Our list of good sport literature reads

As I wrap up editorial work on two books for my publishing house – Sport, Race, and Ethnicity: Narratives of Difference and Diversity, and Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game,  I’m realizing that I’ve had a wonderful experience editing these two works. The first, edited byDaryl Adair, features essays from a multitude of international scholars in the fields of sport history, sport management, sport and culture, sociology, communications, and then some—all on the topics of race, ethnicity, and aboriginality in sport. The second book is a collection of essays by scholar Braham Dabscheck on the varying underpinnings of baseball: labor relations, sentimentalism, ambassadorship, race, and culture.

From my standpoint as a reader only, I have to say that these two books are wonderful, and although “pegged” as sport pseudo-academia (I say this because of the entertaining value on top of the intellectual value), they shouldn’t be confined by the framework of sport. These books are for anyone with an interest in humanity. Sport serves only as the vehicle to deliver the stories.

Which brings me to my topic: Too often I see hungry readers, who have no vested interest in sports, bypassing sport literature. As an editor, writer, and journalist, I feel I must make a case for sport literature as a foundation for humanity. The best way to do this is to take a look at a solid reading list, hand-picked by scholars. Attached below is a recommended reading list by writers and scholars in the field—Dr. Steven Pope, Dr. Braham Dabscheck, and Dr. John Nauright (see bottom of article for biographies):

The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture (1994), by Gerald Early. From the jacket: “The sport of prizefighting forms the intellectual core and central metaphor of this celebrated collection by one of our most daring writers. Early’s subjects, though, range far and wide—his insights and expertise illuminate subjects from multiculturalism, Black History Month, and baseball to racist memorabilia, Malcolm X, early jazz music, and the raising of daughters. Important and captivating, The Culture of Bruising, as William Gass has written, ‘provide[s] for the reader an almost continuous revelation.’”

Beyond a Boundary (1963), by C.L.R. James. John Nauright says, “In the book James recounts the history and legacy of colonialism in his native Trinidad and how that history impacted on his own life and on the development of the sport of cricket in the Caribbean. James, a leading Marxist influenced scholar, was influenced by his favorite novel, Vanity Fair and was a life long passionate follower of cricket, not a sport usually associated with the masses. In the West Indies, however, cricket did become a lingua franca that permeated all classes and races. Beyond a Boundary tells this story with passionate expression, keen cultural insight and a political edge that all merge to generate a compelling study of history, culture, politics and sport in the Caribbean.”

Crossing Boundaries: An International Anthology of Women’s Experiences in Sport (1999), edited by Susan Bandy and Anne S. Darden. From the jacket: “Crossing Boundaries is the first anthology of its kind—international in scope, cross-cultural in context, and uniquely female in content. The collection includes poetry, short stories, prose memoirs, dramas, and journalistic works by women from over twenty countries, including such celebrated contemporary authors as Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Wislawa Szymborska, and Joyce Carol Oates. The female voices that resonate through these works are often angular, raging, and knowing; at other times they are soft, melodic, peaceful, and yearning.

Baseball: The Early Years / Baseball: The Golden Age, by Harold Seymour, Oxford University Press, New York, 1960 / 1971. From Dabscheck: “Early work that demonstrated that sport was capable of research and writings norms associated with other areas of scholarship.”

Eight Men out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof, Owl Book, New York, 1987 (first published 1963). From Dabscheck: “A classic study of one of the greatest scandals in the history of sport.”

Lapham’s Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 3, (Summer 2010). This edition is titled “Sport & Games.” From Lapham’s introduction: “One not need be American to know that sport is play and play is freedom. It’s not a secret kept from children in Tahiti or Brazil. Dogs romp, whales leap, penguins dance. That play is older than the kingdoms of the Euphrates and the Nile is a truth told by the Dutch scholar, Johan Hizinga, in Homo Ludents, his study of history that discovers in the ‘primeval soil of play’ the origin of ‘the great instinctive forces of civilized life,’ of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science. ‘Play,’ he said, ‘cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.’”

Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line, by Adrian Burgos Jr., University of California Press, Berkley, Los Angeles and London, 2007. From Dabscheck: “A nuanced account of the changing role of Latinos in the national pastime and nuances and subtleties associated with race in the American experience.”

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball, by Stephen Jay Gould, Jonathan Cape, London, 2004. Dabscheck says, “One of the great thinkers of modern times demonstrates how logic and scientific method can be applied to unravelling various aspects of American baseball.”

Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball, by John Helyar, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994. Dabscheck: “An account of the internal operations of an unstable cartel.”

The End of Baseball As We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960-81, by Charles P. Korr, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2002. Dabscheck: “Examines the role of Marvin Miller in transforming the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and revolutionary change in labor relations in baseball.”

One More July: A Football Dialogue with Bill Curry (1977), by George Plimpton. From the jacket: “This unusual book ‘happened’ on July when two men who love football drove to training camp in Green Bay with a tape recorder on the seat between them. Plimpton listened. Curry talked … and it’s as if we are riding with them, listening, as an NFL pro tells all: his intimate memories of ten years with Unitas and Lombardi, the Packers and the Colts, the thrill of the Super Bowl, the joy and heartache and glory that is football … and the bittersweet sadness of a veteran heading for his last July.”

A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball, by Marvin Miller, Birch Lane Press, New York, 1991. Dabscheck: “An insider’s account of how he revolutionised baseball’s labor relations.”

Don’t Look Back: Satchel Paige-In the Shadows of Baseball, by Mark Ribowsky, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994. Dabscheck: “A gritty study of the underside of unorganised baseball and the fortunes of a superb African American pitcher who lived in a society which regarded him as less than persons of another color.”

A Well Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports, by Brad Snyder, Viking, New York, 2006. Dabscheck says, “An in depth study of Curt Flood’s unsuccessful case before the United States Supreme Court to have baseball’s employment rules to be inconsistent with the operation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act 1890.”

Laughing in the Hills (1980), by Bill Barich. From the jacket: “[Barich] spent day after day watching the morning workouts, poring over the Daily Racing Form, talking to trainers, jockeys, owners, and the Runyonesque characters that people the world of racing. The result is a tale of magic and humor, reminiscent of Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which explores alchemy and pari-mutuel betting, the writings of Machiavelli and the evolution of the horse, the geology of California and the twisting and turnings of a man’s life.”

Pay Up and Play the Game: Professional Sport in Britain, 1875-1914, by Wray Vamplew, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988. Dabscheck: “An examination of the development of professional sport in Britain.”

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger, Harper Perennial, New York, 1990. Dabsheck: “A study of the role of sport in a disadvantaged community.”

Making the Team: The Cultural Work of Baseball Fiction, by Timothy Morris, University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 1997. “A superb book which in examining fiction writing in children’s books forces the reader to think about how to resolve problems of writing.”

Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, by Alex Bellos, Bloomsbury, London, 2002. Dabscheck: “Examines the various ways in which football (soccer) expresses the Brazilian way of life.”

A Whole Other Ball Game: Women’s Literature on Women’s Sport (1997), edited by Joli Sandoz. From the jacket: “Since the late 1800s, women have repeatedly proven their fitness for competitive sport … simply by playing the game. Any game. Off court and on; despite all opposition. A literary first, A Whole Other Ball Game deals with all aspects of women’s competitive sports, from the thrill of winning before hometown fans to the interpersonal dynamics on a team. This engaging collection of short stories, poems, and novel excerpts tells the exciting story of women’s sports from the sportswoman’s own point of view.”

Africa, Football and FIFA: Politics, Colonialism and Resistance, by Paul Darby, Frank Cass, London, 2002. “Provides an historical account of the contradictory role that football (soccer) has played in Africa.”

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink, by David Margolick, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2005. Dabscheck: “An examination of one of the seminal sporting events in world history which was perceived as a forerunner to the conflagration that was World War 11,while for the participants it was about boxing prowess.”

The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, by David Goldblatt, Viking, London, 2006. Dabscheck says, “A seminal study of the role and growth of football (soccer) across the globe.”

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport, by Michael Oriard, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2007. Dabscheck: “An insightful account of the organisation and operation of American football by a former player, now college professor.”

An Unholy Alliance: The Sacred and Modern Sports(2004), by Robert J. Higgs and Michael C. Braswell. From the jacket: “Often witty and conversational in tone, An Unholy Alliance expands the discussion on sports and religion by articulating a theistic criticism of the works and perspectives of scholars whom the authors identify as apologists for the consideration of sports as religion. Although they deny that sports constitute a religion, Higgs and Braswell identify various ways that sports, as “an authentic archetype of human action,” share common elements with religion, even as do works of art and acts of war. But rather than establishing an alliance between religion and either war or sports, the authors argue, religion should provide their check.”

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, by Geoffrey C. Ward, Palmico Sydney, 2005. Dabscheck: “An examination of the life and times of Jack Johnson, the first African American to become the heavy weight boxing champion of the world.”

A Social History of English Rugby Union, by Tony Collins, Routledge, London, 2009. Dabscheck: “A definitive account of rugby union as an exemplar of the essence of Englishness.”

A Corner of A Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport, by Ramachandra Guha, Picador, London, 2002. Dabscheck: “A first class study of how cricket fits into Indian culture and its evolution as a secular religion.”

The Damned United, Faber and Faber, by David Peace, London 2006. “A work of fiction based on the life of legendary manager Brian Clough which depicts the gritty and hard nature of English football (soccer) in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth, Vintage, London, 1973. “An irreverent and humorous account of how baseball fits into the American psyche.”

Steven Pope is a sport historian, author, editor, and director of Fitness Information Technology at West Virginia University. Disclaimer: He’s my boss. He also has a very stout bookshelf.

Braham Dabscheck is an industrial relations scholar, sports writer and enthusiast, and author of the upcoming title, Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, to be published this summer, 2011, by FiT. He is a fan of the Minnesota Twins, and a super fanatic of St. Kilda Australian Rules Football. His tennis game isn’t as quite as strong as his wit and cordiality.

John Nauright is a professor of sport management and the director of the Academy of International Sport at George Mason University in Virginia and author of Long Run to Freedom: Sport, Cultures and Identities in South Africa. He is author and editor of numerous books in sport management and sport studies including The Political Economy of Sport; Making the Rugby World: Race, Gender, Commerce; Sport, Cultures and Identities in South Africa; and Global Sport Management (FIT, 2010). He has taught in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Daryl Adair is the editor of Sport, Race, and Ethnicity: Narratives of Difference and Diversity, and is Associate Professor of Sport Management at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has taught at The Flinders University of South Australia (Adelaide), De Montfort University (Leicester), The University of Queensland (Brisbane), and the University of Canberra (ACT) before joining the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism in July 2007. Daryl is presently a member of the executive of the Australian Society for Sports History.


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