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 »


Martin Luther King: The Measure of Man (and sport)

January 18, 2011

In recent months we, the staff at Fitness Information Technology, have had the privilege of publishing (or are preparing to publish) some fine books that have examined the history, culture, and defining roles of African-Americans in sport. These books, together with yesterday’s celebration of what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 82nd birthday, has helped our office gain considerable introspect to the dynamics of the sporting arena, and how it has shaped the lives of not only the African-American community, but the national and global community of sport as a whole. We have found that while much focus has been brought to the triumphs of African-Americans in sport, there exists a parallel side—a bleaker side—that shows we still have much to change. Yet we still have much to be thankful for.

The realm of sport in America is a complicated one. Throughout America’s history, the role of the black athlete has been severely limited; many athletes suffered mightily through poor wages, hostile crowds, and even saboteurs and cheating. In the upcoming Sport, Race, and Ethnicity, edited by Daryl Adair, author and scholar Andrew Ritchie brings new focus to Major Taylor, an African-American cyclist who resorted to racing in white Australia to escape the horrors of racing at home. At the time, white Australia was very intolerant towards Aborigines and blacks, yet they observed the champion cyclist with a sort of wondrous enthusiasm as explained by Taylor when he first arrived:

I could not restrain my tears as I looked over the side of the liner and saw hundreds of boats . . . decked out with American flags with their whistles tooting and men and women aboard them with megaphones greeting me with this salutation, ‘Taylor, Taylor! Welcome Major Taylor!’

In another chapter by Randy Roberts, the iconic, prize-fighting white brawler, John L. Sullivan, is showcased against another icon of American masculinity—the legendary black fighter Jack Johnson. Roberts writes how Sullivan declined to fight black boxers in 1892—although there were several great contenders within the ranks–and,

In one stroke, Sullivan banned black boxers from the empire of American masculinity. He set a precedent—Jim Crowing the most important athletic title at a time when ‘separate but equal’ was becoming the law of the land.

But we need not look too far back to realize that African-Americans in modern sport are still facing troublesome times, even though great changes have been made in terms of equality. Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and author of 100 Pioneers: African Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, shared some of his thoughts:

In the 1970s, African-American student-athletes were graduating at rates hovering around 25 percent and were not employed in any significant way in college athletic departments, professional franchises, or league offices. It was easy to conclude that African-American athletes were being used and exploited at that period of time. Students would come to our colleges and universities dreaming that they would become a pro or at least have a college degree and go home to their communities with neither and seem to be double losers.

After many years of pressure and studies, the disparity between blacks and whites in the hiring practices has certainly changed. Now all of the major professional sports leagues that we cover in the Racial and Gender Report Cards receive A’s in their racial hiring practices and B’s for gender hiring practices.

The sad exception is college sport, where issues of unfair hiring practices or lack of opportunity for African-Americans are still too evident. Women still coach less than half of the women’s teams in college sport. In terms of the graduation rates, the rates of African-Americans have increased dramatically. The greatest remaining problem in that area is that the disparity between the graduation rates for African-Americans and whites is still too significant. More pressure is needed, as exerted by organizations like the Black Coaches and Administrators.

Braham Dabscheck, industrial relations scholar, sporting aficionado, and author of the upcoming Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, explores, within parts of his book, complicated labor intricacies and how they have been applied to racial divides. Dabscheck wrote about the different worlds Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige—“The Darling of Whiteball and the Epicentre of Blackball”—lived and competed in. He compared the men as being at the top of their game—in hitting and pitching, respectively—and they both had rambunctious nocturnal lives, yet, “The real difference between Paige and Ruth, of course, is that they lived in two different United States of Americas . . . during his prime, Paige was denied the chance to display his talents in the ‘big-time’ because of the color of his skin.”

But Dabscheck was among those who celebrated the inroads that Martin Luther King created within the spectacle and culture of sport, writing to us:

[Dr. King] had a dream that his children would ‘live up in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

Sport is one such arena where African-American athletes have demonstrated again and again that they are equal to any of the ‘great stars’ who have dazzled us with their skills and daring. Sport, in its celebration of excellence, is intolerant of arrangements or ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ which discriminate on the basis of race, color, or creed.

In terms of the long march of African-Americans towards equality, Jackie Robinson—who broke the color barrier in ‘The National Pastime’ when he turned out for his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947—has assumed an important role as an exemplar of Martin Luther King’s dream. He was just one of many such athletes, in baseball and other sports, who have demonstrated the equality of opportunity, not so-called racial or other characteristics, is the key to success and performance.

Here, at FiT, we are proud to help promote the academic and cultural backgrounds of sport—the raw beginnings of social change, the overtures of hope, the spirit of pure competition, and the endurance of the spirit. We thank our authors, readers, and colleagues for their assistance in improving our world to one in which we can be proud of, and we thank Dr. King for providing a great foundation of ideals in which we can follow and invoke.

Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy. – From the speech, “The Measures of Man,” 1959. (In memoriam, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 2011)

***

Daryl Adair is an associate professor of sport management at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. He is the editor of an upcoming collection of essays, titled Sport, Race, and Ethnicity: Narratives of Difference and Diversity, to be published by Fitness Information Technology this summer, 2011.

Richard Lapchick is a pioneer in social change and racial equality in sport. He is chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. He is also the director for both the Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sport and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. He has written extensively on race, gender, diversity, and hope in sport, including the titles 100 Pioneers: African Americans Who Broke the Color Barrier, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations, and150 Heroes: People in Sport Who Make This a Better World, published by FiT.

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.


A World Cup primer for South Africa

June 9, 2010

Ah, the World Cup.

This is the point where I’m supposed to write something like, “Every four years the world comes together in an event that stops global production, and unifies cultures like never before,” or something similarly trite. But anyone who watches the World Cup—which is most of the world excluding vast swathes of the United States and Canada—knows that it is a beast that starts and stops wars, ruins careers, makes Christ-like heroes, enthralls criminals and entrepreneurs, and ignites the flame of desire in millions of children and young adults.

And, every four years, the beast morphs into some new type of creature, dependent upon where it calls “home”—United States, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Japan/Korea, France . . . and now South Africa. In the bidding for 2010, eventual winner South Africa was still considered a real gamble: rife with racial tension, possessing a high crime and murder rate (Johannesburg is one of the murder capitals of the world), economically unstable with a disparate proportion of the poor, and largely inaccessible to the middle classes of the world that want to fly and participate in the festivities.

But, in all honesty, that type of thinking is largely what put African Union countries in the back seat of world politics, and, dare I say it, racist tendencies from Euro- and Latin-centered soccer (or football, if you will). South Africa, it can be argued, has been defying conventional wisdom and naysayers. Even though 70,000 construction workers went on strike one year ago, the host cities of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Polokwane, Rustenburg, and Nelspruit still completed or upgraded their stadiums that seat anywhere from 43,500 in Mbombela Stadium, to more than 91,000 in Soccer City, which will be filled to capacity in the first and final matches. The ticketing glitches have been fixed—originally most of the local populace didn’t have access to tickets, since they were sold exclusively online, and Internet access is not commonplace. Instead of seeing racial tensions rise, the country has been experiencing a racial and cultural renaissance of sorts. Although there are several problems on the horizon, we have several unique moments in history to look forward to. Here is a list of some things to look for, good or bad, that may define this World Cup and make it unique to South Africa:

1. Sex trafficking and AIDS – Prostitution exists at all World Cups, no matter the venue, but this year the world has made an unprecedented push to curb sex trafficking, since there is already a problem endemic to urban areas of South Africa like Cape Town. According to one report, an estimated 38,000 children each year are forced into prostitution in South Africa, and the World Cup is supposed to make that number grow exponentially. Additionally, AIDS rates are reported to be higher in South Africa than anywhere else in the continent—12% or 5.7 million out of 48 million people. Additionally, only 28% of AIDS patients were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

2. The Vuvuzela – If you get annoyed at Korea’s “thundersticks,” England’s bawdy chants and songs, or Brazil’s drums, you may as well avoid the South African venues entirely, thanks to a relatively new invention called the vuvuzela, a plastic horn that, when played en masse, sounds like a deafening buzz. Collectively played, it has been measured at 140 decibels—louder than a jet engine. As reported on Smithsonianmag.com, “You can walk around with a pretty massive headache if you’re not wearing earplugs,” said John Nauright, professor of sports management at George Mason University. There are currently 600,000 more on order from the traditional maker of the horns. Read the rest of this entry »