Code Red is NOT Dead: Perspectives on the Season

This week is the week of the state championship. Today there will be three games played to determine the winners of the state title in their respective divisions. Tomorrow three more and Saturday three more with the size of the school increasing as each day passes. Last week two of the smallest schools (1A) were determined in the 6 man playoffs.

This season is particularly bittersweet for our household. We just quit playing, missing the state game by one game. Today one of our senior lineman told me, “I would be packing my bag right now.” I was handing him his final game exam. I almost cried.

Our team made history this year. They went farther than any other team in the history of our town. They united a community around a common cause and it healed some deep lines of separation according to the locals. Through it all, the team moved as one and worked as a unit. This is typical Texas football. What is not typical about our team is the fact that we are not loaded with D1 recruits. We are, however loaded with character.

I often try to stay as anonymous as possible and be objective about this life but in moments like this, I cannot. I waited for a long time to decide to reveal this but I thought today’s post was good as any for the moment. While I will still keep from naming my location, there will be enough people who can piece it together that I can’t worry about hiding it for fear of not letting the story be told authentically.

My husband was contacted two seasons ago by a young head coach he admired very much asking him to consider a job that would be open. When he was contacted, we were recovering – spiritually and economically – from a devastating loss of his Athletic Director position a year earlier. While Coach Coker was able to land a coordinator position pretty quickly, he spent the first season after his athletic director job without a win. Needless to say, we were searching for the meaning in all of it.

Immediately after we cleared his office, he prayed in it one last time. He stood there in an office that that no longer belonged to him, silently praying over the desk, the chair, and the space that would soon belong to someone else. In that moment, I understood that his job was not about him although I had spent the last two years thinking it was only about him. He prayed that the coach who followed him would be welcomed, supported, and most of all protective to the young men in that small town. Coach Coker was deeply concerned about the influence of the head football coach in a place so isolated. He knew the power that the position held and he knew how easily that power could be used to do harm. He prayed that the next man would understand and respect the position enough to do good work and nothing for harm. It was in that moment, that I knew my husband put God first.

As we pulled out of that little town in our Uhaul, I felt not only guilty for competing with his job for two years but relieved that I didn’t have to do so anymore. I secretly felt blessed by his loss and then felt deplorable in my cheer. It was hard to understand what to do as a wife and how our family would be able to recover. During this time there was a change in Coach Coker. I watched my husband, a patient faithful and loving man, focus on his family and take peace in our health and happiness. I watched him revert from spending time watching film that made him frustrated to baking cookies with his daughter. He was very focused on making sure what was left for him was not falling apart as well. This doesn’t mean that the family was second to his team or that he was avoiding his duty to his team. It was just a reprieve from the pressure of being the man in charge. It was during this time that I saw what family meant to him. I felt so blessed to be married to him and it made the thought of moving on to new places easier to do. During this time, I understood that our family – with me first – was the second most important thing in his life.

It was also during this time that Jeff called him and asked him to travel six hours for an interview. It just so happened that the English department was also looking for an instructor. He first told him that he was hesitant about moving our oldest son again who had just begun high school and really liked the new school despite the winless season. I listened to the conversation and felt deeply that he was passing on something good. We talked that evening and I encouraged him to reconsider. “The worst thing that could happen,” I said, “is you get a new job and we get a new house.”

So here we are, at the end of the season with four playoff wins and bronze medals for the third place finish in the state. But that isn’t what is good here. What is good is that we have an extended family of boys and parents and grandparents that love each other. We have a saying here: code red. As we got deeper in the playoffs, we gained cowbells and huge crowds. There was some talk on the interwebs about code red being the mantra for the crowd and the influence the fans will have on the game. It became so misunderstood that the last team made a run through sign that read “code red is dead” and it upset many of our faithful.

See, our code is one we have lived by, as a family, for a long time: God Family Team. It’s an order of things to keep this crazy life in perspective. It’s a way to keep your focus in winless seasons and to follow the right leader in successful ones. But most of all, it is the heartbeat of the mission. We can fearlessly say “God” in our stadium and we can openly love each other as family. This doesn’t mean that we are all perfect or that we always get along. It does mean, at the end of the day, we are on the same team.

A team that puts character over victories.
A team that knows teaching a player to be a good husband and father will be more valuable than teaching them how to run a nice route.
A team that doesn’t let the weakest link feel weak but strong in the collective strength of prayer and fellowship.
A team that knows the best part of this is “Ohana.”

If we never win another football game in this town, I can confidently say that code red will NEVER be dead here. I also really think that the code lived here before we came and that if we ever move on, Coach Coker will not have to pray as hard in his office in the field house.

Moorea Coker teaches AP Literature and adjuncts at a Junior college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @polypel88 or reach her by email:

Sport & the Transgender Boogey(wo)man

Last week, after a long and ugly campaign, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) voted to adopt a policy which governs trans participation in sport. The policy has undergone several different drafts since July and ultimately passed as an appeals process for “male to female students.” This means that a trans girl would have to file an appeal with the MSHSL to transfer her eligibility from the boys’ team to the girls’ team. Original draft language had included guidelines for trans boys and trans girls (but not for non-binary or gender variant students). In statements to the press, board members claim that girls can already play on boys’ teams; and therefore, guidelines for trans boys are redundant.

An early draft of the policy was circulated in September before the October board meeting (where they were scheduled to vote on the proposed draft). This version of the draft included language addressing trans boys and girls’ participation as well as guidelines for locker room accommodations. The weekend before the board meeting, the ultra-conservative Minnesota Child Protection League (CPL) took out a full page ad in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “A male wants to shower beside your 14 year old daughter” they say. “Are YOU ok with that?” they ask.

The meeting was contentious, and the board moved to table the vote until December. Again, an updated draft of the policy was circulated in November prior to the December 4th meeting. This version was still generically labeled “Gender Identity Participation” but specific guidelines for trans boys and trans girls were removed. And again, in the days leading up to the meeting, the CPL took out another full page ad in the Star-Tribune. This ad hyperbolically announces the “end of girls’ sports.” Further, the ad states, “Her dreams of a scholarship shattered, your 14-year-old-daughter just lost her position to a male… and now she may have to shower with him.”

In claiming that trans girls & women are “really male,” these fear mongering ads deny the gender identity, self-determination, and humanity of trans people, especially trans girls & women. This has significant & harmful repercussions for how trans people are understood and treated in US society. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 78% of trans and gender variant youth experienced verbal harassment and 35% experienced physical assault. Even for people who may never be directly verbally and/or physically harassed, these ads contribute to and encourage an atmosphere which invalidates trans peoples’ identities and experiences. For example, I experience my gender fluidly and identify as queer, yet I often get talked about and introduced as lesbian – which both misgenders me and ignores my sexual identification. These microaggressions build up over time, and often become unbearable.

Are YOU ok with that?

These ads are an easy target, though. Their offensive depiction of trans girls is easily seen as “out of step” or “backwards” and their harmful consequences for trans people are easily articulated (though not easily lived). The policy, on the other hand, is harder to critique. It, along with other legal gains made by LGBT groups, appear to be a progressive & forward-thinking step. I want to pause and be careful with my wording here; we should absolutely celebrate its existence and the hard work that people put in to ensure its passage. However, we must also be critical of its implementation and governance, its own contribution to anti-trans or hostile atmospheres, and the microaggressions that exist within it. Kris Newhall has written about the policy and its shortcomings here and here. Echoing her concerns, I’d like to put the policy into the historical and cultural context of trans sport participation in the U.S.

The passage of the policy as one which only governs trans girls’ participation implicitly affirms the CPL’s position that trans girls & women are really men masquerading as women and that they are sexual predators. Further, it reinforces so called “floodgate theories” that circulated in popular culture during the 1970s when Renée Richards fought for (and won) access to the women’s division at the US Open tennis tournament. Like the CPL ads, these floodgate theories traffic in fear mongering: promising that giant, muscular, hairy men will claim to be trans in order to dominate women’s competition. A letter to the editor in the Star-Tribune (I am purposefully not linking to the letter so that we do not increase its click count) asks us to imagine an “adolescent counterpart to Clay Matthews” coming before the MSHSL claiming to have a “feminine self image.” Building the tension from there, he implores us to imagine this “Clay Matthews look-alike bowling girls over under the basket” during a high school girls’ basketball game.

These floodgate theories are grounded in gender ideology about sport. People assigned male sex at birth are presumed to be bigger, faster, and stronger (and thus naturally better at sports). And, because many trans women were assigned male at birth, they are presumed to have a “competitive advantage” over their competitors who were assigned female at birth. For many feminist sport scholars, these are time worn arguments. Yet, these floodgate theories and stereotypes of trans women continue to re-circulate. Fallon Fox, who identifies as a trans woman, is a rising MMA fighter. Ronda Rousey, who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman, is the current UFC women’s bantamweight champion (Fox is in the same weight division but does not have a UFC contract). Rousey has challenged men to fight her and has boasted that she could beat men’s MMA and boxing champions. Yet, she has consistently refused to fight Fox, arguing that Fox can “cut her pecker off” but that as a trans woman she still has competitive advantages. Similarly, Joe Rogan, a MMA analyst, claimed that Fox should not participate in the women’s division at all because she is “a fucking man.”

Are YOU ok with that?

These pernicious stereotypes and ways of thinking about trans women create monstrous and fantastical images that are not grounded in the lives and experiences of trans people. We are asked to imagine a Clay Matthews look-alike bowling girls over rather than the harassment and violence that trans people experience daily. We are asked to imagine a women’s sporting event overrun with stereotypical neanderthals out to win-at-all-cost rather than the diversity of bodies and reasons for participating in sport. We are asked to imagine trans people as sexual predators in a locker room rather than people who cannot go to the bathroom safely.

Are YOU ok with that?

Cathryn Lucas-Carr is a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa and crosses campus to use one of the few gender neutral/bathrooms for people of all genders. Cathryn can be reached at

Reading “When The Garden Was Eden”

After reading the Sports Documentary/Sports History issue of the Journal of Sports History (Summer 2014)  I watched Michael Rapaport’s contribution to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, “When the Garden Was Eden.” The documentary intended to show how important the New York Knicks teams of the early 1970s were to the NBA and that they represented an oasis in the tumultuous era, where people from different backgrounds came together and played as a team. As a professional basketball historian and fan I wondered about accuracy of its main argument but also how it fit with the sports documentary analysis I’d read.

As part of ESPN’s series, this documentary fits into the company’s model that Travis Vogan describes (“Institutionalizing and Industrializing Sport History,” 197). While the actor does not provide the cache that some of the earlier film makers in the series did, he brought the enthusiasm of a Knicks fan to his project and the style of the series provides the makers with cinematic signifiers that Joshua Malitsky discussed in his article, (“Knowing Sports,”  206).

The documentary proved to have a few minor inconsistencies and errors.  “Garden was Eden” began by presenting the National Basketball Association as second to college basketball in New York City and as a “minor” professional sports league compared to professional baseball and football through the 1960s. One example mentioned is that the players received such small salaries to its players that they had to take jobs during the off-season  (When the Garden Was Eden, 5-6 minute mark). Interestingly, while the comparison is made among the sports league, there is no investigation of how much players earned in baseball and football. In both of these sports, as well as hockey, players found themselves in the same position of having to work second jobs. Basketball had two centers that earned significant salaries, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, each earned around $100,000 annually. Walt Bellamy, the Baltimore Bullets’ center, earned $30,000 before becoming unhappy with contract negotiations with the team. Baltimore traded Bellamy to the Knicks, and his salary with them undercuts Reed’s comment here that none of his Knicks teammates earned more than $22,000. (The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, DC, 78)

As part of the discussion about the insignificance of the NBA prior to the emergence of these Knicks, the film mentions that the league sometimes had its playoff finals shown on tape delay (When the Garden Was Eden, 6-7 minute mark). As Mario R Sarmento showed in his work, “The NBA on Network Television: A Historical Analysis,” the league had gained ground on television during the 1960s through the skillful directing of Roone Arledge. Ratings crept up and the NBA received increased revenue for its product. The tape delayed finals were not resolved by the development of a championship team in New York, as the film leads us to believe. The tape delay showing of the NBA Finals occurred during the late 1970s, when the broadcasts of all NBA games suffered severe ratings declines (Sarmento, 48-50).

More than the aforementioned inaccuracies, an omission proved a very important to making the point about the uniqueness of the Knicks. While painting the Knicks as a multi-racial team with a variety of individual personalities, the documentary failed to discuss the composition of any of other NBA teams. Wouldn’t Boston’s Celtics, Los Angeles’ Lakers, or Washington’s Bullets, also provide this same cohesion of different individuals into a winning team? I would argue that each team met this standard as well.

The style of its presentation aided immensely in making “Garden was Eden,” appear persuasive. The documentary adopted most of the claims that Malitsky described as assertions that contemporary documentaries make about sport. Rapaport’s film certainly used sports as visually spectacular, as individual expression and as already narrativized.  However, it interplayed these three in an ingenious way that enabled them to reinforce one another and give more power to the argument the documentary advanced.  During a twelve-minute stretch, the director took people from a black-and-white image of a down New York City, through colorful individualized introductions to each of the new Knick players, as they joined the team. This individual introduction of the biographies and special talents of these players included visually spectacular footage that depicted these youthful players as heroes were typically presented in many a Hollywood narrative movie.  After more context about the disruption era with Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests, the montage ended with a photograph of all the players on the team seated in rows, presenting the  documentary’s argument that these people of diverse backgrounds came together as a team. “Garden was Eden” also touched on sport’s connection with Capital but was neither critical or accepting sport as a business like any other. The movie celebrated the Knicks as significant to lifting up the fortunes of a struggling league, drawing celebrities (31 minute mark) giving it cache in the advertizing world and in magazines and books (52-55 minute mark). Interestingly, the documentary missed one opportunity to further this point when it presented the trade of Earl Monroe to New York. “The Pearl” wanted to leave Baltimore for a few reasons, a major one being a lack of advertising and business opportunities that could be had if he played with the Knicks.(59-62 minute mark, The Bullets, chapter 6).

Brett L. Abrams is a cultural historian with books on the Hollywood movie industry, stadiums in Washington, DC and professional basketball. His latest interest centers on pro sports fans and the various ways that we can understand them. You can reach him via email at


Reading Sport Critically in the Networked Digital Media Landscape (Part 1)

This post represents a thought experiment (with more questions than answers) about some of the challenges that scholars researching sport and sport media face regarding the ways in which we conceptualize and theorize our topics. Of course, concepts and theories inform methods, so this is a reflection on our choices about methods as well. I do not present original research in what follows, but instead attempt to open up an admittedly focused and limited discussion drawing from what I perceive to be only some of the myriad texts that might offer key insights on the subject. The works I engage with have been useful and inspiring to the extent that they have forced me to consider how one should approach sport media products as sources and evidence, including the questions asked of them and the answers one assumes they can provide. Specifically, I begin to interrogate the implications of the changes and continuities of sport media in the digital age for the highly influential reading sport method developed by Susan Birrell and Mary G. McDonald.

Two intellectual-political positions and commitments shape this discussion as well. First is my interest in dismantling the structural and systemic gender inequalities of the sport-media-commercial-cultural complex; and second, a presumption that sport as a political, social, economic, and cultural institution will not be a fully humane, egalitarian, progressive and positive space without transformation of the monopolistic political economy of the Internet and digital media.[1]

Cultural Studies and Reading Sport

Clearly, any analysis of the broader social meanings of contemporary sport must take into account the fact that for millions of people, their dominant experience of sport is not as athletes, but as spectators of a mediated public spectacle.[2]                           

Cultural studies and feminist perspectives provide crucial theoretical orientations for the ways in which I conceptualize sport, the body, and mediated (re)presentations of both. Moreover, these theoretical perspectives inform my thinking on power, identities, social formations and arrangements, as well as the wider political economy and forces characteristic of late global capitalism and the social, cultural, and economic formations that undergird the production, distribution, and consumption of sport practices in our contemporary historical moment.

A particularly fruitful way to go about exploring these ideas is through a cultural studies framework. Cultural studies projects privilege a radically contextualized search for the workings, influences, and relations of power and meaning between social structures and human agents.[3] A cultural studies scholar should always be looking for where power is embedded, contested, and struggled over across a broad range of identities, social formations and institutions. The goal is not simply to identify sites of hegemonic functioning, but to open up possibilities for ways to understand, resist, question, critique, reverse, transgress and/or transform social arrangements based in exclusionary politics of domination and subordination. While there are “no necessary correspondences” between social formations, determinate relations do exist that tend to replicate inequalities rooted in capitalist systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, nationalism, sexism, heteronormativity, and homophobia.[4]

As McDonald and Birrell argue, these multiple axes of power lines are always already woven together at various social conjunctures and moments, but not in equal or consistent ways.[5] Therefore, within the webs of producer-consumer-text, assessing who has the ability to produce dominant meanings and narratives, and how, is a crucial component of the work of cultural studies scholars of sport. To build off this, presumably, requires an understanding that meanings and interpretations are neither fixed nor determined, but negotiated through interactions and the dialectical relations between structure and culture. Moreover, in a sport context, this means getting beyond the superficial and surface-level infatuations with an event, athlete, scandal, or moment of ostensible national unification or even international harmony. It requires unearthing what is special or different about it as a site to illuminate something about the workings of culture, power, knowledge, discourse, politics, and so on.

The Question of Power

Power is amorphous and shifts depending on social, historical, cultural, political, and economic factors.[6] Therefore, it is the burden of the researcher to determine the specificities of power’s articulations, or the form of a connection that makes a unity of different ideological, embodied, or intellectual elements, under particular conditions. The key is the linkage which is not necessary, determined, essential or absolute, but forged and remade anew in particular settings.[7] In other words, in what ways is power made manifest in certain social actors, systems, and collectives, in order to highlight particular categories while obfuscating others? While the power lines are always woven together, some are generally seen as more prominent than others, which remain hidden or invisible based upon contextual factors. Adding to the difficulty of identifying the simultaneously productive and constraining capabilities of power is locating its structural and ideological components within constantly contested and relational formations. According to Foucault, power is a productive network dispersed throughout the whole social body that produces and traverses, induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, and establishes discourses.[8] In short, oftentimes power works paradoxically through situations, spaces, places and spectacles that provide pleasure, such as sport, with the support of those who do not benefit from it.

Reading (Networked Media) Sport

David Rowe offers an important insight for our understanding of the sport/media/commercial/cultural complex for the present and future. He suggests,

“The existence of a sport-media complex, and the interdependencies that it creates between parties including athletes, associations, clubs, fans, media corporations, telecommunications companies, sponsors, advertisers, suprastate bodies, and national governments, does not usher in an inevitable stability but creates the conditions for a series of alignments, alliances, and conflicts around the mutating culture of media sport.”[9]

While Rowe considers the current structures of the sport media complex in terms of the rights and powers of nations and corporations to set the terms of production, circulation, consumption and use, his analysis implies the need for media sport scholars to understand the rapid, vast changes of the industry while retaining the “sociohistorical sensibility that contextualizes (changes) in terms of how they occurred, who benefited from and resisted them, and their implications beyond the limited preoccupations and well-rehearsed sentiments of interested parties.”[10]

The complex array of forces in the above-mentioned series of interdependencies and interested parties form the crux of the power issues at stake in the meanings and representations that circulate around, among, and through sport media. For those who utilize sport media in their research, it is imperative to keep pushing conceptual and theoretical understandings of the media in concert with the transformations and mutations of the sport/media complex. This terrain has shifted in depth and complexity in a “networked digital media sport landscape”, that Rowe argues, no longer allows for the self-evident separation of the constituent elements of “sport,” “media,” “commercial,” and “cultural,” to which I might add “academic.”

One of my central goals as a graduate student has been to develop the perspicacity of cultural studies sensibilities that allow for the “reading” of sport and other social, political and mediated formations critically. That way, I might help engender salient interventions in complex, contradictory, and damaging power relations that disproportionately suppress and oppress racial/ethnic minorities, women, lesbians, gays, trans* and queer-identifying people, as well as the poor and differently abled. On that note, it is critical as an aspiring cultural sport media studies scholar to understand how mediated forms have changed radically in recent years. Hutchins and Rowe argue that the last decade of “digital plenitude” via computers, the Internet, mobile and other digital media does represent an important shift in the history of sport and media, one similar to the 1950s and 1960s with the proliferation of television. In short, the issue of the production, distribution, and consumption of mediated sport texts has exploded. The new “media sport content economy” is marked by the intensification of content, acceleration of information flows, and expansion of network capacities.[11]

While television has been re-positioned and redefined, but not replaced by web/digital media, print accounts are no longer the dominant way sports fans follow athletes and events.[12] Fans, consumers, or “prosumers” help to co-create/challenge/reinforce/edit sport media narratives on sports blogs, websites, and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and doubtless hundreds if not thousands of other “apps” with which I have limited familiarity. Given the fragmenting, wide-ranging accessibility and availability of popular sports media sources in digital communications environments, sports organizations and media juggernauts are responding quickly, if confusingly and unevenly, to find ways to retain their massive revenue flows.

Such restructuring of networked media is not simply displacing various “older” media, rather there are continuities with sports coverage on these multiple platforms. The forms of professional sport and economics in the administration of the sport-media-commercial-cultural complex are also experiencing the tensions of change and continuity. As we continue to access, interpret, and analyze sport media articles, videos, podcasts and blogs for our research projects, are we aware of the concomitant shifts in federal communications policies, the nature of online media markets, advertising and promotional strategies and revenue streams, the state of journalism (see here and here) and fan motivations and practices?

Therefore, how does the method of reading sport translate under these dynamics and interactions? How do these changes in technologies, media and communications open up questions for how “texts” are being consumed and read? As scholars, (or activists, coaches, athletes, students, teachers, and so forth) once we have crafted our counter-narratives, how do we intervene into the resistant sphere of political possibilities? Where should we publish? For what audiences? Where do our commitments lie? (How) are we using our cultural critiques to enact social change? In this seemingly infinite environment, how do we reflexively come to understand counter-narratives that “matter,” ones that uncover and foreground alternative accounts that have been “decentered, obscured, and dismissed by hegemonic forces”?[13]

Old/New Media and Sport History

There is a moment, before the material means and the conceptual modes of new media have become fixed, when such media are not yet accepted as natural, when their own meanings are in flux. At such a moment, we might say that new media briefly acknowledge and question the mythic character and ritualized conventions of existing media, while they are themselves defined within a perceptual and semiotic economy that they help to transform.[14]

I do not have any provisional answers to these questions yet. But it is imperative to avoid the hyperbole of both utopian and dystopian responses to the readjustment of media (sport) industries and cultures. All media were once considered “new media” and therefore studying new media entails a wider historical lens.[15] We have a lot to learn from situating today’s new media and “old” media within their historical contexts and scholarly discourse that seeks to unearth the seemingly naturalized relationships between professional sport and the political economy of commercial media. Supplanting this old/new media truism with either wholly celebratory visions or pessimistic polemics deflects attention away from those individuals and groups actively negotiating these circumstances, including media industry corporations and professionals, sports organizations, clubs and teams, telecommunications conglomerates, the news media, industry regulators, legal representatives, athletes, bloggers, and fans.[16]

As sport is an absolutely central, but curiously under-examined component to the structure and functioning of global media markets and cultures, how much do we really grasp of how globalized capitalist sport got to this point, where it is now, and conjectures of where it might be heading? Hutchins and Rowe claim it is “increasingly hard or pointless to separate the techno-social materiality of sport from representation and experience.”[17] In short, as we might have used to think of living with media, some (many?) assert we now live in media. This insight corresponds to a transition with complex and kaleidoscopic epistemological, ontological, and ethical implications, from studying sport (alongside) media to studying sport as media. But how much do we also understand of the digital divide, and differing experiences based on entrenched and unequal categories of social identities?

In a future post, my response to the question “So what” for Sport (and Media) History? will form “Part 2″ of this consideration of the implications of the networked sport media landscape for reading sport critically.

Dain TePoel is a PhD Candidate specializing in Sport Studies within the Department of American Studies at the University of Iowa. He is currently serving as a graduate student representative for the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. You can reach him via email at or on Twitter: @daintepoel


[1] This statement builds off of Michael A. Messner’s assertion of two requisites for the humanization of sport: boys and girls who are brought up and nurtured in an equal manner, with work shared equally by men and women, and secondly that all social institutions (e.g. schools, workplaces, families, the state) must be reorganized in ways that maximize equality for all people. Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 171-172. See also Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: The New Press, 2013.

[2] Messner, Power at Play, 164.

[3] David L. Andrews, “Coming to Terms with Cultural Studies,” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 26, 1 (2002): 111-112.

[4] Ibid., 113.

[5] Mary G. McDonald and Susan Birrell, “Reading Sport Critically: A Methodology for Interrogating Power,” Sociology of Sport Journal 16 (1999): 284.

[6] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 119.

[7] Stuart Hall, as cited in Andrews, “Coming to Terms,” 114; McDonald and Birrell, “Reading Sport Critically,” 294.

[8] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 119.

[9] David Rowe, “The Sport/Media Complex: Formation, Flowering, and Future,” in A Companion to Sport ed. David L. Andrews and Ben Carrington (Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell, 2013), 71.

[10] Ibid., 73.

[11] Brett Hutchins and David Rowe, Sport Beyond Television: The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport (New York: Routledge, 2012), 4-17.

[12] Hutchins and Rowe, Sport Beyond Television, 9-11.

[13] McDonald and Birrell, “Reading Sport Critically,” 295.

[14] Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (eds.), New Media, 1740-1915 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), xii.

[15] Gitelman and Pingree, New Media, xi.

[16] Hutchins and Rowe, Sporty Beyond Television, 11.

[17] Ibid.

Review of Jennifer H. Lansbury’s A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America

University of Arkansas Press, 2014.

University of Arkansas Press, 2014.

The “ghetto Cinderellas” of tennis, Serena and Venus Williams, were to face one another in the semifinals of the 2001 Masters Tournament in Indian Wells, California.[1] Yet, mere minutes before the match start-time, Venus suddenly pulled out. According to officials, the last minute decision stemmed from knee problems. The abruptness and unexpectedness of both her injury and scratch bolstered suspicions that the Williams sisters’ father and coach, Richard Williams, predetermined his daughters’ victories.

Serena remembered the day differently. She recalled that her older sister suffered from longstanding tendonitis and had requested to forgo the match long before its designated start time. Tournament organizers, hoping to keep the crowds happy, refused her appeal until the match was set to start. They hoped that the façade of a hasty departure would allow the spectators to blame the Williams family for the cancelation. It worked. When Serena, Venus, and Richard Williams appeared on court the following day, the crowd booed. Some mouthed racial epithets while others threw out suggestions of violence.

In A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America, Jennifer H. Lansbury uses the Indian Wells incident to highlight the ways in which the treatment of black female athletes has remained consistent since the early twentieth century. As was apparent in the disparate treatment of the Williams sisters—which was not isolated to the Indian Wells episode—she explains that “the confluence of race, class, and gender that surrounded black women in sport during much of the twentieth century remains, invoking similar and revised images on the athletes in today’s mainstream society” (p. 243). Using six athletes as case studies, Lansbury illustrates how successful black sportswomen were perceived by both black and white communities. Although Ora Washington, Alice Coachman, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee exceled in different contexts and experienced different obstacles, they all faced similar stereotypes, seeped in racial, classed, and gendered ideologies.

Lansbury opens with the plight of Washington, a star basketball and tennis competitor in the 1930s. During Washington’s initial rise to fame in Philadelphia, white women frequently avoided basketball due to its working-class and masculine connotations. Consequently, black women, unbridled by such classed and gendered constraints, excelled. Yet, as Lansbury notes, in the 1930s, questions about femininity surfaced within the black community as many suggested black athletes should align with white norms to facilitate integration. Therefore, even when Washington later dominated tennis, which was deemed a more respectable pastime, she nevertheless experienced criticisms stemming from her affinity for basketball and working-class background. Lansbury uses Washington to showcase the questions of femininity that plagued the black community, a theme that also surfaced in the careers of the other five athletes.

For example, upholding femininity underscored Coachman’s career. A member of the legendary Tuskegee Tigerettes track and field team, she stepped into a different arena largely abandoned by white women. As Lansbury points out, “‘decent’ white women did not participate in such a masculine, competitive sport,” leaving a void that was eventually filled by black athletes (p. 60). To combat the ensuing stereotypes about masculinized competitors, Tigerettes track and field Coach Cleve Abbott required his athletes demonstrate social etiquette and display femininity at all times. For example, he suggested the Tigerettes don lipstick and curl their hair immediately following workouts. The black press also emphasized the athletes’ femininity to counter stereotypes; however, these efforts inevitably reasserted certain preconceived notions about black women’s hyper-sexuality. Coachman’s life and career, then, illustrates her celebration in the black community, which was bolstered through her subscription to feminine norms.

The strongest chapter of A Spectacular Leap covers the career of Althea Gibson, the individual responsible for breaking the color line in tennis. Lansbury clearly identifies the three communities that assisted Gibson’s remarkable success. First, the patronage of middle-class doctors Hubert A. Eaton and Robert W. Johnson guaranteed Gibson financial stability and, perhaps more importantly, lessons in social etiquette. In other words, the two men diminished Gibson’s working-class background. Second, the American Tennis Association, the African American tennis circuit, provided a path for Gibson to follow to desegregate the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which she accomplished in the 1950 U.S. Open. Third, the black press supported Gibson in her desegregation efforts. Yet, when journalists demanded she accept her position as a “race hero,” in line with Jackie Robinson, Gibson refused. She shied away from this tremendous responsibility and, consequently, the black press responded by focusing on her supposed negative attitude and working-class roots.

Although Gibson desegregated tennis, Wilma Rudolph was the first black female athlete truly embraced by white society. According to Lansbury, the celebration of Rudolph developed for two reasons. Foremost, the Cold War increased the importance of track and field in the United States. Competitions against the Soviet Union also allowed Americans to transfer the muscle “moll” ideology onto the U.S.S.R. women. In addition, Tennessee Tigerbelles Coach Ed Temple ensured his athletes, including Rudolph, subscribed to feminine mores. His mandate was based on the premise “that ‘real’ women could participate in track—women who were good looking, liked dresses and high heels, put on lipstick, paid attention to their hair, and easily captured boyfriends” (p. 149). The feminine Rudolph thus defeated the Soviet women, won three gold medals in the Rome Olympics, and earned the adulation of the U.S. public.

Fellow Tennessee Tigerbelle Wyomia Tyus upheld Temple’s femininity demands but also witnessed a new crossroads. Winner of the 100-meter race in 1964 and 1968—the first to accomplish such a feat—Tyus attained athletic success in the midst of both the Black Freedom Struggle and Women’s Liberation Movement. While the “Swiftie from Tennessee State” shared experiences with each group, neither openly embraced her, an exclusion shared by many black women during the time. For example, the Tigerbelles’ thoughts on the proposed boycott of the 1968 Games were unrecognized, just as they remained sidelined in conversations about women’s fight for equality in sport.

Black women may have been excluded from gender- and race- focused conversations in the 1960s and 1970s, yet, black female athletes continued to triumph in track and field, as seen in the career of Joyner-Kersee. To discuss the treatment of Joyner-Kersee, Lansbury incorporates and contrasts the rise and reception of her sister-in-law, Florence Griffith-Joyner. According to Lansbury, Joyner-Kersee refused to highlight her femininity while on the track, instead preferring to focus on her athleticism. Conversely, “Flo Jo” overtly—and at times controversially—flaunted her femininity and sexuality through one-legged leotards, colorful nails, and flowing hair. As a result, Griffith-Joyner received endorsements; Joyner-Kersee did not. To Lansbury, this misbalance of sponsorships seems to demonstrate the unwillingness of U.S. companies, and thus of fans, to embrace a non-feminine black athlete. However, femininity did not save Flo Jo from accusations of drug use. After the Ben Johnson scandal in 1988, suspicions plagued both of the sister-in-laws’ careers. Notably, the allegations raised against Joyner-Kersee and Griffith-Joyner focused on their looks and muscularity, reifying stereotypes about black female athletes.

In A Spectacular Leap, Lansbury explores the lives and careers of prominent black female athletes, a topic that too often remains ignored. The work not only provides important insights into the changing dynamics of race, class, and gender in sport, but also offers notable contextual information. For example, she details the fractions that existed within the Project for Human Rights (PHR), and highlights the various responses to the PHR’s call for a boycott. As an additional example, Lansbury explains the divergent reactions to John Carlos’ and Tommie Smith’s “salute” in the 1968 Summer Olympics; not all within the black community looked favorably upon the actions of the two athletes. Finally, the book is accessible and very well organized.

While an important addition to sport history, some scholars might worry that the use of six mini biographies falls into a “compensatory” historical paradigm. By covering the careers of a handful of phenomenal athletes, Lansbury attempts to add women back into the story. Nevertheless, A Spectacular Leap does an excellent job extending the conversation beyond gender, explaining how race and class intersected in women’s sport history. Sadly, as Lansbury shows with the Williams sisters, black women in sport continue to face stereotypes based on all three social identifiers.

[1] Richard Williams coined the nickname and frequently referred to his daughters as “ghetto Cinderellas.”

Lindsay Parks Pieper is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Lynchburg College. She can be reached at

Gobble Gobble … It Must Be Playoff Season

Well folks, here we are on Thanksgiving day with kiddos running around Nana and Papa’s house after our second helping of stuffing and cranberry sauce. It’s a joyous sound and one we look forward to every year. This year, however, is a little different for us because we are not all here. My husband and oldest son are still a few hours away and can’t make dinner because they had practice this morning and practice in the morning. While I am sad to not have all my family here for Thanksgiving Day, we are also celebrating the fact that we are still playing football.

This is week three of playoffs and at this momnet there are sixteen teams left in our division headed toward the state championship. By Monday, it will be eight teams and I hope we will be part of it. This season has been quite different from others and it would not surprise me at all if we cruised right into the final week. I cannot tell you what this experience is like or describe for you the excitement in our community. It’s truly something magical.

I have a new friend this year and it is her first year as a coaching wife. On our way to the game last week, she asked me how I do it all with kids and stuff. I told her that every season is different and that she will spend her entire career getting back to this one. It made me think of what it might be like to never have had a season where we never won a game. I began to contemplate how we came to be at this point in the season and what factors helped make it happen the most. I began to understand how this playoff run was created before the season ever started, before the coaches were ever hired and before these players were ever in the jersey.

There are times in my life when I feel as though a situation is destined to be great and this is one of those times. As I watch these players come together every week, I see more heart than talent, more desire than ability, and a keen love for the game that they play. I think most playoff runs start there; with the heart of the players. I have seen teams beat themselves with their own talent in moments of selfishness. This is the case, I’m sure, with at least one of the other teams who are no longer in the playoffs. I also have seen teams without “all the talent” make long playoff runs, even win the championship. There is a singular thing that always seems to be a driving force in their success: community support.

I know that I have written previously about the privilege of football coaches and families in Texas. I know that many times I approach my life in a cynical manner and critique it through a theoretical lens that may not always apply. I also know that I would not change my life for any other option out there. Well, okay if I could be Beyonce, I might consider it. Anyway, I have never been happier to be in the community that I live in now. Today, I am thankful for the team that has become my family, the administration that supports their dream and the citizens of my little town who raise wonderful young men. These things are something to truly value when I look at communites that are in the grips of division like Ferguson. Today I am grateful for this silly game that allows us all to feel accepted, safe, and accomplished. Today I am proud to be a Cougar. Today I feel blessed by my life. And today is a great day to feel that way. Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll. Eat turkey, watch football, be thankful.

Moorea Coker teaches AP Literature and adjuncts at a Junior college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @polypel88 or reach her by email:

Beyond Football: The Political Career of Bud Wilkinson (Part 2)

In the weeks following Bud Wilkinson’s resignation as head football coach at the University of Oklahoma and the announcement of his U.S. Senate campaign, John Cronley of The Oklahoman asked “For where do you go from Olympia?” Likening Wilkinson to the mythical Greek gods, Cronley eulogized Oklahoma’s “Golden Football Era.” The article was both forlorn and celebratory. Oklahomans knew Wilkinson was a rare talent, describing him as a “master of miracles and men.” He led them to the promised land and restored pride in the state. But, at only 47, his retirement seemed premature.

Cronley wondered if Wilkinson “was a victim of his own coaching greatness.” There was little left for him to accomplish on the gridiron. His teams won 14 conference championship and 3 national titles. They compiled massive winning streaks. He coached 36 first team All-Americans and a Heisman Trophy winner. In the process, Wilkinson became Oklahoma’s biggest cultural icon of the 1950s. The Oklahoman believed, “had he wished, he probably could have remained as football coach for life.” Instead, Wilkinson left coaching immortality for a new challenge.

In February of 1964, Wilkinson entered a special election to replace his good friend, Senator Robert S. Kerr, who died a year earlier. Death was an important motivating factor for Wilkinson. Along with the loss of Kerr, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the death of Wilkinson’s brother pushed the coach to pursue what he considered to be a more impactful and significant career.

The senate campaign was, in many ways, a test to see how important football had become in Oklahoma. Wilkinson was the personification of the team’s success. As The Oklahoman explained “Bud Wilkinson wouldn’t be where he is in politics if it were not for the football team and his gaining favor with Democrats and Republicans by being the winningest coach in the nation.” Could the well-respected and incredibly popular Wilkinson make the jump from cultural icon to political leader? Was the impact of the OU football dynasty enough to propel him to political success? Did college football make for good politics? Those questions were debated in the papers throughout the campaign.

Prentice Gautt, the Sooners first black football player, believed Wilkinson’s role as football coach qualified him for office. An open letter to Wilkinson from the Oklahoma County for Wilkinson Club, of which Gautt was Co-Chairman, suggested that he had “done more for the prestige of the State of Oklahoma than any living person since Will Rogers.” “Through you and your efforts,” the letter continued, “Oklahoma has been lifted from the ‘Okie State’ to one of the top states in the Union.”

Not everyone agreed on Wilkinson’s qualifications. Democratic State Chairman, Gene McGill believed that the campaign would turn the former coach into a “public issue instead of a public idol.” Congressman Victor Wickersham agreed, saying:

“If he thought the Texas team was tough, just wait intil (sic) he meets up with Johnson’s team. I think he’s an excellent coach and fine gentleman. But he’s in for a rough race. He’s going to find out the rules are different.”

The general consensus among Oklahoma politicians was that Wilkinson should stick to football. His inexperience wasn’t an issue for other voters. “A non-politician for a change might improve the government” commented a University of Oklahoma senior.

Maybe the college student was right. Wilkinson cruised to an easy win in the Republican primary. The general election, however, would be even more challenging. Following the New Deal, Oklahomans predominantly identified as Democrats. Newspapers estimated the ratio at 4 to 1. The state hadn’t elected a Republican Senator since 1942. Wilkinson knew this, of course. In fact, he cited the goal of strengthening the 2-party system in Oklahoma as one of his reasons for running. He believed that Democracy needed another voice, more options on the ballot.

In the general election, Wilkinson faced Fred Harris, an Oklahoma State Senator. Harris was a skilled politician who knew the culture of Oklahoma. He painted Wilkinson as a political outsider who was a good football coach but wasn’t prepared to represent the state in Washington. This was an often repeated refrain and a major point of emphasis during the campaign. In fact, Harris’ slogan was “Prepared for the job.”

Senator Mike Monroney, Wilkinson’s good friend, echoed this sentiment. “Bud Wilkinson has been my long-time friend, and I’m deeply grateful for the service he has rendered to Oklahoma athletics,” Monroney said. “He is entering an entirely new field of endeavor requiring entirely different qualifications and skills.” It was an odd position for Monroney to be in. He didn’t “want to get involved in any political head-knocking,” especially with his friend.

Harris, on the other hand, was all for head-knocking. Wilkinson had a “Why Rome Fell” campaign speech that highlighted parallel issues in America that needed to be solved. The Harris campaign jabbed back at the former coach explaining “the real reason why Rome fell was that they decided to let the Gladiators run the government.” The witty reply was the work of Harris’ skilled aides, who were quick to put the pressure back on Wilkinson.

This was precisely the Harris strategy heading into their televised debate. Harris hoped to lay out his position and then force Wilkinson to take a stand. Up to that point Wilkinson was reluctant to outline his position. Finally, Harris asked him point-blank if he was supporting Goldwater. A bit surprised by the question, Wilkinson admitted that he was.

Because he was new to politics, Wilkinson surrounded himself with his friends, many from his time with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, who lacked electoral experience as well. They knew how to raise money but didn’t react well to Harris’ attacks. Instead, they relied on Wilkinson’s connection to gain endorsements. The campaign brought in major politicians to stump for Wilkinson. Eisenhower topped the list, though when an illness prevented him from making the trip, they had to settle for Nixon. Goldwater didn’t make the trip to Oklahoma but mentioned Wilkinson in a speech in nearby Texas. Harris had his own visitors to Oklahoma, too, including President Johnson. But perhaps the most controversial stumper was Strom Thurmond. The Wilkinson campaign sent him to drum up support in the Little Dixie region of southeastern Oklahoma. It proved to be a major blunder. According to Wilkinson’s opponent Fred Harris, “my campaign got an extra benefit from Senator Thurmond’s Oklahoma visit … Thurmond wound up scaring the daylights out of even a lot of conservative white voters with his jingoist speeches, advocating for the escalation of the American war effort in Vietnam.”

Despite these blunders, the race remained close to the very end. Following a speech to the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in September, Wilkinson was asked, “Which is the worst racket — collegiate athletics or politics?” Coaches, he replied, look for “talent good enough to win,” but “in politics, anybody’s a prospect.” Yet, John Cronley recalled that as a coach “never was he fully sold on recruiting.” Would Wilkinson be willing to recruit much needed voters?

The football and politics questions remained a constant throughout the race. Many wondered what impact the 1964 OU football season would have on the race. How would the absence of the beloved coach affect the team? And would the team’s record influence the election? Some believed “if Oklahoma beat Texas it will cost Wilkinson 50,000 votes” because they hadn’t beaten the Longhorns during his last 5 years. A win would mean that Gomer Jones, Wilkinson’s replacement, should have taken over sooner. Others hypothesized that a loss would hurt Wilkinson too because the team needed its leader. Fans and voters would blame him for abandoning the team.

On October 10th, Texas defeated Oklahoma 28 to 7. It was the second loss of the year for Sooners, who began the season ranked #2. A week later they lost again, this time to Kansas by a margin of 15 to 14. The season seemed to be slipping away. Despite these results, Wilkinson still held a slim lead according to an October 23rd New York Times article. The former coach was poised to weather the storm and add one more victory to his impressive resume.

But Harris refused to go away. He canvassed the entire state, shaking hands and giving speeches in small towns. He outworked Wilkinson. The big city newspapers endorsed Wilkinson and the coach carried Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but Harris’ extra work paid off. In any other year the coach would probably have won, but the political novice supported Goldwater and stood with the Republican platform. Wilkinson was caught in the wake of the Johnson landslide and lost by less than 22,000 votes.

“For where do you go from Olympia?” Wilkinson still didn’t know. Perhaps gods don’t make good politicians.

Andrew McGregor is a PhD Candidate at Purdue University and the founder of this blog. His dissertation explores the impact of Bud Wilkinson and college football on Oklahoma. You can reach him via email at or on Twitter: @admcgregor85

Rand University: A Review

ESPN’s latest entry in its remarkable 30 for 30 series is a Randy Moss biopic entitled “Rand University”. The title refers to the small West Virginia town where he grew up. The film charts Moss’s progress from High School star to NFL draft pick, with a particular focus on the off the field troubles that plagued Moss’ high school and college years. “Rand University” also spends a great deal of time focused on the way that the town of Rand, and its racial and economic tensions, affected Moss’ generation of high school athletes.

It is sufficient to say that life for most folks in Rand West Virginia is tough, and Moss’ on the field prowess did little to shield him from hardship. Involved in a serious brawl as a High School senior, Moss lost the chance to play for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. He would eventually be dismissed from Florida State before starring for the Marshall Thundering Herd in their first years as a Division I football program. The documentary also highlights the lives of his high school teammates, whose lives were shaped by the town they shared.

The film paints a portrait of Moss that is nuanced and at times challenging. Randy Moss is not an innocent victim, nor is he a stereotypical “bad guy.” Instead he is a man who is clearly still frustrated by the treatment he received as a high school and college athlete, despite decades of success as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. There is a duality to his understanding of his home town, while he acknowledges that events in Rand almost cost him his career, in the documentary he often states that he has difficulty trusting anyone from outside Rand.

The release of “Rand University” comes at an interesting time for amateur athletics. With the advent of the College Football Playoff, and the increasing popularity of the sport, the well being of the athletes themselves has come increasingly into focus. Laudable steps have been made, with many school and conferences (notably the Pac 12) guaranteeing scholarships for 4 years, and taking steps to prevent traumatic injuries on the field. However, to some degree this is only a part of the problem.

The NCAA, is adamant that college athletes are not employees, but rather students playing as part of gaining an education. However, in cases of misconduct Universities actions sometimes more closely resemble those of an embarrassed employer than an educational institution. Randy Moss lost two scholarships, one to Notre Dame for fighting (in high school) and one to Florida State for smoking marijuana. It would be naive not to acknowledge that many students on America’s campuses, who are likely receiving significant financial aid, are guilty of similar offenses. It was only through the compassion of the staff at Marshall that Moss was allowed to achieve his potential. It is easy to cast troubled college stars in a negative light, but if amateur athletics are truly different from professional sports (as the NCAA constantly insists) then second chances and opportunities to learn from mistakes should be the rule, not the exception.

Rand University is a welcome addition to the 30 for 30 series, and is highly recommended to anyone interested in Randy Moss, or who harbors an enthusiasm for truly awesome photos of the 90s (this documentary really showcases them). The film does an excellent job of showing the profound impact of place on individuals, and the nobility that can be found in refusing to give up, even when everyone has seemingly given up on you. This series is always best when it challenges your assumptions about events or individuals that seem very familiar. In this regard Rand University is an unqualified success.

Max Rieger is a PhD Candidate at Purdue University. A recovering Attorney and lifelong USC Trojans fan, Max has a background in the film industry and is interested in representations of sport in the media, and the concept of amateurism. He researches property and land in the 19th century American west.

Japanese Pluck and American Degeneracy: The Origins of Jiu-Jitsu in the United States

by Adam Park

The Russo-Japanese War sparked American fascination with Japanese culture at the turn of the 20th century. “Japanese things are in fashion nowadays,” claimed one 1904 periodical, but “where does Japan get her muscle and pluck?”[1] They are “an intelligent, wholesome people; strong, clean and moral,” according to one representative source.[2] Indeed, Americans would be served best “to take a few lessons from them, especially in the thoroughness with which they carry out anything they undertake”; and “this feature of thoroughness is strikingly manifested in their system of physical training.”[3]

With regard to physical culture, then, Japan led the way. With the prevalence of hysteria, dyspepsia, feebleminded overbreeding, excessive whiskey consumption, tobacco poison, spermatorrea, and urban squalor in America, the Japanese seemed to have something significant to add. Poor American health was in need of alleviation. Talk of remedy was everywhere. “To increase the size of the gymnast’s muscles, and indirectly, among adults, to aid impaired digestion and circulation, to take on flesh or to remove it,” truly, one author noted, “physical soundness is the watchword of the rising generation.”[4] Progressive Era Americans needed an exemplary—in martial arts as well as in life—and it was not themselves.

Late-nineteenth century European immigrants brought with them various forms of fighting—like French savate kickboxing, English catch-as-catch-can wrestling, Irish boxing, or Russian grappling; but none of these stirred up more interest in discerning the best fighting style than did American exposure to Japanese judo and jiu-jitsu. Questions of supremacy were immediate and ubiquitous. “Whether the Japanese or the American methods of self-defense excel is an interesting question,” one author probed.[1] When the author asked boxing Heavyweight Champion of the world, James J. Jeffries, how he would handle such an opponent, the big boxer exclaimed, “Why, he’d be whipped right there. In a fight of the rough-house variety I could kick his head off as soon as he went down.”[2] Spoken like a thoroughbred American boxer, Jeffries thought very little of Japanese martial arts, and of Japanese head attachments. His craft was better than their craft. Jeffries was just as much a patriot as he was a sportsman. However, the author claimed, “the most effective fighting is done on the ground [i.e. where much of judo and jiu-jitsu can take place]”[3]; and boxers are only proficient when standing. Jeffries’ theoretical head kicks were untested, if not entirely non-existent. In a real-life “rough-house” encounter, which could take place either upright or more horizontal-like, the Japanese were more experienced, more well-rounded. The author concluded: “I would not like to be the boxer.”[4] Many Americans agreed with this assessment. The American means of “self-defense” was not the best.

Japanese martial arts were principled, systematic, and their efficacy was empirically verifiable. As a 1904 ad in the Scientific American proclaimed, “for over two thousand years the principles of JIU-JITSU have been religiously guarded”; but fortunately, the Yabe School of Jiu-Jitsu in New York gives the first lesson free.[1] Ads like this peppered American newspapers and periodicals at the turn of the century. “Use Your Strength Scientifically,” The National Police Gazette claimed, and “make a highly developed man of yourself” by learning jiu-jitsu.[2] Another Gazette article advertised: “The clever little Jap has proven that his method in the art of physical culture is the best in the world,” and that jiu-jitsu was “the science which enables a little man to successfully cope with a big athlete.”[3] The technical superiority of American physical culture was compromised. Touted because “a comparatively weak man, if he is thoroughly versed in its mysteries, can easily overcome and kill, if he please, an opponent greatly his superior in strength,” jiu-jitsu was seen as the pinnacle of skillful display, of brains over brawn.[4] These scientific Japanese men were the manliest.

“Although men of very small stature,” a 1904 article exclaimed, the Japanese “are among the strongest in the world.”[1] Fortunately, about a half an hour is “a long enough time to devote to jiu-jitsu,” and, “any boy of fourteen or fifteen who will faithfully practice their system of producing strength will find himself, at the end of a few months, able to cope in the feats of power with the average man of twenty-five, and all this without the dangerous practice of lifting very heavy weights.”[2] Americans could be (and should be more) like the Japanese; and jiu-jitsu was only one of the many cultural practices that Americans could learn from them. The overall point of the article was that the Japanese simply breathe healthier; they have learned to take air better than Americans. Another article that same year echoed this critique of American health culture, saying that “the Japanese have taught Europeans and Americans a lesson and quenched in some degree the conceit of Caucasian in his superior capacity to do all things.”[3] It went on: “The Japanese are allowed to be among the very strongest people on the earth. They are strong mentally and physically.”[4] And it is their diet “which enables them to develop such hardy frames and such well-balanced and keen brains.”[5] The Japanese ate better. Even their women were better. Japanese women were more physically and mentally robust, less susceptible to hysteria than their western counterparts. Not to be confused with the American woman who is easily shaken with a tendency to “rage inwardly at first,” a 1905 article in The Ladies’ Home Journal touted “the wonderful self-control of Japanese women”; it went on: a Japanese woman “is gentle and quiet, takes adversity without grumbling, makes the best of things, and has no nerves.”[6] Better physical strength, better food, better air, better female psyches—all thanks to Japanese physical culture and jiu-jitsu.

Popular awareness of the might and efficacy of Japan’s physical culture tampered American elitism. As President Roosevelt put it after reading Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, “Japan has much to teach the nations of the Occident, just as she has something to learn from them.”[7] As a Japanese diplomat, educator, and later, under-secretary general in the League of Nations, Nitobe and his international bestselling book, first published in 1900, did much to disseminate Japanese (physical) culture to western audiences, which contributed greatly to the “bushido boom” in the United States.[8] Translated as “Military-Knight-Ways,” the notion of bushido was “not a written code,” but was rather part of the “law written on the fleshy tablets of the heart.”[9] Ecumenically portrayed as a system of “moral principles”—having very much to do with martial ways and personal comportment—bushido was compatible with American sporting sensibilities. Read by President Roosevelt, who distributed “several dozen copies among his friends,” Bushido offered an eastern source for western physical culture as it facilitated the spread of judo and jiu-jitsu in the United States. As Roosevelt rallied for such eastern disciplines to be taught in American military branches, advocates championed the virtues of these Japanese styles, arguing that such “deadly little wrestlers” displayed the “skill to conquer the strongest of big men.”[10] Jiu-jitsu exhibitions were held in police headquarters, gymnasiums, YMCAs, colleges, churches, and elsewhere across the country. Within this turn-of-the century jiu-jitsu craze, American physical culturalists readily and openly appropriated Japanese physical culture.

In sport as in life, Americans had been outdone. American racism was a compensatory farce. “Justifying the arrogance and domineering spirit of Western nations,” Sidney L. Gulick wrote in his, Evolution of the Japanese: A Study of Their Characteristics in Relation to the Principles of Social and Psychic Development, American’s have far too long appealed to misguided notions of “evolution and survival of the fittest, [and] degeneration and the arrest of development.”[1] Praising Nitobe’s Bushido and thanking his brother, Luther H., for his influence and oversight, Sidney claimed, “the age of isolationism and divergent evolution is passing away, and that of international association and convergent social evolution has begun.”[2] Americans need Japanese culture, and Japanese blood. American size and strength is all but irrelevant; in fact, such physical characteristics were rather brutish. Harmonizing physicality and technique was key, body and mind. Look east for the transmission of the best hereditary traits. Japan held the cultural and evolutionary secrets.

Japanese judo and jujitsu fighters were better, smarter than their American challengers. Their technique was superior. Their upbringing was healthier. What we see in Progressive Era America was a reversal of more common colonial figurations of the “Oriental” other as mystical, primitive, irrational, and the occidental western as rational, advanced, scientific. Here, Japanese fighters were technically advantaged, rational, and scientific. The racial superiority and the physical prowess of the American strongman was tested and effectively undermined. American size and strength suggested primitivity and irrationality.


Taken from H. Irving Hancock’s Japanese Physical Training: The System of Exercise, Diet, and General Mode of Living that Has Made Makado’s People the Healthiest, Strongest, and Happiest Men and Women in the World (1903). Hancock dedicates the volume “to one who has devoted the best years of his life to the betterment of American physique and health,” Bernarr MacFadden.


Bernarr MacFadden circa 1905.

Bernarr MacFadden circa 1905.

[1] “Strength from Proper Breathing,” Christian Advocate 79:2 (Jan. 14, 1904): 75.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Japanese Health,” 92:33 Christian Observer (Aug. 17, 1904): 19.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Dwight, “The Japanese Woman’s Watchword,” Vol. XXII, No. 6 (May 1905): 50.

[7] Theodore Roosevelt. Letter to Kentaro Kaneko. April 23, 1904.

[8] See Oleg Benesch, “Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of British Columbia, 2011.

[9] Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan (Tokyo: Teibi Publishing Co., 1907, 12th edition), 3 and 4.

[10] “Japanese Jiu Jitsu Experts in America: Deadly Little Wrestlers Have Skill to Conquer the Strongest of Big Men,” Salt Lake Telegram, March 18, 1904, 9.

[1] “Jiu-Jitsu: The Japanese National System of Physical Training,” Scientific American (Oct. 8 1904) Vol. XCI., No. 15, p. 255.

[2] “Use Your Strength Scientifically,” 85:1403 The National Police Gazette (July 2, 1904): 7.

[3] “What There is in Jiu-Jitsu,” 85:1405 The Police Gazette (July 16, 1904): 7.

[4] “Jiu-Jitsu: The Japanese Method of Wrestling, Which President Roosevelt is Learning,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1902, 1. Interesting to note is the rhetorical parallel between this skill-over-power narrative and the early UFC tournaments in the 1990s in which Royce Gracie, Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist, wooed the commentators and the audience with his defeat of bigger, stronger, and faster men.

[1] Robert Edgren, “The Fearful Art of Jiu Jitsu,” Outing, An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation (Dec. 1905) 47:3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Jiu-Jitsu: The Japanese National System of Physical Training,” Scientific American (Oct. 8 1904) Vol. XCI., No. 15, p. 255.

[6] “Use Your Strength Scientifically,” 85:1403 The National Police Gazette (July 2, 1904): 7.

[7] “What There is in Jiu-Jitsu,” 85:1405 The Police Gazette (July 16, 1904): 7.

[8] “Jiu-Jitsu: The Japanese Method of Wrestling, Which President Roosevelt is Learning,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1902, 1. Interesting to note is the rhetorical parallel between this skill-over-power narrative and the early UFC tournaments in the 1990s in which Royce Gracie, Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist, wooed the commentators and the audience with his defeat of bigger, stronger, and faster men.

[1] “The Joys of Jiu-Jitsu for Women,” Current Literature (August 1904, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2), 144.

[2] “Physical Culture in Japan,” Health (May 1910) 60:5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Jiu-jitsu, the Japanese System of Exercise,” Current Literature (Apr. 1904) Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, 427.

Partial Histories, Historical Context, and the Search for Trans* Truth

Since my last post turned toward teaching, I wanted to use this post as a space to discuss and reflect on my recent trip to the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria. While at the archive, I wrote notes about specific documents, general field notes, and (perhaps my favorite) email updates for my friends & family. The tone and tenor of these bits I’ve left behind are strikingly similar to the documents I encountered within the folders and boxes nestled deep in the archive’s vault. Assessing the “true meaning” of these documents is quite impossible – and addresses the wrong questions. Our histories are always partial, contextual, and embedded within complex power relationships. What follows is an exploration of historical processes written in and through my own travel narratives.

In March of this year, the archive hosted the Moving Trans* History Forward symposium. The symposium was designed to bring together scholars, archivists, and activists for lively discussions about historical processes, trans* subjectivity, and preserving the history of marginalized people & social movements. I had initially planned a research visit to the archive to coincide this symposium. However, as it usually does for academic laborers, funding dictated the structure of my visit. I was awarded a Summer Graduate Fellowship instead of travel funding for the spring semester, and I had to forgo the MTHF symposium in favor of a summer research visit.

Fresh off an invigorating & energizing NASSH conference in Glenwood Springs, CO, I flew & ferried & bussed to the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC. My first email update, sent from my room in the UVic residence hall after I arrived, captured the whimsy and frustrations of “international” travel (I’ve only been to Canada once before and never outside of North America). As a visibly queer person, I often get marked for special search and security procedures by TSA officials, this trip was no different. I quipped in my email: “As predicted, I got pulled out of the security line and checked – so did my school bag. Don’t worry, Dean Spade’s book was in there giving them the stink eye (for those of you not intimately related to my research, Spade is a scholar/activist who critiques systems of surveillance and oppression – like the TSA).” I quickly moved on to describe my ferry ride, “I was told I may see whales and that my food might be stolen by predatory sky rats. There were no whales, but also no angry birds. The most captivating part of the trip was actually the drunk old white couple from Sonoma, CA (don’t worry they’ll tell you) who stumbled around, dropped their drinks (wine from home – of course), lost their hat overboard ($65!!!), and then made-out on the deck for 55 of the 75 minute trip. If nothing else, I’ve now got the beginnings of a great preface to my dissertation.”

So, what exactly is the preface to my dissertation that I captured here? An amusing story of scholarly travel? A window into the classed, raced, and gendered word we all inhabit?

My whiteness and ability to move about with middle-class privilege allow run-ins with the TSA to be mere frustrations rather than arduous, humiliating, and often violent ordeals. And yet, travelling while queer is quite anxiety & dysphoria producing. So, in my email, I down-played the airport scenes in favor of a humorous one involving white, middle class American tourists. However, I spent several hours and pages in my first field notes addressing the ways that my ability to travel connects with the ways in which trans* history is and is not recorded & recognized. By negotiating the airport in ways which causes me the least amount of harm in the moment, I go relatively unchallenged officially. All my IDs are marked F and my legal name is almost universally recognized as F, but my voice & appearance can be (and often are) perceived ambiguously. Yet, as far as I know, I am not the subject of official reports and documents as a problematically queer traveler.

What do I have then, besides my stories? And, how are my stories recorded? How might my own emails one day be received by an enterprising young scholar? Would they be recognized and categorized as queer? Would they be archived alongside the stories of first time attendees of Fantasia Fair or Gender Spectrum, conferences for men who cross-dress and children with diverse gender identities & expressions respectively? The documents, program flyers, book manuscripts, and personal letters found within the archive were all donated specifically because they were perceived as trans* related. The archive now has over 300 hundred linear feet of material holdings from people and organizations associated with transgender activism.

Yet, the sheer volume of materials was not the only reason for my visit. In my dissertation, I’m examining & theorizing the shifting definitions of the terms “transsexual” and “transgender” within sporting contexts. Renée Richards played a large role in the development of trans* policies in the 1970s. To put the events surrounding her successful lawsuit against the USTA and subsequent participation in the US Open into context, I examine the ways that different trans* activist groups were positioning themselves and how they were articulating trans-ness at that time. You might think, then, that sorting through the archive’s voluminous holdings would validate my claims that the officially recognized definitions of transsexuality did not encompass the full range of experiences.

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t “getting it right” as I dug through materials dedicated to sorting out what counted as trans* at that time. After a particularly exhausting day half-way through my visit, I asked myself, “Am I looking for a smoking gun? What did I even come here for?” The field notes from that day are quite illustrative of the frustration and confusion elicited by my first ever extended visit to an archive: “In looking for expansive definitions of trans*ness, am I only seeing what I want to see? The writings are all very emotionally powerful, but is that their only truth? What are the implications of juxtaposing Renée Richards with men who cross-dress?”

A wonderfully timed email from a friend reminding me to “bring my headlamp” helped me recall why I was there. Paying attention to the process and keeping the historical context always in mind, I went back into the archive with renewed energy. There were few blanket statements that said a trans* person is _____. Instead, there were personal stories of how affected people were attending a conference for the first time or talking with their family members about the way they experienced their gender. There was a book manuscript with extensive hand written notes in margins. There were flyer drafts with slightly altered fonts & styles. There were the very real material artifacts of lives lived outside prescribed gender norms that defy officially recognized definitions.

Of course, these artifacts demand attention to major questions that take power relationships into account: What definitions of trans* were available at that time? Who was considered trans*? Whose opinion counted? What counted as “trans* activism?” Who has access to these groups and spaces?

These are questions that I am still answering in my scholarship five months after my visit and will continue to answer materially my whole life.

Cathryn Lucas-Carr is a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa and can be reached at