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.