Our list of good sport literature reads

March 20, 2011

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.” Read the rest of this entry »


NFL, Media Buzzing About Boorish Behavior Toward Female Reporter

September 16, 2010

TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz during a Super Bowl media day.

One of the hottest topics after Week 1 of the NFL season has been something that didn’t happen on the gridiron, but rather in the locker room—players’ behavior toward female reporters.

Members of the New York Jets (both players and coaches) acted immaturely toward TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz during her visit to a practice to do a story on quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sainz was subjected to catcalls from players, and during one practice drill an assistant coach seemingly went out of his way to have players catch passes near where Sainz was standing.

Opinions on the incident have varied, but the majority of opinions have rightly been that the Jets were wrong for making Sainz feel uncomfortable by their behavior. A small minority, however, have said that Sainz brings the attention to herself by the way the former Miss Universe contestant dresses and behaves (her attire and actions at past Super Bowl media days had previously created headlines).

The incident also once again stirred up the decades-old debate about whether female journalists should be allowed in NFL locker rooms for postgame interviews.

Washington Post sports writer Dan Steinberg, who is featured prominently in Media Relations in Sport, 3rd Edition, used his D.C. Sports Blog as a forum for shooting down opinions of fans who believe female reporters don’t belong in NFL locker rooms. Steinberg’s Washington Post colleague Cindy Boren also weighed in on her blog regarding reporters being in NFL locker rooms.


Semenya Saga Comes to Conclusion

July 6, 2010

As a follow-up to an earlier blog post here, Caster Semenya, the 19-year-old South African who won the World Championships in the 800 meters last summer, was cleared July 6 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to return to competition after a nearly year-long “investigation.” The teenager was subjected to public ridicule after her eye-opening gold medal performance, in which she beat the silver medalist by 2.45 seconds.

The IAAF ordered Semenya to undergo gender testing, and what followed was rampant speculation and irresponsible media reports about her gender due to her impressive victory, toned physique, and tone of voice. But after months of behind-the-scenes talks, the IAAF finally cleared the way for Semenya to return to competition.

In October 2009, Fitness Information Technology wrote an in-depth blog post about Semenya’s situation, in which Susan Bandy, a leading scholar on transgendered and transsexual athletes, provided some interesting context and insight into the topic. Click here to read that blog post.


Leading Expert Comments on Case of Caster Semenya

October 7, 2009

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt shattered world records en route to gold medals in the 100 meters (9.69 seconds) and 200 (19.19) this summer at the track and field world championships in Berlin. But headlines focused more on the sex of a South African athlete than the records broken and medals won.

Caster Semenya easily outpaced the competition in the women’s 800 meter finals, besting the silver medalist by an eye-opening 2.45 seconds. But even before her gold medal effort, there were accusations that Semenya wasn’t a female, due not only to her impressive times in the 800 but also her muscular build and tone of her voice. The speculation was so rampant, in fact, that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ordered gender tests to be conducted even prior to the world championships to answer the questions about Semenya.

Recently, an Australian newspaper reported that the results of the gender test revealed that Semenya, who is 18-years old, has both female and male sexual organs. To date, the IAAF has neither confirmed nor denied the report, saying only that the results were in and a decision in the case would most likely be made in November.

The story raises several questions, and to answer many of them, Fitness Information Technology (FIT) contacted Dr. Susan Bandy, one of the leading scholars on transgendered and transsexual athletes. Bandy, a visiting assistant professor at The Ohio State University, was an invited distinguished lecturer in the spring by West Virginia University’s International Center for Performance Excellence, which houses FIT. She is also an editor of Crossing Boundaries: An International Anthology of Women’s Experiences in Sport.

Q: It was recently alleged by an Australian newspaper that the gender tests conducted on South Africa’s Caster Semenya revealed that she has both female and male sexual organs. If the report is true, how should the IAAF proceed?

Bandy: It seems that the IAAF must re-examine its policies concerning human rights, rights of privacy, and matters concerning gender, sexual identity, and sexuality as these pertain to sport.

Q: Does the IAAF already have policies in place regarding transgendered and transsexual athletes? Do other international federations, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), have existing guidelines in place?

Bandy: Yes, the IAAF has policies regarding transgendered and transsexual athletes as well as a position that “there will be no compulsory, standard, regular gender verification during IAAF sanctioned championships.” If suspicious cases or challenges occur, as was the case with Semenya, then the IAAF will investigate the matter. In 2004, the IOC instituted policies to allow these athletes to compete, and in 2007 the NCAA also instituted policies for transgendered and transsexual athletes. Read the rest of this entry »