Monthly Archives: November 2012

New Book: The Native American Identity in Sports

Today I received a new book in my mail box. I was a bit surprised because I hadn’t ordered anything, but then I realized what it was. My courtesy copy of The Native American Identity in Sports: Creating and Preserving a Culture had arrived. It is an edited collection from Scarecrow press compiled by Frank A. Salamone. There are lots of exciting and well researched essay in the book (if you follow the link you can see the table of contents). I’m excited to sit down and thumb through it. But what excites me even more, is seeing it in print and holding it in my hands. This book is special to me because it contains two of my own essays (chapters 3 and 10). It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my work in physical print form.

My chapters are based on research I did for my MA thesis. One is about the use of boxing at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada from 1935-1948. The other is a watered down version of the last half of my master’s thesis and discusses Billy Mills. I was happy to see Mills on the cover and as one of the featured figures of the book. In addition to my chapter, there is one more that focuses exclusively on him. I can’t wait to read it.

It can be hard to find outlets for publication as a graduate student. I’ve done my share of encyclopedia entries and tried my hand at publishing in a state historical society journal. Unfortunately that journal ran out of money and left me hanging. My chapter on boxing in this book evolved from that original manuscript. I found out about this book through a post on H-Net. I’d never heard of Frank prior to the book and was hesitant at first. It almost seemed too good to be true: a cal for papers related to the primary research topic of my MA studies. I checked around, made sure the press was legit, and contacted a couple of my friends hwo also do research in this field. One of them was also contributing a chapter and convinced me it would be a worthwhile and high quality project. I’m glad I did it.

Twitter vs Zombies, the Humanities, and Pedagogy

So this weekend I attempted to join in on the Twitter vs Zombies game. Most of my participation came in the form of avoidance. I’m not really sure why, but the game forced me from Twitter — one of my favorite places. It started as part of my strategy to stay alive, but eventually grew to something more. I’m not sure how or why, but I just was done playing, but I didn’t know how to quit. I was really interested in it. I don’t like the Zombie narrative. I sort of understand how to use Twitter, and it seemed like a lot of extra work and interactions to explain why I wasn’t playing anymore. So I dropped out. But my way of dropping out was avoidance.

Twitter is a free space for me. I communicate with friends and family on it. I post articles, photos, random personal thoughts, etc. It’s a tool of interaction for me. But, the game took that away. It was all encompassing. I didn’t like how it was ruling my life or my timeline. It made me anxious. I’m sure I could have just said I was done and sorry I just lost interest or didn’t have time for it and it would have been OK, but I also didn’t want to let people down.

Based on this sort of reflection and explanation, and from watching Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel’s presentation about it (and other things) at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, I came up with some questions and thoughts we should consider after the game.

  • What do you make of the inactive users who joined the game?
  • How do you account for those who “drop” out?
  • Is this an issue of interest, motivation, or something else?
  • Were there instances of Zombie bullying?
  • Are there ways to keep the game from consuming the totality of someone’s life / Twitter interactions?
  • Because some Zombies “stalked” their human prey, how to deal with issues of privacy? Is that just a part of Tweeting in general or does the game add more focus to what people Tweet? If so, is this increased focus good or bad?

I really enjoyed their discussion of archiving the game and its creations. I also was interested in their question about publishing an article about the research to  save/share the methodology they created. But within these conversations I had a few more questions:

  • Does it have implications for archival practices? Are there industry standard practices for digital archiving?
  • Are there ethical issues of using human subjects to experiment/test/study new ideas?
  • Who owns the findings/thoughts, particularly when they are contributed from others via reflections, archiving, etc. ?
  • Do all participants become co-authors, or is that an issue of citations?
  • How does this look in another discipline?

I really, really love Jesse’s notion of pedagogy in the humanities, and how it’s important to keep it at the center of the conversation not only in digital teaching and games, but in our everyday practice. I was taught that during my undergrad and my MLA that reflection and epistemology are integral parts of learning. The liberal arts and humanities are so valuable because they teach us not facts but how to learn, how to process and filter information, and provide us the tools to become life-long learners. This skills make us adaptable in the real world and allow us to figure things out on our own (or at least figure out where to get help). The digital humanities serves these same ends. One of the major failures of liberal arts and humanities faculties has been communicating and demonstrating these outcomes to justify their funding and existence to the more business minded, bottom-line type administrators. Developing more precision and clarity in our pedagogy is one way of doing this.

Too many disciplines disregard pedagogy to focus on research. It is as if research and teaching are different things and serve different purposes to many. I don’t think this is the case. When I conduct research and design research projects I always think about my audience, my end goal. Sure, I’ve come up as a public historian wanting to branch, but shouldn’t all scholars be focused on engaging with their audience — for me the general public and my students — and find ways to make their findings interesting and meaningful to them? For me, connecting research to an audience is teaching. Public history is impossible to do without understanding pedagogy. I believe the same can be said for the humanities writ large.

Twitter vs Zombies — the game

There is an epic battle of humanity taking place on Twitter. The Zombie apocalypse has arrived. Essentially, the Twitter vs Zombies game (#TvsZ) is a giant game of tag. It’s been pretty organic and the rules have emerged and changed a bit since it started. They’re mostly collaborative with very little administrator intervention. It’s pretty fun and neat to see.

The game serves multiple purposes too. It is both an easy going fun activity (or procrastination tool) to occupy a weekend, and a networking activity. According to the scoreboard, there are almost 150 players, and because the game requires personal interaction to bite, swipe, dodge, etc. you build relationships and gain followers. I could see future iterations of this game, or something similar, be use for program orientations to get know people, marketing strategies of a “last man standing” sort. Of course, because so much of the game follows the honor code, this could be difficult for them to keep in check. But the fact is, I’m not aware of any other type of games being played on Twitter. We’ve all likely experienced the dreaded Facebook game requests, but to this point Twitter has avoided that stuff. It’s really a credit to Twitter. Games, however, make it fun and interesting. People build networks, collaborate, become friends, etc. though games/sports.

The role of social media in sports has often focused on athletes and the crazy stuff they say. Reporters and bloggers also have taken over with trade rumors, etc. Hashtags have played a key role. Half the reason I’m on Twitter is to follow the Royals and interact with the fan community that I’ve become a member of. But now, Twitter is evolving into a venue for games itself. Will this change how people use Twitter? Maybe not. But its make you think about how artificial games/events can be created (such at #TvsZ) to foster networking, fun, and collaboration. I’m diggin’ it.

Digital Prewriting

As part of DigiWriMo, most of my stuff has been school related. I’m using the month to help develop some discipline and encourage me to write something somewhat academic/serious every day. I need to get into better writing habits. In fact, I started this blog back in August with that goal in mind too. So far I’ve been pleased with the results. I’ve posted about once a week, really branched out, and done some good networking.

But sometimes, coming up with things to write about is hard. I don’t always want to post all of my grad school assignments and ranting book reviews. They’re not always of good enough quality and a lot of times I don’t see it as appropriate. So when I am swamped with grading, reading, and pithy book reviews, what do I share? I asked this question on Twitter, and got some neat ideas and feedback.

Jeff Bracket asked me what I’m passionate about:

Carrie Padian asked me what I have been writing and suggested I break out of the mold.

These suggestions coupled with the lack of an obvious love letter recipient got me thinking. First, I wondered who to write to and whether it should be a traditional love letter to a person or to an idea or object of passion.

Carrie suggested prewriting my ideas. I asked Carrie if she thought prewriting was actually writing in and of itself. Does it count for DigiWriMo? Pete chimed in with a great philosophical answer to our conversation and inspired what follows.

I agree with him. Prewriting is important. And, because I am taking a class on autobiography and memoir, the last of his Tweet really struck me. I’ve read several theorist and literary critics this semester who talk about the idea of “living autobiographically” and how we are constantly reviewing, revising, organizing, and making sense of our lives. This process is usually mental, but the idea of writing it down is what’s fun about “life-writing” in general (the discussion of genre is vicious so I’m going to call it life writing). Of course, we rarely see the prewriting in the final products of life-writing. But the idea of prewriting as being the act of living seems to be quite true. I would argue prewriting is not only how we dream, it is how we learn, it’s how discover who we are, what we know. It’s how we connect and make sense of things.

I’ll admit I don’t do as much prewriting as I should. A lot of times I just start writing and then I get on a roll and let it flow out. I’m doing that right now in this blog-essay. It works for some of us and feels natural.  With my more “serious” or “academic” writing that I am turning in for grades or publishing, I spend a lot more time planning and am less likely to break grammatical rules. To be sure, I do that with most of my other blog posts. I collect links, outline ideas, etc. But that’s not always the case. I recognize that my biases and definitions of publishing, and academic are problematic in my previous sentence, particularly for an aspiring digital humanist. That’s why I am here, learning, exchanging, collaborating, discussing with #DigiWriMo, #DigPed, etc.

Thinking of prewriting in the digital world is important both because of those sort of structural and power dynamics as well as the plain and simple format of it. What does digital prewriting look like? How is it better/worse? Does it have benefits? I don’t have answers to these questions but I think they are worth asking, especially as more of our students become so computer and digital dependent. There are now special note taking programs, I have a digital version of sticky notes on my Mac. During MOOCMOOC and DigiWriMo I’ve noticed lots of people using Storify and Scoop-it to collect tweets, links, and other sources for later use. I suppose that is all part of prewriting?

Personally, I’ve always done it differently. While I am not one of the old school notecard people who rearranges them in stacks and lays them out to construct their paper/book, I do keep a stack of loose-leafy paper on my desk. I scribble on it frequently. I always feel so much more free with a pen and paper than a blank screen and blinking cursor. I’m a web drawer and outliner. There are often criss-crossing lines between ideas and themes. I love to do this after I read a book when I am preparing to write a review. My scribbles usually make little sense to anyone else. Hell, sometimes I can’t even read any of my own writing. But it’s still freeing and helps me reflect and visualize on what I’ve read/learned.

Writing on paper helps add some order to the craziness in my head without forcing me to conform to certain formatting procedures. There is a certain amount of anxiety with the word processor. The page numbers, the word count, the squiggly red and green lines under your every typo — they’re constant reminders and judgments of your productivity. Paper is judgement free. You can’t get upset and delete paper. The piles of wadded up paper on the floor remain and can be unraveled to reveal the half-truths of your previous errors. The blank page also doesn’t mind the careless errors that come with the bursts of energy accompanying new ideas as you race your short term memory to save them.

I’m not sure if I could do digital prewriting.  I think its deeply personal but we can learn from others. In many ways this is already a hybrid activity for me. I like to have my paper notes and scribble. I tend to prefer paper articles and books too. But my drafts and final products always end up digital. I also have started book marking and saving links of sources. Sometimes I test my ideas on Twitter and then later string them together in a blog post. I’ve seen a lot of sports journalists do this last thing — particularly during March Madness. It’s a great way to put ideas down as they occur and them come back to them. To allow our writing to live autobiographically, in real time, as it begins to take shape.

This post is a casualty to my own lack of prewriting. There is no real cohesive point here. Instead it’s both a portrait and a lesson in prewriting and how topics/ideas are formed. I went from uninspired, searching for a topic several hours ago to reflecting, pondering, and connecting ideas together — with the help of collaboration — creating a 1200+ word post. I do think we need to have more conversations about the collaboration and hybridity of prewriting. How does our increasing digital culture affect it? What are the best practices, tools, and methods? And so on.

Epic Book-Spine Poems

I’ve notice a lot of my books follow certain themes. I have section of my book shelves dedicated to Native American history, sports history, race/civil rights history, general 20th century American history, etc. Most of the sports books don’t have very fun or creative titles, but the race books sure do. Here are a few poems I put together based on them for fun.

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom
To Serve God and Wal-Mart
Against Race
In the Garden of Beasts

Abiding Courage
Texas Tough
An Empire of Their Own
At the Dark End of the Street

Steppin’ Out
With the Old Breed
Stayin’ Alive
The Business of Crime
The World is a Ghetto
Sneaker wars
Impossible Subjects
Irresistible Empire

Racial Fault Lines
Shadows At Dawn
Contested Waters
No Separate Refuge

A Movement Without Marches
Between Fear & Hope
The Color America has Changed

I feel like this next one is appropriate considering election day:

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

The Silent Majority
Main Street Blues

These final two reflect what I read this coming week and what I read last week. It’s fun to play around with the book titles and try to mold them into some sort of poetic narrative event though none of the really relate to each other. I think I enjoy crafting them from the shelves rather the forcing them together based on what I’m assigned for that week.

This week:
Red Grange
Bowled Over
A Tale of Two Cities

Last week:
How I Grew
The 1970s

New Books: the 1970s and Postwar Politics

“Debates about Americans’ sexual practices and intimate lives, women’s reproduction, and the nature of family are inseparable from the history of capitalism and the modern liberal state. This cannot be emphasized enough. At its heart, the social contract overseen by government mediates the relationship among individuals, social institutions such as the family, and the market. The question is not whether gender, sex, and family are structured and regulated by the state; the question is what kind of regulations exist and to what end.”

This quote is from the introduction to Robert O. Self’s new book All in the Family. I bought a copy last week and have been dying to read it. I teased myself with the introduction last night. Unfortunately, I have lots of grading and other work that are preventing me from getting to it. My first impressions tell me that it is going to be a fantastic read and an important book to come.

It’s one of many recent books that are beginning to interrogate and analyze modern American history from from the post war period up to the 2000s. This historiography has been booming in the last few years. Most of these books integrate issues of race, gender, politics, and economics into one rich multi-layered tapestry that shows their connections. They’re exciting books that in someways reflect a new comprehensive of doing history.  Other new good books that fit the same time period (roughly 1960-2000) that I think are must-reads, include Daniel T. Rogers’ The Age of Fracture (2011), and Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive (2010). I’m also currently reading Thomas Borstlemann’s The 1970s (2012) right now. It’s pretty good too. I’ve also been told that I need to read Judith Stein’s Pivotal Decade (2010) so it’s on my wish list, but I probably wont get to it for a while.

The Longue Duree Integration of College Football

The story of integration and the color line is old hat to most people. Lane Demas recognizes this in his new book Integrating the Gridiron. Demas bases the book on the premise the integration was messier and more diverse than we have been led to believe in the traditional sports narrative. By looking at the integration of college football, he seeks to add temporal and regional diversity to the traditional narrative of the color line in sports.

Demas’ first chapter outlines his desire to complicate the integration model. For him, the national narrative has focused on four big individuals – Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali – when telling the history of the color line and integration in sports. While he does not discount the roles of these individuals, Demas believes that integration was more the process of grassroots events and process, and happened at different times throughout the country. To be sure, this argument is not entirely new but his application of this method to college football is.

Demas lays out his argument using four examples over of a forty-year period. He starts with familiar terrain and Jackie Robinson’s UCLA career. The West Coast was seemingly more accepting, according to Demas, thanks in large part to the Great Migration. Although schools such a USC integrated earlier, they later re-segregated because of concerns about inappropriate behavior between star black athletes and adoring white, female fans. After mincing stories about Pacific coast football, he selects the 1938-1941 UCLA teams as his exemplar. The UCLA team was the first to have more than four black players, several of whom were stars. Indeed, Demas notes that Robinson, although the most famous today, was not the best black player on the team (he suggests that Kenny Washington was the best).

In addition to these players, the UCLA was unique because of the way it local and student media embraced the team. They avoided racial language and accepted their stars for their talent and skin color. The sportswriters often defended their black players from racist attitudes, particularly those of opposing coaches and awards voters. For Demas, this serves as an “integration” event on the West Coast because the team fueled a change in attitude that led to greater acceptance and rights for black players. The ultimate indicator of this change was UCLA’s hiring of Washington as a freshman coach after his playing days.

The next major event for Demas is that national controversy surrounding Johnny Bright and Oklahoma A&M (now State). Racism was prevalent in Oklahoma as the state followed segregation. Sports, however, were a major interest of both Oklahoma Universities leading it to play a major role in pushing them towards more inclusiveness. A&M wanted more prestige and to join the Big 6, which included OU. They invested heavily in sports and sought to dominate the Missouri Valley in hopes of gaining entry to the better Big 6 conference.

This desire for acceptance contrasted from their racist views in a football game against Drake in 1951. Drake was integrated and has a star running back, Johnny Bright. Prior to the game in Stillwater, Bright received threats of violence. Once the game began, the team made good on those threats. A lineman unexpectedly punched him and broke his jaw after he handed the ball off. He sustained a few other hits and had to be removed from the game and taken to the hospital. With their star player injured Drake lost the game.

Oklahoma media ignored the incident following the game, while Iowa media was enraged. The national media played the fence. Drake appealed to A&M and the Missouri Valley for sanctions, but both refused. Drake and Bradley (another integrated college) withdrew from the conference in protest. The controversy hung over A&M, but they eventually gained admittance to the Big 6 (which became the Big 7). A condition of their entrance, however, was that all schools must field integrated teams. This forced OU and Missouri to also integrate. For Demas, the Bright incident played a role in these future decisions because schools like Kansas State and Nebraska were already integrated and worried about the safety of their players.

Demas treads on slippery and correlational ground with the Big 7 example as well as his next chapter on the 1956 Sugar Bowl. Like the Bright example, the Sugar Bowl itself did not force any major or immediate changes but rather served as a symbolic turning point. The Sugar Bowl invited Georgia Tech and Pittsburg to play, but Georgia newly elected governor tried to force a boycott because Pittsburg had a black player. The Governor faced a huge public relations disaster as result of his boycott stance. Southerners marched and protested in favor of playing the game not because they wanted integration but because they loved football. Their protests followed a “we play anyone” mentality that underscored their views of superiority. In the end, the game took place and Georgia Tech won. The win came on a key mistake by Bobby Grier, Pittsburg’s black player, which further proved “they” were better. Demas includes this story because it illustrates football as a force bigger than race and politicians. While this is true, it was mostly through ironic and subtle ways and it resulted in no major changes to the segregationist policies of the South.

The book’s final integration event is the “Black 14” of the University of Wyoming. The fourteen players were kicked off the team because they wanted to wear black armbands in a game against BYU protesting Mormon views that blacks could not enter the priesthood. At Wyoming the protest was seen as ungrateful and putting oneself over the team. Coach Eaton was a legend statewide and had numerous supporters. He saw the issue as one of team rules and coaching authority. He received support from many fellow hardnosed, disciplinary coaches, including Bear Bryant. Eventually the University president and Governor Stanley Hathaway (future Secretary of Interior) intervened and tried to negotiate with the coach and players. The negotiations failed. In some small way, the protest was a success as the Mormon Church eventually changed it stance in 1978.

For Demas, this event symbolizes a rise in activism and pressure by athletes for more rights and support for black athletes. The protest was supposed to be one of many spurred on by San Jose State professor Harry Edwards that called for support and solidarity among blacks. Indeed, at other schools similar protests led to the hiring of academic support staff, coaches, and even the recruitment of a black cheerleader.

Overall the book offers a series of interesting anecdotes and some neat facts, but it overall argument is fairly weak. Demas is correct to draw the attention of sports scholars to various integration events and show the temporal and regional diversity of the civil rights issues in sports. In practice, however, he does not fully explore and connect his examples with what he purports their outcomes are.

Bob Zuppke and College Football in the Archive

In the early days of football, coaches became symbols of their universities. Their duties often extended beyond the athletic field and into university and community politics. In his biography of University of Illinois football coach Bob Zuppke, Maynard Brichford highlights the intersections in the stories of a coach, university, and sport. Zuppke was an institution in his own right at Illinois and within the Big Ten.

Zuppke had a distinguished record as coach of the Illini between 1912 and 1941. He was a pillar of stability. Illinois had four different university presidents during his tenure. Under his tutelage, his teams won two national titles and seven conference championships. Brichford, however, is quick to shift the focus away from his on-the-field success to his larger role within the university and its community as well as his commitment to higher education. Indeed, the biography serves more as a glimpse into the life of Zuppke and the University of Illinois than the sport of football.

Born in Germany in 1879, Zuppke moved with his parents to Milwaukee and was raised in the upper Midwest. Unlike many of his contemporary coaches he did not have a stellar athletic career. Instead, he was a student of sports and absorbed knowledge from others and read books on coaching and psychology. Brichford lists A.A. Stagg and Fielding Yost as two of Zuppke’s influences through their football coaching manuals and clinics. Likewise, he notes that the coach traveled east to learn different styles of football, including several trips to watch Harvard practice under coach Percy Haughton (who also wrote his own coaching book). Through this cross-pollination of football ideas Zuppke created his own “system” that relied on trick and surprise plays. While Brichford cautions that it’s difficult to assign primacy to sporting innovations, he counts the “huddle,” multiple pass flea-flicker plays, and the screen pass as hallmarks of his style of play.

This rise too football prominence also followed a different path of other big-name college coaches. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Zuppke began coaching at the high school level while also teaching history and physical education classes. He saw lots of cross over between history and football, Brichford explains, in the ways Greek and Roman troops used formations and worked together. He taught and coached at a small school in Michigan for a year before moving on to Oak Park in Chicago. There he served as athletic director and oversaw all sports. His track and field teams dominated the Illinois state-meet, which was initially organized by Stagg but sometimes held at the University of Illinois. His football teams fared well too and developed both a regional and national reputation. He took intersection trips, including on to Seattle and another to Boston.

These trips and his success earned Zuppke several college job offers. Schools like Northwestern and Purdue offered him large salaries and faculty positions, but he rebuffed them in favor of Illinois. Although Illinois offered less money, Brichford suggests, Zuppke took the job because he thought Illinois had better men to work with.  At Illinois he was the first professional, non-alumni coach. Unlike Stagg and others of this era, he never held the position of athletic director but did help coach basketball and baseball.

Fundraising, however, was also a large part of his job. Brichford devotes substantial space in his biography discussing Zuppke role in fundraising and public relations. Illinois’ various presidents saw the football team and its coach as a prime marketing tool for donations and as a way to woo votes (and money) from the legislature. Zuppke traveled around the state and the region giving talks to alumni groups, typically twenty to forty per year. These speeches and fundraisers were an essential part of his campaign to build Memorial Stadium following the Great War. Beyond football, Zuppke served as the Urbana-Champaign Boy Scout masters for several years while coaching.

In addition to these face-to-face interactions, Zuppke also developed a media persona. Later in his life he wrote columns and published articles. He had a contract with Christy Walsh Syndicate to tell his life story and signed on with Grantland Rice to write a book on sports. Zuppke, however, was perhaps the most famous for his “Zuppkeisms.” Brichford devotes a whole chapter to these sayings, which include motivational quotes and tips for life such as “a good back should keep his feet at all times and never lose his head.” This chapter is one of the few times that Brichford’s dry writing style lets the coach’s personality shine through.

Brichford is University Archivist Emeritus at Illinois and it is fairly clear that he is more concerned with sharing the history of the university than crafting an engaging story about its coach. While the book is well researched, its narrative is dry and offers few transitions. Instead, Brichford strings together facts about Zuppke’s life and career while mixing in larger trends at the University of Illinois, but not the broader spectrum of college football or higher education. This lack of a narrative unity and plot leave the reader wanting more. The author often lists facts and figures about Zuppke as if they are impressive or unique, but rarely substantiates these claims by offering comparison. For example, Brichford explains that Zuppke received a $4,000 per year allowance when he retired in 1942, three-fourths of which came from the athletics association. Without reference to the standards at other schools the reader does not know whether it is the allowance itself or the amount that is important.

Despite these weaknesses, Brichford’s biography is useful and informative. It sheds light on an important and sometimes overlooked coaching figure. His research is also useful to those studying the history of higher education as he often mixes in information about structural changes of the athletic association, board of trustees and other governance, and sheds light on the influence of donors and alums. Perhaps most important is his documentation. While his situation may be unique since he helped construct the archive and collect the sources reference in his book, it serves as a template for other football biographers to follow. Reading his notes gives other researchers and idea of what type of evidence may be available as well as where it and how its filed. Indeed, these are important insights into the archival structure of sports related documents.


The Ghost of Heisman?

To fans familiar with college football John W. Heisman is legendary. Each fall the “best” football player in the country receives an award bearing his name. Few, however, know the story about its namesake. Sharing this story is goal of John M. Heisman and Mark Schlabach in their new book Heisman: the Man Behind the Trophy. Hot off the presses published by Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) in October, the book relies heavily on the authorial authority of Heisman’s great nephew and popularity of ESPN columnist Schlabach. Together the authors offer a standard chronological narrative of the famed coach’s life focusing primarily on his various coaching stints.

Heisman was born in 1869 and football was normal part of his youthful existence. He was raised in Pennsylvania and Ohio on the fringes of the sporting landscape before the game’s rules had been standardized. The middle son of a cooper, he and his two brothers initiated neighborhood games and often coming home battered and bruised. It was not until Heisman attended Brown University that he was exposed to real “scientific” football. Although the school did not sponsor a team of its own, he became active on local club teams. Football, however, was not his career ambition. His father pressed him to become a lawyer — a career Brown was ill equipped to prepare him for. So, after two years in Providence he transferred to the University of Penn.

Penn not only had a law school, but also a football team. There the undersized Heisman succeed because of his hard work and grit. Football became his passion and a viable option as a back-up career. When a head injury blurred his vision and threatened his studies, coaching emerged as a clear alternative. Paying coaches, however, was not yet a universally accepted practice in the college sports world. A.A. Stagg became one of the profession’s pioneers in 1890. Heisman followed suit in 1892.

Although Stagg often serves as the model, Heisman’s career looked more like that of Glenn S. “Pop” Warner took his first job in 1895. He also earned a law degree but instead chose coaching. Indeed, while Stagg endured a long tenure at the University of Chicago, Heisman and Warner were peripatetic. The authors devote a chapter to each of Heisman’s coaching stops. These chapters are formulaic, beginning with a description of how/why he was lured to the specific job and then providing a brief overview of his coaching successes. To be sure, they include some interesting anecdotes, such as the brief rivalry between Warner and Heisman when the face off as the coaches Georgia and Auburn. Another interesting tidbit and connection is the tale of Heisman’s recruitment of Joe Guyon — a former Carlisle player and All-American under Warner — who demanded that his older brother be offered a coaching job. Eventually the coach obliged, but he remained reluctant to shady recruitment practices.

Besides a few anecdotes like these, however, the authors rarely dig deeper beyond the surface of Heisman’s X’s and O’s. Instead, he is presented as a venerable disciplinarian with a keen eye for innovation. They quote extensively from many of his published articles citing his demand for order in routine in their dress, diet, and sleep patterns. A great deal of research is present in the text, but rarely do the authors know what to do with it. Several chapters feature half-page long quotes with little to no interrogation or analysis. They accept Heisman’s written work as face value without questioning its authenticity. Indeed, the go as far as to label him a “prolific” writer without explaining the context of the era or looking at contemporary coaches. Heisman’s heyday as a writer coincided with the apex of coach-driven sports narratives. Pop Warner, A.A. Stagg, and Knute Rockne all published serialized autobiographies in Colliers and the Christy Walsh Syndicate. Ghostwriting was common practice. To be fair, Heisman may be unique. The methods and processes of ghostwriting varied among coaches and publications, and the use of personal papers inherited by his Great Nephew may reveal this to be true. Yet, the authors fail to address these concerns or present that argument. They expect readers to take their narrative at face value and trust its authority.

These expectations are not unfair given the book’s target audience. The narrative is interesting and informative as it describes the coach’s life. They share little-known facts such as his Reno divorce in 1919 that caused him to resign from Georgia Tech, and his affinity for the theater. Heisman worked as an actor in the offseason and also managed acting troops. The book is at its best when the authors let Heisman’s personality peek through the words providing a glimpse into the culture of early football. The story of his African American player, Charles West, at Washington and Jefferson highlights his moral high ground and naturally explains many of the regional characteristics that defined the game. Conversely, their descriptions of Heisman’s struggles coaching at academically rigorous schools (UPenn and Rice) leave the reader wanting more. Did he struggle because he was getting older and could no longer relate to players? Was it his authoritative and disciplinarian style? Or could he simply not lure talented players to those schools because of their academic standards? These questions go unanswered.
The authors try to balance their desire to be historically accurate and their overall aim of telling a popular, feel-good story about a coaching icon. These mixed goals are obvious in the haphazard selection and placement of background information. They spend several pages describing the Pennsylvania oil boom of the 1850 and 60s linking it to the John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and John Wilkes Booth when only a few sentences would have sufficed.

Despite this scathing critique, Schlabach and Heisman offer a solid overview of John W. Heisman’s life and football career. The book will be interesting and informative for those unfamiliar with Heisman or early football. It is also useful for its notes and citations. While they rely heavily on an unpublished manuscript penned by Heisman in 1928, this source is balanced with numerous published materials providing a beginning point for future researchers on the life of John W. Heisman, his contemporaries, or early college football.

Book-Spine Poetry

I discovered the concept of book-spine poetry a while back thanks to a Facebook post by the Chicago Manual of Style (yes, I follow CMOS on Facebook, don’t judge me). It’s really fun and so I’ll be periodically posting these poems. Sometimes they might be based on books I am currently reading, or just whatever I pull off my shelves. I try to only use 3-4 books per poem, but you can use whatever you like. 

Today’s is a random mashup based on titles that jumped out at me. Enjoy.

The Populist Vision
When Pride Still Mattered