Covington, GA: Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Native American Imagery in Sport: The Florida State Seminoles

Author’s note: Throughout this blog feel free to click on any of the hyperlinks which provide some pictures of the racist imagery that exists.

Braves, Indians, Utes, Chiefs—these team nicknames may seem harmless at first glance. Yet, all of these team names, and the symbols used to represent them, are brimming with racist connotations against Native Americans. In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) created standards which prohibit colleges and universities from featuring “hostile and abusive” team names at the NCAA championships (Williams, 2005). This means that if a team wishes to be eligible for an end-of-the-season championship tournament, it may not display any offensive images. Many universities were affected by this ruling because of their selection of mascots that depicts a Native American. By late August, Florida State University (FSU) appealed the NCAA’s ruling and was granted permission for the continued use of the Seminoles nickname and the imagery associated with it (Wieberg, 2005). FSU, along with all other sports programs (high school, collegiate, professional) must realize the cultural implications that accompany the use of Native America imagery to represent their team.

FSU traditions—fans chanting and swinging their arms in a chopping motion; a student depicting Chief Osceola, the former leader of the Seminole tribe; the athletes or cheerleaders wearing uniforms and costumes that imitate the Seminole tribe—romanticize, while at the same time typecast Native American images. Let us assume for the moment that the FSU athletic program respects and honors the Seminole tribe of Florida. Interestingly, the use of the name Seminole, and FSU’s representation of that tribe, has never been approved by any of the Seminole tribes in Oklahoma (King & Springwood, 2001, p. 146). In addition, other Native American tribes are likely to be offended and appalled by the presentation of such images. FSU’s depiction provides a narrow view of Native American life and customs. Before every FSU football game a student ostentatiously rides out on a horse in full face paint, wearing a headdress and traditional Native American attire. An uninformed American or a na├»ve child sees this mascot and assumes that all Native Americans appear and behave like this image of Osceola.

The most avid sports fans, be they Seminole fans or not, seldom are familiar with the history of the Seminole tribe, hence racism ensues because they do not comprehend the full picture. As Davis (2005) noted, “schools cannot control how others, such as the media and other schools/teams, use their mascot” (p. 125). Ignorance towards FSU and its history has been observed in many disturbing instances. As the recent basketball game between our Maryland Terps and FSU’s Seminoles neared an end, the Tomahawk Chop and its accompanying War Chant could be heard and seen by groups in the student section. How many non-FSU fans who display the Tomahawk Chop realize what they are doing? To give another example, in 1999, the Knoxville Sentinel printed a cartoon prior to the Fiesta Bowl between the University of Tennessee and FSU. The cartoon included Smokey (Tennessee’s mascot) and a “buffoonish caricature of a generic Indian.” This cartoon lampooned “the genocide, lies, and destruction associated with the conquest of North America” (King & Springwood, 2001, p. 129). These examples involving FSU are forms of rude, inconsiderate, and ignorant racism.

It may seem obvious for FSU and other teams simply to change their mascot and team branding, but it’s much more complicated than that. The reason that FSU and other schools are opposed, and sometimes unwilling, to change their team name is because of the sense of pride that athletes, students, and alumni have for their team. FSU has a variety of symbols, customs, and rituals that have been taken from the Seminole tribe and used in the sporting tradition. The fans have come to know and love the logo, fight song, and pre-game ceremonies, just to name a few. To change this would destroy the “imagined community” that has been created over the years by fans, the athletic programs and the school (Schultz, 2008). Fans feel bonded by these offensive symbols and to take them away, or even worse, to change the team name would ruin their sense of unity.

An extreme example of people not understanding history relates to FSU head football coach Bobby Bowden’s addition to his signature—“Scalp ‘Em” (King & Springwood, 2001, p. 131). Bowden, or any American for that matter, has no reason to use this phrase. Many people do not appreciate that racism goes beyond the realm of black and white; it extends to many ethnicities. Years after settlers came to colonize, Americans still find it acceptable to mock, stereotype, and abuse the Native Americans’ symbols, cultures, heritage, etc. (Schultz, 2008). So I challenge you to be more thoughtful next time you watch a team with a Native American mascot. Be hesitant to do the Tomahawk Chop in a mocking manner. Be wary of painting your face with war paint. Do not simply accept everything at face value. Next time you’re watching an exciting game featuring the Seminoles, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, or the Chicago Blackhawks (I could keep going), think about the history and implications involved in mocking these cultures.



Davis, L. R. (2005). The Problems with Native American Mascots. In D. S. Eitzen (Ed.), Sport in Contemporary Society: An Anthology. (pp. 121–128). Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

King, C. R., & Springwood, C. F. (2001). The Best Offense… In C. R. King and C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. (pp. 129–156). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska.

Schultz, J. (2008). Module II: Sport in the “New World.” Week 2. University of Maryland, College Park. Speaker.

Wieberg, S. (2005, August 23). NCAA Allowing Florida State to use its Seminole Mascot. USA Today. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from

Williams, B. (2005, August 5). NCAA Executive Committee Issues Guidelines for Use of Native American Mascots at Championship Events. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from

Recommended Readings

Associated Press. (2007, February 17). Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek Performs Last Dance. ESPN. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from

Fisher, D. M. (2001). Chief Bill Orange and the Saltime Warrior. In C. R. King and C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. (pp. 129– 156). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska.

Mohr, J. (2005, August 18). Lame Name Game. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from