Category Archives: sports

Embracing the Tangent

One of the things I’ve learned while teaching African American Studies the past year-and-a-half is to embrace the tangent. At a PWI (predominately white institution), my classroom is one of the only places that students have where they can ask questions and discuss issues of race (even if it isn’t related to sports). Most of my students are white, and they are curious and often eager to talk about race. It fascinates them, and they have questions and assumptions they want to talk about. But many are reluctant or scared to talk. They are worried they will say the wrong thing, or offend somebody. They don’t have the tools, information, or the places to do it in ways that do not seem offensive to some. They’re out of practice. Our culture often tries to minimize race, ignore it, sweep it under the rug; not talk about. This is unfortunate.

I tell my students to speak openly, to come with their questions, so that we can talk about what they’ve heard, common assumptions, and why they may be wrong or how it may seem offensive others. Some may describe my class as a “safe space” though I prefer to think of it as collaborative open learning environment, where students help drive the conversation. It is about letting students talk openly in a place that is largely non-judgmental, and seek answers. Otherwise, they won’t talk about it. They will continue to be curious but feel attacked every time they try to learn or engage with someone else.

Anyways, out of this philosophy, and my drive to create this type of classroom culture, I have learned to embrace the tangent. To let students ask things and drive the conversations to unexpected places because although it may not be in my lesson plan, that is the education they need. Those are the conversations they want to have, and they will likely get more out of them because they relate directly to their thoughts, concerns, and daily lives. This often leads us to talking about current events, things going on around campus (including yesterday’s fascists posters), and stuff that they see in popular culture (which is how it relates back to sports). I love having the freedom to do this, and I can tell my students enjoy it. Today at the end of class, which was my last “lecture” of the semester (they do presentations next week), many commented how much fun they’ve had and asked me what else I teach. I felt proud. I’m lucky to have such an awesome job, and really engaged and curious students. And I feel like I am really making a difference.

NCPH Working Group 2017: Call for Discussants

Sport History and Public History are two fields that I think were made for each other. I’ve said this a few times. Sport history is also, in many ways, embedded within Campus History, i.e the history of college and universities, high schools, etc. After all, they say sports are the front porch of the university. And Campus History is another stakeholder in public history, with resounding consequences for public perceptions, politics, and much much more. Recently the National Council on Public History has had panels and working groups addressing both sport history and campus history at its annual meetings. This year I am facilitating a working group that seeks to bring public historians working on campus history and sport history together to talk about how we can better work together and tell multilayered stories to the public. I am intentionally casting a wide net, hoping to bring together a lot of approaches and variety of voices from different vocations.

While I am organizing and facilitating this group, it needs members. The call for discussants from NCPH went out today. Here’s the part about my group:

Sports on Campus: Sporting Traditions as Public History and Memory

Sporting traditions serve as a de facto form of public history for many colleges and become a central part of their and their alumni’s identity, operating as a what historian Brian Ingrassia describes as a form of “middle brow” culture that appeals to the broader public. Athletic teams are also crucial components of university marketing and recruitment strategies, offering a window into student life, inviting people to campus, and attracting news coverage. Furthermore, campus culture is often viewed as a contributing factor to the success and failures of athletes and teams. This use of sporting traditions divorces them from critical public history, obscuring the context and conditions of sport and campus histories.

Extending conversations from last year’s conference, this working group explores the relationship between campus history, sport history, and the identities of colleges and universities, their students, fans, and alumni. In addition to bridging the gaps between sport history and campus history, it hopes to develop strategies for better adding historical context and complicating the narratives told by marketing and sports information departments and sports media. The discussion will center on research and presentation practices, sites for sharing this history, and ways to use sport to track collective pasts and chart collective futures. Key questions that this working group wishes to address are:

– How have marketers and sport media portrayed campus history and sporting events? How can public historians help shape those narratives?

– How might sport history benefit from a deeper understanding of campus events? How might campus history benefit from a deeper understanding of the history of sport?

– How does sport affect our understanding or perception of educational institutions and their history?

– How might public historians respond to sport-related controversies on campus (such as fan behavior, sexual assault, NCAA scandals, mascots, etc.)? What are some effective strategies?

– Where are the best places for public historians to share these histories?

Building off of the 2017 conference theme, the intersection of sport history and campus history serves as a middle ground for multiple interest groups and a place to tell multilayered histories. The result of these conversations will be a best practices document that we hope to make public at History@Work and/or Sport in American History.

If you have never been to NCPH working groups are a bit different from workshops, roundtables, and traditional panels. They usually involve 9-10 people who submit brief “case studies” ahead of time. Group members then discuss the issues, our experiences, and think about how we can shape the field by create guidelines. For example, one outcome for my group is to create a best-practices document. At the actual conference, we will talk about our findings and discussions and open our discussion up to the public for further input.

f you’ve never been to NCPH, working groups are discussion based panels of 9-10 people. Being a discussant involves submitting a brief case-statement and interacting with other group members ahead of time, discussing the issues, our experiences, and thinking about how we can shape the field. For example, one outcome is to create a best-practices document. At the actual conference, we talks about our findings and discussion, and open our it up to the public for further input.

Here are the instructions for joining the group from NCPH:

To join a working group, please submit a one-paragraph email message describing the issues you wish to raise with your peers, together with a one-page resume, c.v., or biographical statement by October 15. We welcome submissions from individuals across a range of professions and career stages. Please see the specific working group descriptions below. Individuals who are selected will be listed as working group discussants in the conference Program and will participate in the working group session at the annual meeting.

This winter the group facilitators will ask participants to contribute a case statement of no more than 500-1,000 words for discussion. The case statement will describe a participant’s particular experience, define the issues it raises, and suggests strategies and/or goals for resolution. Case statements will be circulated among participants by email and posted in the Public History Commons or in PDF format on the NCPH website. Discussants are expected to read and comment briefly by email on one another’s case statements well before the conference date. Some working groups may also have additional shared background reading materials identified by their facilitators.

To apply, please send your paragraph and one-page resume/c.v./biographical statement by October 15 to ncph@iupui.edu with the specific working group title in the subject line of your email.

If you have any questions about the goals or purpose of the group, feel free to comment here or contact me via email.

 

 

On Kaepernick

I’ve kept most of my commentary about Colin Kaepernick confined to Twitter, and “clicking like” on people’s posts on Facebook. As many of you know, I was an MA student at Nevada while he was the quarterback for the Wolf Pack. During that time I became a fan of his, and I have been following his career with interest ever since. What’s more, I teach an African American Studies course here at Purdue called “The Black Athlete.” So the story is relevant to me as both a fan and a scholar.

First, I think it is important to take note of the evolution of Kaepernick’s image. When I was a student at Nevada he was a community hero, a beloved figure to almost everyone. At Nevada he was a hero, but people also recognized he had a complex identity. They respected that and sought to understand him. The media did countless profiles on him and his background, revealing the nuance to his identity.

That treatment and that understanding did not follow him to the NFL. Once he went to the league, few people were aware of who he was, his complex identity, or personality. The national media did not dig up or rely on the Nevada narratives. Instead, while they liked his play, they also saw his tattoos and celebrations, making their own narratives. Quickly he became labeled a “thug,” immature, etc. He was caricatured along the lines of most black athletes, and became stripped of the complex nuances in his life; turned into a stereotype not a man. This representation held no matter his success. In fact, I witnessed many of my own colleagues openly rooting against him in Super Bowl XLVII because they didn’t like his image, attitude, etc., buying into the new and revised narratives.

Of course, the difference between local, college media and national media is important here. But what has struck me, and I have only been able to fully recognized what troubled me for so long in the last year after teaching my course, is that in watching the revision of the Kaepernick narrative from college to the NFL I have been watching how racism works in America. We are capable and even willing to understand and appreciate certain athletes, behaviors, images, in a local, friendly, (and perhaps possessive) setting, but when they become unfamiliar, when they are the enemy, have a larger stage, etc. we care less, take less time, to dig deeper. Nationally, we are OK and comfortable with the caricatures and stereotypes that we would never tolerate in other contexts.

Following Friday’s demonstrations, the stereotypes continue for most. Entitled, ungrateful, prima donna, anti-American, etc. Others yet seemed baffled that an alleged “thug” could also be an activist, retreating to the commonly held stereotype that athletic ability and intellectual depth are mutually exclusive. The perpetuation of these stereotypes are indicative of the exact culture and treatment that Kaepernick is speaking out against.

Second, the analysis of Kaepernick’s demonstration and activism that I have read, has largely ignored the connections to W.E.B. Du Bois. As I learned today, Friday, when he refused to stand for the national anthem, was also the anniversary of Du Bois’ death. Du Bois, of course, coined the term “double consciousness” referring to how African Americans are both black and Americans, a twin identity that is often hard to reconcile given the history of this country and its relationship to race. Indeed, this likely was not lost on Kaepernick. As my friends at Nevada know, each student is required to take “Core Humanities” courses, one of which covers the American Experience. These courses are about perspectives and include discussion sections. DuBois is almost certainly a topic covered.

Additionally, Kaepernick joins a long tradition of black athletes engaging in activism. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar famously refused to play in the 1968 Olympics, saying “It’s not my country” about being unpersuaded by a patriotic duty to compete. Ali, of course, refused induction in the Army. They too invoked Du Bois’ concept, explicating their black identity from larger American nationalist and imperialistic goals that they could not reconcile with their realities. There are several other examples that I wont list here.

I offer these two points to help us understand the historic context of Kaepernick’s actions. The present context is equally complex. A flawed criminal justice system has given rise to the Black Lives Matters moment, Donald Trump has incited a resurgence in white supremacist ideals, and the NFL continues to be the “no fun league” with a major image problem. All of these issues continue to unfold, while Kaepernick pledges to continue “demonstrating” until some sort of real, substantive change happens. Some will say that regardless of the outcome, Kaepernick has been successful redirecting our attention and starting conversations. This is true, but like our awareness of nuance and complexity at the personal level, it can too easily be ignored and written off from a distance. As the story continues, I hope that the narratives surrounding Kaepernick will help us rethink and reevaluate national stereotypes and policies, help us better empathize with pain of living with racism in America, and inspire us to work together to not nostalgically “make American great again” but instead progressively make America a great place for all of us.

Southern Jaunt #3 — My Journey to NASSH

I just finished 3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, grading APUSH exams, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I called the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is my third post in a series of posts about my trip.

As I was driving out of Atlanta following the annual meeting of the North American Society for Sport History, I couldn’t help but think, “Brenda’s smiling.”

I first “discovered” sport history when I was a sophomore at Baker University. After taking a required “Laboratory in Research Methods Course” during the fall semester, which met in the reading room of our on-campus archive, I became aware of scholarly journals. After that class (and still to this day), I made it part of my routine to stop in the periodicals section of the library and browse the new history journals. One of them that always caught my was Kansas History the journal of the Kansas State Historical Society. In its Autumn 2005 issue, there appeared an article entitled, “‘Can Basketball Survive Wilt Chamberlain?:’ The Kansas Years of Wilt the Stilt” by Aram Goudsouzian. That article gave me the crazy idea that I could study sports and history at the same time.

That spring my first experiement doing sport related history was in a Roman history course. For our research paper we were assigned to find a ‘gauge of romanization in Britain.’ As a student of classical Latin (although the word is originally Greek), I was familiar with the palaestra, a Roman exercise grounds often located near a bath complex. The palaestra was an important part of Roman daily life, especially soldiers and elites. After discussing it with my professor, I decided to read a series of archaeological articles and maps to find out if and where palaestrae were located in Britain. It turns out they did exist, and I was able to find a pattern where and explanation of why. The paper, although fairly simple and tad bit too short, was a success. I was on my way to becoming a sport historian.

My early passion for classical Roman and medieval history quickly subsided the more I was pushed into primary source research. U.S. history made more sense, and better aligned with my new-found interest in sport history. At the time, however, I remained a history and secondary education major intent on teaching junior high or high school and most likely coaching. Because of the double major, I elected to write my required senior thesis the spring of my junior year, so that I could student teach the spring of my senior year. The topic of that thesis was “The History of Men’s Track and Field at Baker University” (which I turned into a digital exhibit in 2013 and spoke about at NASSH in Atlanta).

Writing my undergraduate thesis required copious amounts of research. I routinely hung out in the archives 2 or 3 days a week for several hours. I quickly developed a good working relationship with the archivist, and she was impressed by my dedication and diligence. Indeed, I fell in love with researching that semester. After finishing my thesis (and earning a coveted, rare A from my professor, Dr. Exon), the archivist asked if I’d like to intern over the summer. I gladly accepted the offer.

The archivist was Brenda Day. She had worked at Baker university for nearly two decades by the time I met her. She was eccentric and friendly woman that lived and breathed local and campus history. One of her passions was the Old Castle Museum (Baker’s first building, and the first university building in Kansas), which she felt a paranormal connection to (this led to a later study I did on the history of ghost stories at Baker), and helped save and renovate years before I arrived on campus. Brenda was also a leader in the efforts to develop the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Trust, and taught a special class on the topic to dig deeper into its Bleeding Kansas and Civil War connections.

During my internship I was tasked with helping the marketing department prepare for the university’s sesquicentennial celebration. Basically, I did research for them and distilled stories into short segments that they could use on display panels and in brochures. I also got to explore the other functions of the archives, like help patrons who visited during the annual United Methodist Conference meeting to do research, re-house and catalog items, and process a collection of my own choosing. As a budding sport historian, I chose to process and re-house a file cabinet that belonged to a long retired Chemistry Professor, E.J, Cragoe. He served as the faculty athletic representative from Baker University to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) for over 20 years. He also served as Secretary and later Vice President of the KCAC. The collection included: the official conference meeting minutes, eligibility reports, heat-sheets and programs for the annual track meet, correspondence with important athletic officials and documents various and sundry. When I first got my hands on it, it had been sitting in the archive (which was then an open archive with very few finding aids) for a while as if it was wheeled in on a dolly and left untouched for decades. It was wonderful experience, and further fueled my passion for sport history.

It was during this time that I decided that I might try to do something other than become a junior high (I liked that age better than high school) social studies teacher. Archival work was kind of fun, research was fun, museums were neat. I had all sorts of options! AND, because I decide the summer before my senior year, I could drop my secondary education major, take more history classes, and apply to graduate school. Things sure seemed like they made a lot of sense then! I was living the dream in the summer of 2007.

Of course, the sudden decision to not become a teacher took quite a few people by storm. Sport history sounded great, but few of my professors had actually heard of it. One recalled maybe seeing a textbook in a catalog (it was Richard O. Davies book), but he didn’t know anyone who did it. Another professor confessed she’d always thought I’d make a great teacher, she sensed it about me, and was a little surprised that I wanted to give academia a try. She offered to help me nonetheless, and gave my materials her ever-intimidating once over, leaving them bloody with her trademark red ink.

The unstable or at least uncertain career prospects also scared some of my family. I could teach for a few years, then go back, they suggested. My Grandmother, to her credit, thought it was smart to pursue my passion now instead of get stuck teaching and regret never giving it a shot 5 years later when I had a mortgage and maybe a family. At that point it would be too late and I’d be too comfortable, she advised.

Amidst this uncertainty, Brenda believed in me and encouraged me. She said it might take time, but I would fit the right fit and become a sport historian. “You might just have to write your own ticket,” she reassured me, with unwavering confidence. Brenda encouraged me to become a sport historian before anyone else, and after she saw my passion in the archives, knew that it was what I was meant to be.

The story gets sad, and little disappointing from there. I dropped my education major, but failed to get into any of the graduate schools I applied to. I aimed higher than I realized, but was also a victim of poor timing. The economic recession of 2008 doomed my dreams like so many others. Luckily, I was offered a graduate assistant coaching position. I got a “free” master’s degree, while coaching track and field. My undergraduate mentors thought this was the best situation for me. It gave me time to decide between academia and coaching, while gaining experience doing both.

Brenda offered to let me stay on at the archives (I continued as a volunteer intern throughout my senior year). At the end of my internship, sometime in the early fall of 2007, her cancer came back. She’d beaten it once before, but this time it was more serious and more aggressive. By the middle of the fall of 2007, I was more or less running the archives alone. A graduate intern from the University of Kansas oversaw the museum and administrative duties, but I did the day-to-day things. At one point Brenda and I talked about the possibility of me taking over the position full-time in the future, but she thought I was destined for something greater. She once again said, “you gonna write your own ticket” and become a sport historian.

During the 2008-2009 school year, I worked in the archives in the morning, coached in the afternoon, and took classes toward a Masters of Liberal Arts in the evening. By late-January of that year I had become disenchanted with coaching. The long hours, constant travel, and disagreements with the head coach wore on me. Although I’d already missed all of the important December and January graduate school deadlines, I began looking at history programs with sport historians. I serendipitously discovered Richard O. Davies at the University of Nevada, Reno. They had a March 1st deadline and offered funding. I rushed the application, writing new materials, emailing Dr. Davies, and asking the graduate advisor if my MLA would count toward the PhD or I’d need to get an MA. They said they’d consider my app for both, and got the materials just under the wire. It was the only school I applied to, so I kept it quiet, in case I needed to return for the second year of my graduate assistantship.

In early April I found out I was accepted, without funding, and only for the MA. Though disappointing, I still intended on going, hoping they could find me some money and determined to make it work. I was never able to tell Brenda the good news. She was near death by then, frail and unable to type. One of my professors assured me that she knew, and was proud of me. Her faith meant the world to me, and pushed me to pursue my dream. Brenda died on April 25, 2009.

In August, I left Kansas for Nevada. I was on my way to becoming a sport historian.

My graduate career in Reno was nothing short of a success. While Aram Goudsouzian, a Purdue PhD and Randy Roberts student, was the first sport historian I ever read, Richard O. Davies was the first one I ever met. From day 2 he set my eyes on Purdue for doctoral work, helped me craft a thesis topic, outline efficient plan of study, and pushed me to get done quickly. Dick Davies remains an incredible mentor and friend, and has worked tirelessly to help me advance my career and improve me work.

Two years after arriving in Nevada, I came to Purdue to work with Randy Roberts. Although my time here has been less expedient than I would have liked, I’ve continued on my journey toward becoming a sport historian. Yet, in all of my years working in the field, doing research, writing my master’s thesis, publishing book chapters, starting a blog, I never attended NASSH. I joined in 2010, and hoped to go, but it never fit into my travel plans, it was in an inconvenient location, or I didn’t have the money. This year, I attended my first NASSH, taking another important step in becoming a sport historian.

Although my journey towards becoming a sport historian is not yet complete, attending the conference felt like a homecoming. For the first time I was surrounded by fellow sport historians. I’d known a few, and been around a handful or so of them at other conferences, but NASSH was an entirely different level. I soaked it in all week. I attended as many sessions as I could. I Tweeted, I took notes, I exchanged business cards, and marveled at meeting professors who I only knew from my bookshelves. I felt a proud camaraderie with many of my fellow attendees. There was the group of bloggers who I knew only from online but felt like friends. There was the “Purdue Mafia” of alumni that I’d heard stories about and felt sort of like fraternity brothers. It was a massive homecoming reunion centered around our shared passion.

It was, in so many ways, NASSH was the culmination of a dream I’d been working towards for so many years. And, the most fitting part was that my paper discussed my undergraduate thesis. Those long hours in the archives, the advice of Brenda, her unwavering faith in me, were on display in my session. The dedication of my master’s thesis, which I defended in 2011, reads “For Brenda, who lives on in the process of history.”  She lived on at NASSH this year, and she was smiling the whole time.

Southern Jaunt #2 — Meeting IRL

I’m on a 2-3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I’m call the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is my second in a series of posts about my trip.


I’ve been in Atlanta for three days attending the “Doing Sport History in the Digital Present” workshop sponsored by Georgia Tech and the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). It was a pre-conference workshop. NASSH’s conference is this weekend. It has been a wonderful experience. Everyone has been super welcoming, supportive, and engaged with other people’s work. I’ve had so many great conversations and met a lot of people.

One of the neat things about the workshop, was the pre-review process. Everyone read each other’s papers ahead of time. We also commented on a couple of them in preparation for panel presentations. This not only ensured that everyone was engaged, but also served as an introduction to each other. Thus when we arrived in Atlanta, it was fun to meet the minds and personalities behind the text we’d been reading.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting people in real life (IRL as the kids say) is always fun and interesting. When I’m reading I always have an image and a voice of a person in my mind. Then, when you meet the person, you get to see if you were right. You also pick up more elements of their personality, sense of humor, etc. This was striking to me in a couple of ways because it made me realize that despite long-standing digital connections and online friendships, your conception of someone is still only an idea. Digital friendships and collaborations are un-bodied or disembodied.

I Tweeted this a few days ago upon arriving in Atlanta, but over the course of this week (both the workshop and the conference), I will likely meet at least 50 people I know from blogging, Twitter, email, and other digital mediums for the first time face to face. It’s kind of incredible.

My workshop paper discussed community and blogging, and how it can extend the conference, tear down barriers, and promote the field (and, I might add, individual scholars). As testament to this power, and the power of digital technology, is the fact that until the workshop, I had never met my co-editors IRL. We’d chatted online, video-conferenced, etc. but we’d never met face to face. Upon meeting we acted like friends, we worked well together, and many people assumed we knew each other for a while. I think it was because of our ease in communicating and familiarity with each other’s work/ideas, but also the fact we built something together and trusted each other solely through a digital collaboration/friendship. In some ways that anecdote proves that digital friendships and collaborations can work, and that digital communities are powerful. Despite that, I am glad to have finally met them. I also glad to have been accepted to attend the workshop and the conference. Personal, human, face to face engagement is important.

I’m little embarrassed to admit this, but this will be my first NASSH. I’ve been working in sport history since around 2009, but haven’t made it to the field’s major conference. I don’t really have any excuses, and I have wanted to go, but for one reason or another I haven’t. So I’m thrilled to be here and making IRL connections with scholars I have read, cited, emailed, Tweeted, Facebook’ed, and so on. It’s going to be a fantastic weekend.

Beers and laptops.

Beers and laptops.

Because it is my first NASSH, I’m in a weird but extremely flattering position. There are people who want to meet me. As lowly graduate students we never expect that. Indeed, I met one person already this week who knew who I was from the Sport in American History blog, but didn’t know me. He told me that for someone who is attending NASSH for the first time, I already have a pretty large footprint. I don’t think he was trying to feed my ego, but instead highlighting the success of the blog. For me, the blog has been my conference and my community. It will continue to be those things, but I’m glad to move beyond the digital and become a real person with a face and a personality. The real life connections and conversations in sessions and over beers are important, especially because not everyone embraces the digital. Likewise, those conversations are part of the difference between knowing someone and knowing someone. Digital communities can only go so far.

Visting Lambeau Field: Reflections on Experiencing History at and in Stadiums

Yesterday I went on a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field to watch the Chiefs and Packers play on Monday Night Football. Lambeau Field is probably the only true NFL mecca (unlike MLB which has a handful). It was a fun trip, even if Kansas City lost. The atmosphere was interesting — it felt more like a college game though with a decidedly older crowd. The stadium itself, while large, felt less intimidating than newer ones, probably because of its large lower bowl, while makes it less steep and towering.

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Throughout the trip, I found it difficult to divorce myself from viewing things with a critical perspective. The violence of the game on the field — there were a couple of big hits — and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I with several of the former player in attendance, forced me to consider the impact on individual players. I wondered what today’s champions would look like in 50 years. How many will be alive? Their size combined with the speed and the trauma of the game today will undoubtedly make aging more difficult for them, even if they have more modern technology.

IMG_0990The Hall of Fame also was an interesting look into both the past and how it is presented to fans (most of whom are extreme partisans). I was impressed with the amount of ‘stuff’ they had on display. Too many halls of fame rely on videos, text panels, and photos, rather than tactile and 3-dimensional artifacts. To be sure, this requires smart collecting and preservation, but, man, does it make a difference for showing the reality of change over time. I would have loved to see them take it one step further and use these items to show connections to the present, perhaps using different type of football equipment to show the advancement of technology and safety alongside the increased size and speed of players. Combined, these narratives could offer commentary on how football has become more safe and yet more dangerous using material culture.

IMG_0992Making a trip like this also requires reflecting on the purpose. Some of the folks I went with are die-hard Packers fans. To them visiting Lambeau is ritual, it’s game day. Others, myself included, saw it as a place to be experienced for its history and significance. It’s something on their bucket list. The game is and was important (I wouldn’t have gone if they weren’t playing Kansas City), but one of the guys went regardless of teams just to experience it. The history of the stadium, the mystique of Monday Night, and the atmosphere of an NFL game. Here you see a blending of sports and cultural heritage tourism. You see ideas about quintessential American experiences as sports fans that are tied to larger notions of a participatory involvement in American culture. Everyone of us viewed ourselves as a stakeholder in the cultural experience — we’re all football fans, we’re all americans, and we could all afford the experience. Some of us were more closely tied to the team(s) but regardless, we viewed Lambeau and Green Bay as culturally significant. We wanted to learn and experience its history and join in the creation of more.

The Packers signify this perhaps more than other clubs, because of the collective nature of its ownership structure, but even beyond that, these pilgrimages, or bucket list trips, hint at our obsession with authentic and democratic cultural experiences. Sports add a further dimension to this, I think, because we are visiting a historic sites and learning history at the same time as we are coming together to witness history. This is precisely what makes historic stadiums such powerful experiences. They tie the past and present, interweaving personal and collective narratives, and offering the possibility that you might witness the extraordinary. The opportunity for you to be present for not just for the making of new history but the next culturally reverberating moment. Traditional museums and historic offer connections to the past and present, but can’t always guarantee the living history experience, where you become a part of that place’s history. For many, this opportunity, this promise, and this excitement to be a witness to ‘new’ history unfolding before them, is what makes them feel alive.

WIMG_1038ithin this critical frame of mind, I kept coming back to my own work and recent conversations I’ve been having surrounding ongoing projects. I’ve been pondering ideas about sports history, public history, heritage, and teaching. Thinking about and asking question such as: what kind of narratives resonate, what kind of techniques work, what are students as well as the general public’s motivating factors for learning and experiencing these stories. Visiting Green Bay with a group of folks — two of them I met for the first time — helped me see some of these things in action.

Thinking forward, and about old stadiums I will never experience and games I’ll never see, I wonder how or if we can salvage, rescue, or reproduce this type of engagement. A few years ago when I visited New Mexico, I had some interesting conversations about the concept of place-based history. It mixed location (GPS points), with videos and images, enabling people to see places as they once were. I think some of this could work for sports. The prevalence of old footage could make it easy to link old games with their former locations. Blending these with a few more tactile features could extend the experience further. Imagine a small historic site near the old the location of old Tiger Stadium in Detroit or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn that pinpoints the location of some seats. In that location reproduction (or even better yet, salvaged seats from the destroyed stadium) were placed in small groups (like park benches), and there, on your cell phone, you could call up historic footage. You could sit in the seats, in the exact place, watching history.

These ideas aren’t too far off. Apps like Next Exit History and a few small projects like those going on at New Mexico State, hint at these possibilities. Maybe some day it will be a reality. It will take a team of collaborators with the resources to build apps, purchase and place tactile features in historic locations, and buy rights to historic footage. I’d love to see a world with this exact type of digital public sport place based history.

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.