Reflections on my “Teaching The Black Athlete” series

The Paseo YMCA, KCMO where the Negro League was formed in 1920.

The Paseo YMCA, KCMO where the Negro League was formed in 1920.

The final part of my summer series of designing my African-American Studies course “The Black Athlete” for this fall is up at the Sports in American History blog. The post talks mostly about my philosophy and strategy in creating assignments. They’re not necessarily unique to a sports history course. I don’t include the syllabus in this series, though I plan on sharing it on “Teaching” section of this blog once it’s finalized. If you’re curious about how things go, this winter I’ll probably write some sort of postmortem (also on this blog) to see how well things worked in the course.

The teaching series didn’t quite turn out as I hoped. While it definitely helped me with my course prep, I felt like I was either too vague or too specific when writing about it. Being a relatively inexperienced teacher, I felt kind of reluctant, under-qualified, and vulnerable putting ideas out there that haven’t all been tested. It’s really hard to write about your choices and goals without being too specific or knowing if they’re truly the best approach. In the end, I wanted to share my process and approach to start a conversation and get people thinking. Perhaps it is all that time I spent in the Ed. School as an undergrad, but I believe that reflecting on our choices is important. So as the series ends, I hope everyone who’s read the posts has at least found it thought-provoking and maybe a tiny bit useful. Thank you to everyone who has commented and shared their advice. I’ve really enjoyed the conversations; hopefully they continue.


Teaching “The Black Athlete”: Part I Choosing Course Materials

Teaching “The Black Athlete”: Part 2 Organizing the Course

Teaching “The Black Athlete”: Part 3 Designing Assignments

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The Kansas City Royals and Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules”

Andrew McGregor:

It’s impossible to totally escape my bias, but in my latest blog post for Sport in American History I tried to interrogate narratives surrounding the Kansas City Royals from the playoffs to the All-Star game to highlight the many contradictions and embedded cultural values within baseball’s “unwritten rules.”

Originally posted on Sport in American History:

This is the first of two posts on Baseball’s Unwritten Rules.  The rules entail issues of masculinity and decorum. They’re often contradictory and at times fans, players, and former players in sports media disagree on what they really are. In this series we want to take a closer look at them and try to parse out the values and assumptions are embedded within them. We argue that the very concept of ‘unwritten rules’ reveals coded language that highlight and expose the competing values in regards to race, class, masculinity, and fair play in American culture. Indeed, narratives surrounding the “unwritten rules” are a way to combine nostalgia, history, and sport into a type of cultural pedagogy.

In this post I use narratives surrounding the Kansas City Royals as lens to try to understand what exactly the “unwritten rules” and expose contradictions within them. Then on Thursday, Dain TePoel will interrogate…

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APUSH Grading in Louisville

I just returned home from grading AP U.S. History exams in Louisville, KY. It was 8 consecutive days of grading from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. It was intense. I graded one of four short answer questions on a scale of 1-3. Others graded longer essays, document based questions. We were organized into tables, with a Table Leader that trained us and encouraged us to share essays and help each other out. Each table had its own camaraderie. I got to know the guys at my table through conversations over  meals, drinks, and general commiserating about the grading process.

It was a great experience that allowed to me to chat about history, teaching, and so much more with likeminded people. I met a lot of great folks and got to catch up with some old colleagues. This helped me learn a lot about history, teaching, evaluating, the structure of high school curriculum, and several other things. While the gig comes with a hefty paycheck and an all-expenses paid trip to Louisville, the best part was the people. I plan to return next year.

Rapid Response: Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp Doping

I’m in Louisville, KY this week grading AP U.S History exams so I haven’t had the time to pay close attention to the news, which is a shame because it has been a busy news week between FIFA, Sepp Blatter, and today’s story about Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar. As a former distance runner and track coach, I’ve had a couple of people ask me today about the Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp story. Here’s my rapid reaction and quick thoughts. Let me know what you think or what other questions the story bring to mind.

First off, the news honestly doesn’t surprise me. I feel bad for Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, but it seems like Salazar has been doing shady things trying to get ahead for years. Those crazy extra oxygen tents and special houses in Oregon, plus his own ultra competitive career. It’s sad to say this, but in track and field it’s becoming more common to assume people are dirty rather than clean. This is especially true in sprinting, so that this involve distance running just broaden those concerns. At the same time, I hate how the news always tries to say either the coach or the athlete are innocent while the other is guilty (in this case Rupp is innocent while Salazar is the villan). Both have agency and are guilty of what happened. Elite athlete are very aware of what they put in and on their bodies. To be sure, Rupp and Salazar have a long relationship that dates to his teen years and maybe Salazar took advantage of an ambitious Rupp willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. But, if the doping has been going on that long it would have been detected by now, right? Maybe not, maybe its a new sophisticated test or something. Regardless, both individuals have agency and it tremendously affects them both.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nike reacts. Rupp and Salazar are two of their big athletes in distance running and both spend a lot o time at their training center. I’m pretty sure Salazar is a Nike coach (as well as a special coach for USATF and the British Track and Field body). This really creates questions about not just his ability and motives, but also those governing bodies and their screening/oversight processes. Nike is hurt not just with its track and field interests, but also with the emerging case file against it. Given the rumors about its involvement in FIFA — a lot of folks assume they’re involved in the bribing — the company is starting to look even more greedy and shady than it already did. Nike’s actions and greed beg us to ask several broader questions about the nature of modern sport. Such as: What’s more important, sportsmanship, fair play, winning, marketing, money? As apparel companies, promoters, media conglomerates, and sponsorships dollars increase and become more and more tied to each other (sometimes even being the same people), these questions become more and more important. You can ask the same thing about ESPN, College Football, and the SEC, for example. Does winning matter less if no one is watching or you make less money? This has become the culture of professional and amateur sports not just in the U.S. but globally.

It will also be interesting to see how USATF reacts. Rupp was only the 3rd American to ever medal in the Olympic 10K (and the first non-Native American) when he won silver at London in 2012. Many view him as America’s hope for distance running glory. What’s next for him? Sure, it hasn’t been proven yet, but doubt is often enough to destroy your career — just look at MLB. Does USATF need distance running or big name athletes? Maybe. USADA has done a good job of holding its ground and I trust them to continue to do so, but Rupp was in some ways a “Great White [American] Hope” in a sport often dominated by Africans. It’s a brutal indictment to those wanting to see a revival of American distance running, akin to the days of Salazar, Ryun, Santee, and Prefontaine. Globalization has rendered that landscape obsolete, and this news is just one more reminder. Western chemistry is perhaps the only match, but it’s always exposed in the end.

This story is an entry point into conversations about a lot of different issues and elicits questions that we don’t have answers to. While I’m sure this story will soon fade away — especially because track and field isn’t a major sport that capture the 24-hour news cycle, like the NFL — these questions will remain.

I know many of you are track and field fans. What do you think? What questions does it make you ask? How do you see the story playing out?

Race & Protest: The Cultural Significance of Football at Oklahoma

This week I’ve been Tweeting and sharing stories and links about the events at the University of Oklahoma. The video showing racist behavior by Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity members is disturbing. I’ve tried to add some context by sharing my research into the history of Oklahoma and the university. During these discussions, I’ve payed particularly close attention to OU Football Coach Bob Stoops. He’s done a tremendous job of coming out against the actions and taking a firm stand against racism. President Boren has also done an admirable job providing quick, decisive leadership. The fraternity has already been shut down. Two of its member have also been expelled for their behavior.

Today news came out that Coach Bob Stoops, Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, and the University of Oklahoma football did not practice yesterday (which was supposed to be their first spring practice). Instead, they met at the football complex, prayed together, and then marched through campus arm-in-arm demonstrating against racism. The Oklahoma Football Twitter account Tweeted pictures using #notonOUrcampus and #Sooners Stand United.

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Also on Monday, top-recruit Jean Delance announced he would not attend OU and decommitted. These actions illustrate the importance of football as a symbol of the university. I’ve focused predominately on the actions of the football team at OU because it’s my area of research. My dissertation explores the OU football dynasty during the 1950s, and how it came to represent the state and create pride for its citizens. Football became a symbol of not just the university, but also the state. Bud Wilkinson, the football coach during that era, became one of the most important people in the state (this later led him to run for political office). The central role of football in the state is significant, and thus the leadership of its coach is crucial for gaining the attention of Sooners. After all, as my study shows, football played a key role in shaping the state’s culture. I believe Stoops and the OU football team continue to do so today.

Race and football has a long history together. The University of Oklahoma was the second to last football program to integrate its team in the old Big 8 (Missouri was the last). Though they were 14 years ahead of their biggest rival, the University of Texas, who integrated in 1970, it was a slow process. OU faced two Supreme Court cases during the late-1940s that would eventually force integration of the university. It took nearly four years from the first lawsuit until African-Americans were finally admitted. Once admitted, the University dragged its feet. Using railings and ropes, it tried to keep black students separate in classrooms. University President George Cross received hundreds of letters. Many of them from local residents deploring the idea, while out-of-state writers shamed Oklahoma for treating African-American students like animals, caging them off with ropes and railings. Soon, there were similar concerns about the integration of the student union and the football stadium. Could black students attend games? Would the intensity of sports cause problems? Administrators debated the pros and cons. Though George McLaurin and Ada Lois Sipuel sought educational equality, not athletic integration, they clearly got the ball rolling.

Indeed, in 1950 coach Bud Wilkinson announced that he would welcome any black player who was willing to try out for the team. A few tried out, but no one made the team until 1956. Prentice Gautt, a fullback from Oklahoma City became the first black player on the University of Oklahoma football team. He was a standout athlete at all-black Douglas High School. During his high school career, Gautt played in the first-ever integrated game in the state of Oklahoma. He was also the first African-American to play in the state all-star game, though he was a late addition and it required special permission.

Gautt’s success at OU was due, in part, to the support he received from the African-American community in Oklahoma City. According to Sooner Magazine, “A group of black doctors and pharmacists in Oklahoma City had funded a four-year scholarship for a scholar-athlete who could make the grade at OU.” This would save Wilkinson, and presumably other OU coaches, from having to use an athletic scholarship on a black player, which undoubtedly would have created a quite a controversy among fans and boosters. Because of Gautt’s athletic prowess, he easily could have chosen to attend another school who had offered him a real scholarship (a year later Gautt was given an athletic scholarship), but OU’s football clout meant more to him. They were the best team not just in Oklahoma, but the entire country. Playing at OU allowed him to fulfill one of his childhood dreams.

The Sooners were in the middle of a 47-consecutive game winning streak when Gautt joined the team. The 1956 team was named national champions for the second year in a row, but because of eligibility rules Gautt was relegated to the freshman team. Oddly, I’ve found relatively little coverage of Gautt and the integration of football at OU in the mainstream white press. Because of the earlier Supreme Court cases, the papers seemed to believe that Oklahoma was progressive and had moved beyond race. This, of course, was not true. The newspapers do reveal some of the difficulties Gautt faced. A few of his fellow freshman refused to play along side an African-American. Because of this, one of these teammates decided to leave OU. Most, however, supported him. When the freshman team was denied integrated dining following a game in Tulsa, they chose to walk out in solidarity.

According to Sooner Magazine, Gautt was sure to go out of his way to appease Southern customs, such as avoiding being seen with a female classmates. “When class was over, she would go back to the Quad, and I’d go the same way to practice,” he told the magazine. “I can remember slowly putting up my brushes one at a time, washing them and washing them and thinking `Holy cow, we have to do all of this…” Indeed, he struggled to have much of a social life in Norman and instead often drove to back home to Oklahoma City.

He earned a spot on the varsity team his sophomore year (just as the winning-streak ended). On the varsity team he continued to face racism. In Texas, state laws prohibited housing Gautt with the team in their Worth Hotel in Fort Worth before the big OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl, so other arrangements had to be made. Like earlier, the team showed solidarity and changed venues with him. Despite these set backs, Gautt stuck with it. During his junior year, he finally came into his own on the field. He was named MVP of the 1959 Orange Bowl. Success helped Gautt become more accepted on campus and in Oklahoma.

Following his playing day at OU, Gautt was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. He stayed in Cleveland for a year before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. After seven years with the Cardinals, Gautt retired and became an assistant for Dan Devine at Missouri in 1968. While coaching, he earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology focusing on minority athletes. Eventually he joined the Big 8 (and later Big 12) as an assistant commissioner.

Gautt’s experience at Oklahoma shaped his later career and how he viewed race and athletics. In a TV interview during Bud Wilkinson’s 1964 U.S. Senate campaign, Gautt outlined some of his experience at OU and his views on Civil Rights and racial issues in sport.

Well you know this problem of integration, the Civil Rights bill, the Public Accommodations bill, they are, to me, when I hear people talk about it, it’s a big farce. Because it is easy for a person to get up and say I’m for civil rights, I’m for equal opportunity and I’m for this and I’m for that. But I believe until you make the first move in acting, or acting out what you’re saying, it’s no good.

Gautt believed in action, and he thought words were meaningless unless the were backed up. Bud Wilkinson backed up his word and Gautt supported him for Senate because “I have experienced it [Wilkinson’s actions].” During the interview, Gautt explained one example where Wilkinson stood up for Gautt and cut through racist views on the football team.

In 1959, uh we had a problem. We had, I was up for all-American, we had several fellas on the team that resented this. They didn’t think that I should have been up. They began to talk about me behind my back. We played Northwestern, we lost a very crucial game, our first game of the season. We came back we beat a team just barely, then we went to Texas, we played, we lost the game. We came back for practice that Tuesday. Tuesday we had a lousy practice. And he called us up in a huddle, and he said everybody in. We were really amazed because practice wasn’t over. He came into the dressing room we were in there milling around, talking with each other, and everybody sat down as he came in, and he said I want to talk to you for a moment. He said the fellow you’ve been talking about, he didn’t do, he didn’t ask for this all-American publicity. He didn’t ask for anything, the sportswriters selected him. He had the publicity from the paper. And I think it’s unjust that you talk about him behind his back. And until all of you decide that you want to play ball, you want to play together, that you’re men enough, and then stand up and tell him the things that you’ve said about him behind his back, I don’t want to have anything to do with you. And he walked out and slammed the door. Well, immediately fellas began to stand up and apologize to me for what they’d said. We band together, got together and we played wonderful football, at least up until the Nebraska game, which we lost. I think that was one of the first time Oklahoma had lost to the Big 8, one of the Big 8 foes, in pretty good a while.

(The quotes above are from this video interview).

Wilkinson was able to provide this leadership because, according to Gautt, he was “a secure person who felt pretty good about who and what he was.” He had the respect and the authority because of his success and his position within the state to say “You can he a part of my program. Regardless of what other people think or feel or do, I want you to be a part of my program.” This, in turn, put Gautt at ease and allowed him to trust his coach.

The response at OU follows this tradition. President Boren’s strong words have been followed by swift action and expulsions. Coach Stoops, like Wilkinson, has displayed remarkable leadership as well. Monday’s protest demonstrates to Oklahoma football players, and fans of the program, that its leader will not tolerate racism.

Gautt’s words, his example, and his determination still loom larger for the Sooners. The Prentice Gautt Academic Center connected to Memorial Stadium supports Oklahoma athletes academically. Likewise, until his death in 2005, Gautt frequently returned to OU to offer his wisdom. In 1987 he told Sooner Magazine, “Regardless of how far we’ve come, we still have a long way to go in terms of people relating to people. We’re not talking about just black to white and white to black: we’re talking about people relating, families, husbands and wives, kids and other kids. Underlying that is a message of love–what it really means to care for somebody.” As Oklahoma moves forward, I hope these words from one of the school’s most important racial pioneers guide it. It’s heartening to see Stoops and the football team lead the way. Like Wilkinson and Gautt breaking barriers in the 1950s, the cultural importance of football remains important and will go a long way in starting the healing process.

Quick Thoughts: Racism at OU

I’ve been studying the University of Oklahoma for about a year now. I’ve immersed myself in the culture of the university and the state. Sadly, the latest news about the actions of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity isn’t shocking. Oklahoma has a strange history. Part of the state is still known as Little Dixie. It’s main cash crop was cotton and sought to maintain many of its connections to Southern culture. Progressive Republicans, who wrote the constitution and were in power at statehood, tried to break a few of those ties. Intense partisanship, however, ended those efforts. In an attempt to seek power, Democrats enacted literacy tests that would eliminate the black vote and sway the balance of power in their favor.

On campus, it wasn’t much better. One of the first four professors at OU, Edwin DeBarr, was a Grand Wizard in the KKK. He was released from his contract in 1923 because of these ties, but remained in Norman. The Chemistry Building was named after him for several years. He was murdered in 1950 (by his grandson-in-law). It wasn’t until 1988 that they removed the plaque and his name from the building. 

There are, of course, more examples I could cite. You can find KKK symbols in fraternity and club photos in old yearbooks. A major cross burning too place on the lawn of the Hillel House in 1950. But the two main examples I cite above illustrate the long history of racism in Oklahoma and at OU. Once something become institutionalized, it is very difficult to eradicate. I hope OU does more than just ban the fraternity from campus. There needs to be bigger actions that get to the core of the problem.

It’s good to see OU football coach Bob Stoops, arguably the most important person on campus to most Sooners, come out and take a stand. “It’s sad the ignorance that can still be there with some people,” Stoops told the Tulsa World. “It’s just appalling. I was here to be with my guys. We all work with beautiful young men and women of all races. It’s just — very little gets me choked up. But that hurt.”

The swift action so far is also a credit to University President David Boren. Boren is no stranger to Oklahoma politics. His father was a Congressman from Oklahoma in the 1930s (he made his name deploring John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath). President Boren also held political office, serving as both a Governor and Senator. He knows Oklahomans very well and is well-respected in and outside of Norman. During my visit last summer, people had nothing but the highest praise for him.

This support and cultural understanding affords Boren the opportunity to come down hard and send a message. In his statement, Boren admonished the fraternity’s action. “These people have acted in a way that’s absolutely reprehensible and disgraceful,” Boren said. “Real Sooners are not bigots, racists.” At least not any more. As the history above shows, in the past Sooners have been bigots and racists. They’ve worked hard to progress, but if Boren wants his statement to ring true, he needs to put force behind it.

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Jerry Tarkanian and Sport as Boosterism

Andrew McGregor:

It’s not a good time to be a former college basketball coach in your 80s. Dean Smith died on Sunday. Jerry Tarkanian died yesterday. Here are some thoughts I shared at Sport in American History on Tarkanian’s career fighting the NCAA and the role he played in building up UNLV.

Originally posted on Sport in American History:

Ed Reinke/Associated Press Ed Reinke/Associated Press

Jerry Tarkanian put the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on the map. The Runnin’ Rebels former coach, who died yesterday at age 84, was the architect of a basketball powerhouse that established UNLV as a national brand. Tarkanian and UNLV, followed the example of other major universities and used sports as an important method of public relations to transform their institution.

Indeed, college sports teams have long been used for publicity by major universities. Throughout its history, college football has proved to be an effective public relations tool. One of the first actions of University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper was to hire Amos Alonzo Stagg as the school’s football coach. Harper hoped to build a championship team that would attract publicity for the new college. Other major universities followed suit.

My dissertation identifies a critical moment when the University of Oklahoma decided to use football and…

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