Here is a list of things I did in 2017 in no particular order:
- Defended my doctoral dissertation and graduated with my PhD.
- Taught 6 classes of my own and TA’d 1 other.
- Wrote or contributed to 9 posts, roundtables, or book reviews at “Sport in American History.”
- Published my first journal article in the Journal of Sport History based on my paper at the 2016 NASSH Pre-conference Workshop.
- Wrote a guest post for the “USIH” blog.
- Submitted a book review to the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (publication forthcoming).
- Wrote a guest post for the “Sportianity” blog.
- Gave an Invited Lecture on Digital Sport History at Ohio Northern University.
- Led a working group on Sports History and Campus History at NCPH.
- Presented a chapter of my dissertation at NASSH.
- Talked about “Sports in Trump’s America” on KBOO 90.7 Radio in Portland.
- Gave a “Lightning Talk” on my Digital Mapping Project at Purdue’s GIS Day.
- Wrote 2 Op-Ed pieces about politics and college football for the Made By History section of the Washington Post.
- Worked my first minimum wage job; a 3 months stint at an independent book/record store selling music, comics, and greeting cards.
- Applied for 16 academic jobs and 2 postdocs (no luck so far).
- Agreed to review 3 books for various academic journals (I’m not quite finished with them).
Congrats to the Cleveland base ballers for their MLB record 22nd consecutive win. I’m enjoying the streak and the attention it is bringing baseball, showcasing how fun a sport it is. Yet, it was a bit disheartening that tonight’s win came against my Royals. Recall that the 2002 Oakland A’s won their 20th consecutive game against Kansas City, which is the last time I team has compiled a streak this long.
Cleveland’s late-inning rally was a sad reminder of how quickly things change. Our once unhittable bullpen, clutch hitting, and fleet and slick fielding defense has vanished. Tonights loss was reminiscent of those early 2000s teams, where the clutch hits never came, balls seemed to always jump out of our fielders’ gloves, and you could never rely on the bullpen. The window has closed.
To be sure, it was a spectacular ride. The Royals played in 2 World Series, winning won while losing the other in seven games. We redefined bullpen play with our Cyborgs, and brought back highlight reel defense and speed, energizing a new generation of baseball fans. You can’t win every year — and the Cubs have recently proven that you can’t lose every year either — but competitive windows are fleeting. Ours is close.
Rebuilding is a precarious project. You have to Trust the Process, hold on to hope, and believe that eventually it will pay off. The Royals brief window and incredible success the past few years has shown me that it does. Let’s hope I won’t have to wait so long this time because I’m not sure if I will be as patient.
Note: Today I successfully defended my dissertation. Because few people will ever see or read the acknowledgements section of my dissertation, I am posting it here. Thank you to everyone for your support and friendship during this process. I could not have done it without you.
I never felt more alone than while writing this dissertation. It was the single most challenging thing that I have ever done. It tested my patience, focus, endurance, and commitment on a daily basis. I would not have survived this process without the invaluable help, encouragement, and assistance of dozens of people. Thank god it is over.
Crucial to this project’s completion was my advisor, Randy Roberts, who is the reason I chose to attend Purdue University. He inspired me with his work ethic and compassion, making me a better teacher and writer while setting an example impossible to match. Randy helped me navigate Purdue, providing unwavering support, challenging me when I needed it, giving me time and space to struggle, and shaping me into the scholar I am today. Being one of his students means joining an impressive fraternity of scholars and sport historians, who support each other. I never realized the extent of this network until I attended the North American Society for Sport History convention in 2016. There I heard firsthand the reverence for Randy and the work of his students in shaping the field of sport history. This is an intimidating legacy; one that I am embarrassed that I let scare me for so long. I accept that this dissertation would have been better had I followed more of his advice.
My committee members also helped prod me along. Kathryn Cramer Brownell challenged me to think big and encouraged me to make this project about more than football. Her suggestions were pivotal in refining many of my ideas and helping me broaden my analysis. Katie bought into my vision, read drafts of several chapters, and pushed me to explicitly engage with historiographic conversations. Beyond the dissertation, she introduced me to dozens of scholars and helped me locate myself within the profession. Michael Morrison, who sadly passed away before my defense, was always supportive. He offered me feedback and advised me that I did not need to include every detail of every peripheral story in each chapter (sometimes I did anyways). Mike also indulged my love of baseball and sent me thoughtful and encouraging notes during the Royals spectacular 2014 and 2015 postseasons. This dissertation would have been about college football during the Great Depression, if not for Johnny Smith. He is a testament to the fraternity of sport historians trained by Randy. Johnny took interest in my work and generously redirected my research, suggesting that I explore Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma dynasty. Although I am certain that the end result is not what he had in mind, I would not have undertaken this project without him. He badgered me to keep writing (and warned me not to jinx his Spartans on Twitter), knowing all too well that there are distractions everywhere. David Atkinson agreed to join the committee at the end, unsure of what he might contribute. I thank him for his advice about how to analyze Cold War puns, and warmness as a faculty member, who showed interest in my work before being required to.
My master’s advisor, Dick Davies, never stopped advising me. Early on during my time at Nevada, he targeted Randy and Purdue as the next step for my career. He taught me to think strategically about my career and provided me countless opportunities to develop professionally. Once I started writing, he instinctually sent me encouraging emails and offered feedback on the bits and pieces of chapters I published as blog posts. I would not be the scholar I am today without Dick Davies. I’m so fortunate to have him as a mentor and a friend.
Beyond my committee, I have had the pleasure of learning from remarkably talented faculty members at every institution I have attended. At Purdue, I am thankful for the personal conversations and insightful courses with Tithi Battacharya, Cornelius Bynum, Jim Farr, Nancy Gabin, Kim Gallon, Will Gray, Doug Hurt, Caroline Janney, Wendy Kline, John Larson, Venetria Patton, Yvonne Pitts, and Ronald Stephens. I also want to thank Fay Chan, Rebecca Gwin, and Julie Knoeller for all of their help navigating the red tape. At Nevada, Greta de Jong, Hugh Shapiro and Barbara Walker introduced me to ideas that have stuck with me. Even though we have all moved on to other places, Scott Casper, Eleanor Nevins, Bill Rowley, and Tom Smith were also important mentors during my time at Nevada. The influence of Alicia Barber in this work is impossible to miss. She inspired me with her work and continues to be a role model as I develop as a public and digital historian. My undergraduate training and my first foray into graduate work occurred at Baker University, where I also coached track and worked in the archives. It was truly a transformational experience that prepared me for success as a professional historian. Karen Exon spearheaded it all. John Richards helped. Bruce Anderson offered important mentoring and friendship. Anne Daugherty and Gwyn Mellinger taught me how to take the next step as an academic. The late Brenda Day and Harold Kolling offered countless hours of mentoring and encouragement while I worked in the Baker archives. Without Brenda’s faith in my ability and my future, I would never have chosen to pursue graduate school. She knew I could do it before I did.
Several members of the graduate community at Purdue made my life less miserable. They were there to chat, drink, and indulge my sporting obsessions. They best of them did all three. I especially want to acknowledge, A.W. Bell, Wes Bishop, Trevor Burrows, David Cambron, Mauricio Castro, Suparna Chakraborty, Alex Dessens, David Graham, Ed Gray, Padraig Lawlor, Dane Lawson, Tim Lombardo, Mark Otto, Jeff Perry, Max Rieger, Keenan Shimko, Andrew Smith, Erika Smith, Beca Venter, and Brandon Ward. Thanks for keeping me sane.
One of the best and worst decisions I made while writing my dissertation was to launch the “Sport in American History” group blog. Most of the chapters in this dissertation began as blog posts there, where I felt shame for not writing or meeting my commitments more than anywhere else. In time, the blog became a burden and an escape, a catalyst of ideas, friendships, and productivity. Cat Ariail, Russ Crawford, Josh Howard, Andy Linden, and Lindsay Pieper helped ease that burden and have become supportive colleagues and friends. So too have dozens of my other fellow bloggers, particularly those at the “U.S. Intellectual History” blog. I am grateful for Twitter conversations and friendships with Robert Greene II, Devin Hunter, Paul Putz, and many others. Thank you for being there.
Librarians are wizards. Interlibrary Loan at Purdue University did an excellent job of acquiring far off treasures for me. The Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma fueled most of this project, and the folks there were friendly and helpful. The same is true of the people at the Carl Albert Congressional Research Center. Early in my research, Randy and I took a trip to the Joyce Sports Research Collection at the University of Notre Dame, where George Rugg treated us like VIPs. The NCAA was the least helpful of my research trips. They failed to return my emails, and when I showed up, barely let me in. They must be hiding something.
I also want to thank the Department of History and the African American Studies and Research Center at Purdue University for paying me. Being a teaching assistant and instructor was by far the most enjoyable part of my time at Purdue. I loved my students and hope they learned something in my classes. Besides my stipend, I am thankful to the Department of History for the Harold Woodman Research Award that teamed with a Purdue Graduate School Summer Research Grant funded a summer in Norman, OK to complete the bulk of my research. I want to thank Geri and Linda who provided me with an affordable and convenient AirBnB accommodation in Norman. I am particularly thankful for their interest in my research and sharing with me their knowledge as Sooners fans. I also received two College of Liberal Arts PROMISE Awards to present research related to my dissertation and engage in fruitful conversations with colleagues at conferences.
Countless friends and family members have supported me and listened to me talk about the 1950s, Oklahoma, and college football. I am lucky that sport history makes for good bar conversation or this would have been an even lonelier existence. Thanks to Eric Brady, Rhett Buwalda, Jesse Corbett, Drew Davis, Joe Wenig, and Mike Zelaznik. I also want to thank Paul Boone, Peter Kopp, Travis Lacy, Amy O’Brien, Ethan Opdahl, Sarah Roberts, Travis Ross, Marysa Stevens, and Edan Strekal, who have remained friends long after I left Reno. I am grateful to several friends back in Kansas, which I still consider home, Matt and Emily Baysinger, Paul Hefferon, Tom Niermann, Torre Norton, and Zac Towns. There are many others across the country, especially Billy and Patricia Mills and Sagar Sane, who have had a hand in helping me on this journey. I am blessed to have such great friends.
I come from a long line of teachers and scholars, though none were historians. My Great Grandmother earned a master’s degree. So too did both of my grandfathers. Several of my aunts and uncles have graduate degrees as well. This lineage has provided me with an immense amount of privilege as well as social support. Spending over a decade in college is not normal to most people nor is it cheap. I’m lucky to have a family that somewhat understands my career path. I especially want to thank my Grandmother, Donna Swank, for always offering me a place to stay in Kansas City whenever I travel. My aunt and uncle, Laura and Todd Harper offered guidance as people who have gone through the PhD process and landed on the other side. My parents have also been patient and generous during my education.
More than anyone else my brother, Malcolm, has been an unceasing advocate, soundboard, and counselor throughout my time at Purdue. I could not have conceived of nor executed this project without his advice and willingness to not just listen but offer substantial suggestions and critiques that have improved my work. This started during his time at the University of Virginia, where I helped him matriculate into the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. We shared books and reading lists, and then had long phone conversations fleshing out arguments and conceptualizing our own work. More than anyone else, Malcolm has been instrumental in helping me craft this dissertation. He has also been pivotal in helping me stay sane. My time at Purdue has been the most physically and emotionally unhealthy experience of my life. I relied on Malcolm to help me get through these past six years. He listened to my rants, counseled me through the periods when I debated quitting, and never thought less of me.
Finally, I must acknowledge my best friend, Brutus. Living with a graduate student cannot be easy, especially one who finds it nearly impossible to stick to a normal sleep schedule. Dogs intuitively perceive and react to their people, and he has improved my life immeasurably with his well-timed nurturing. He has been an incredibly loving, sweet, and tolerant companion. I hope I have been as good to him as he has to me.
A few half-baked thoughts/observations on the ESPN firings and how they are indicative of larger issues at play in the media and corporate/political landscape. They were too long for Twitter or Facebook so I am posting them here. Keep in mind that they are rough assemblage of things flying around in my head and perhaps not as tidily connected as I layout here.
- The immediate reaction to blame cord-cutters is somewhat nonsense. It has more to do with the arrogance of cable and its near-monopolistic structure. Comcast likely has an even worse approval rating than Trump.
- The cord-cutting phenomenon is not new. Channels like ESPN should have asked why are people cutting cords? And how can they reorient their business model to adapt? I’ve long pointed to MLB and their At-Bat app (which is 15 years old) as the future. Fans can subscribe to teams and games they want at different qualities levels. I think if MLB offered their own network on the App it would work, too. No other sports league or channel has been as innovative or successful.
- It is a structural problem related to late-capitalism. Big cable is a part of the consolidation of companies and reduction of jobs. Fewer companies are trying to control the means of production and distribution (we see similar issues in the newspaper industry). Big cable is also one of the biggest lobbying groups trying to prevent competition, to end net-neutrality, and so forth. In their quest for further consolidation and more profits, they’ve ignored consumers. Thus, consumers are reacting to corporate greed while legislators are empowering it more and more. ESPN employees were caught in the middle.
- Of course, the issue of the internet is caught in the middle. Fans now have quicker access to scores, highlights, and other information online or on their phones (see the At-Bat example above). Although cable companies have tried to crack down on this with their monopolization and limitation of neutrality, access and internet speed, they have also sold out channels like ESPN who’s costly bloat they perceive as driving customers away (which is partially true). So what we are seeing at ESPN is the squeezing of both consumers (i.e. cord cutters) and outdated models of broadcast sports media. The only “winner” in all of this are companies like Comcast.
- Other people claim that the firings are not necessarily because of cord cutters but a reaction to a perceived liberal bias in sports reporting by ESPN and others. This too is laughable. Analysis of ESPNs coverage of topics like sexual assault, domestic violence, and other political issues routinely reveal the opposite, and the networks tendency to gloss over controversy in an effort to appease its broadcast partners and advertisers.
- The firings are, however, based in politics. The politics of corporate greed which has created an environment where companies like Comcast are trying to assert their authority over both cable channels (by cutting costs) and streaming services (by fiddling with net neutrality) in order squeeze out more profits. This means reducing the size of newsrooms, laying off reporters and personalities in favor of only bottom line driven program (like live-sporting events and debate shows). Surely the sports broadcasting bubble, which has inflated college athletic budgets is not too far behind. This also means, though, that Cable’s quest for self-preservation has also impacted the internet, threatening access and quality content. If we take a step back, we see the politics of corporate greed at play devaluing human labor, limiting quality and access to entertainment, news, and potentially other means of communication.
- ESPN will garner attention because lots of people care about sports. I don’t shed many tears for ESPN because it is a problematic network with lots of other issues that contributed to its demise. But, I contend that we could replace ESPN with another struggling cable networks, newspapers, or media companies, and see similar market forces at play which are grounded in the ethos of the corporate politics exhibited by cable companies as they move to further dominate both television and the internet.
Again, these are half-baked ideas. I’d be interested to hear what others think about the connections between Cable, news media, the future of the internet, capitalism, the current political climate, and what we saw today at ESPN.
I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of the reflections and analysis of like Nick Sacco, have described the meeting as inward looking as the field faces challenges due to the political climate, the job’s crises in academia, and history departments’ attempts to respond to neoliberal demands for “skills” and “job training” that are difficult to reconcile with the ethics and philosophy of public history.annual meeting but haven’t quite formulated my thoughts yet. I spent most of my time at the conference connecting with old friends and talking about the field outside of organized sessions. Most of what I experienced and heard was concern and caution about the field, about training, and not forgetting our roots. Some,
As primarily an academic, I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in the field and how I can best contribute. I’m aware that there are right and wrong ways to do public history and digital public history. I know that simply giving a public lecture or posting things online does not necessarily make you a public or a digital historian. There is a vast historiography of both fields that explains their ethos, methodologies, and theories. This is why I’ve personally always been a bit reticent in some of the larger conversations about public history. I’m a somewhat informally trained public historian (I had some formal training in master’s program but none during my PhD), and have tried to listen and learn, and defer to people with more experience than me. I try to openly admit places where I am less knowledgeable or need to do more reading or “doing.” I’m trying to avoid creating an inside-outside dichotomy, but I did sense some concerns about how the field has changed and worry about what the proliferation of public history programs at the undergraduate level while graduate training remains limited means. Does this create a watered down or less grounded field of public history? Is this why buzzwords dominate sessions instead of substantive discussions of theory and methodology? Has it affected the ethos of the field as some treat projects as CV builders for tenure and promotion rather than community centered and directed projects facilitated to achieve their goals? I don’t have the answer to these questions, and I hope that I am not adding to this problem as I straddle the academic and public history worlds. Yet, I think these are really important questions to ponder.
Despite these and many of the other critiques I have seen, I enjoyed NCPH this year. It gave me a chance to reconnect with my mentors, one who I hadn’t seen in over 5 years, and explore some new areas. I spent time reflecting about my approach, what I know and don’t know, how and why I choose to develop projects, and my overall career goals. Like many others, I used the conversations to be introspective. It helped me recognize that despite the fact I am nearing the completion of my PhD, I have a lot more work to do in order to become the public historian that I want to be, and that the field needs me to be.
I felt this inadequacy and frustration at times during my own session, which was my first time leading a working group. My hope was to bring together and extend conversations about campus history and sport history. I’ve worked in and been trained in both areas. During my undergraduate days I helped with my alma mater’s sesquicentennial celebration and provided the athletics department with substantial research that I turned into a digital exhibit. My dissertation about Oklahoma football deals with both too. Yet, I felt like I failed to fully ground the group in the campus discussion, and our conversations easily sailed into the intricacies of “sport” as a big-time entity instead of building on prior discussions of campus history at NCPH. I’ll write more about the working group at another time, but I worried that the essence of public history and the importance of sense of place sometimes got lost in our assumptions about (a somewhat narrowly defined conception of) sport as an automatically popular attraction. I struggled to get out of my own way and challenge us to think about sport’s various iterations on campus in more participatory and democratic ways beyond just fanhood. Instead, sport frequently served as a new site to rehash existing public history arguments from other panels — confederate iconography, authority, inclusivity, race and gender, and exhibit space. I’m not trying to paint the session as a failure (it wasn’t), but rather point to how it struggled to be collaborative and innovative in ways that I had hoped. This stagnation is my fault, yet it is also a part of some larger issues as a field. The panel was partially self-serving for me — I’m trying to find ways to fuse my academic and public work, and want to help shape how we talk about the history of sports with the public. Unfortunately, my experience doing this has been primarily on blogs and in classrooms. In this sense, I am guilty of overextending myself and pushing my agenda without a proper grounding in the practical and experiential aspects of public history required to properly contribute new methodology or theory to the field.
Maybe I am being too self-critical here. But as you can see, it’s a hard balance to strike. How does one carve out space in the field for their work while also trying to be cautious and adhere to the ethos of public history? This question, I think, will remain a concern for NCPH and other public historians as the field expands and more informally trained academic historians seek space to contribute. I don’t know the best way to proceed, or if I have followed the right path, but I am certain that we need the field’s veterans — those trained deeply and broadly in its historiography, and who are modeling public history’s values — to continue leading and mentoring us. That’s my biggest take away and what I am most thankful for from the 2017 annual meeting.
There was a great Forbes piece circulating the interwebz yesterday, calling for us to read and cite more academic blogs. I agree whole heartedly with this sentiment, and not just because I run the Sport in American History blog. There is a lot of fantastic work being done online. I generally point to 2014 as the “blogging moment” when academic group blogs proliferated and became a tad more formalized, but three years later they are still producing amazing, intellectually rigorous work and broadening academic conversations to larger audience (Tim Lacy noted this the other day on Facebook). I make this argument in my forthcoming article in the Journal of Sport History on the “Power of Blogging.”
Yet, the ephemerality of digital content makes it really difficult to cite blogs. One in five articles suffers from “link rot” according to an article in the journal, PLOS ONE (thanks to Paul Bracke for sending it my way on Twitter). I ran into this today while doing the last round of copyedits for my article. Three of the links had changed since I submitted my revisions in November. One of the blogs no longer exists. You can read this as either a commentary on the time it takes to publish something in a traditional print journal or the impermanence of digital publishing. Either way, it is something important to keep in mind (I should note the Forbes article does get into this a little bit). If we want our digital work to matter, to be cited, and make an influence, we have to be smart and strategic about access and preservation. We also need to think about the long-term life of our work and where we think it can have the biggest impact today as well as in the future.
Luckily for me I was able to update the links and find the deleted blog in the Wayback Machine to provide a stable archived URL. Yet, as Brandon Ward wondered on Twitter, what are the ethics of citing something that has been deleted? That’s a debate for another day, but also one worth having!