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 amcgrego@purdue.edu 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.

Hancock.jap

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 cathryn-lucas@uiowa.edu

Oscar Taveras, Stan Musial, and Public Commemoration in Sports

By Nick Sacco, Guest Contributor

I was there on October 12, 2014.

I was there, standing in the upper deck at Busch Stadium when Oscar Taveras, an emerging rookie outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, smacked a game-tying home run in the ninth inning of game 2 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals ended up winning the game in extra innings, but they would have never been in that position had Taveras not slammed that pitch. “The Phenomenon” was putting his raw potential on display, finishing the year with a stellar .429 postseason batting average. Originally signed by the Cardinals out of the Dominican Republic at age 16, Taveras steadily became the team’s highest rated prospect, hitting .321 over six years in the team’s farm system. Although he hit only .239 for the Cardinals during the 2014 regular season, his recent late-inning heroics signaled an exciting future for the team.

Makeshift Memorial for Oscar Taveras at the Stan Musial Statue on the night of his death. Photo Credit: Ashley Green

For a moment we all lost ourselves in the revelry and excitement of these late inning heroics, proud that our team found another way to pick themselves up when everyone else counted them out. All of our individual and collective concerns temporarily disappeared from memory in the wake of an eventual victory for not only a baseball team, but an entire city. Amid a summer of daily dispatches conveying bad news about St. Louis, the team’s heroics that night somehow spoke to our city’s collective resilience, comforting us in the idea that everything would soon be okay. It didn’t take long for these sentiments to change, however. Little did we know in the stands that night that we’d never see another hit from Oscar Taveras. Little did we know that he would die exactly two weeks later in a tragic auto accident at the tender age of 22.

It is common to hear sports fans and non-sports fans alike remark that no matter what happens in a given match, “it’s just game.” It certainly seems that way most of the time. But times like these expose the sorts of emotional investments we place into these games and the people who play them. Sports are more than mere games because they act as significant cultural artifacts for interpreting and making arguments about questions related to fair play, individual responsibility, ableism, racism, gender, economics, and patriotism in a democratic society.[1] On a more fundamental level, sports provide a shared viewing experience by which people establish a sense of belonging, kinship, and even love with one another. Whether at a sports bar, the work place, school, or the dinner table, the language of sports provides us with a vocabulary for communicating with each other on a daily basis. Through these interactions people establish deep relationships with friends, loved ones, and acquaintances. In a discussion on the origins of the modern nation-state, political scientist Benedict Anderson famously argued in 1983 that nationalism elicits shared feelings of solidarity among members of an “imagined community” who unite themselves through a shared love of nation, even though they rarely meet each other face-to-face.[2] We can translate these ideas into the sports realm, where thousands of “community” members unite themselves through a shared love for their favorite sporting teams.

Nation-states create commemorative practices to establish themselves as legitimate political entities in the eyes of their community members; so too do sports teams establish commemorative practices to establish their legitimacy. Retired numbers, in-game ceremonies, memorials, and statues all aim to elicit a sense of reverence for a team’s legacy. The most significant symbol of the “imagined community” of St. Louis Cardinals fans is the Stan Musial statue, located at the west entrance of Busch Stadium. When news of Oscar Taveras’s death broke on October 26, Cardinals fans congregated to this statue within minutes to express their grief. The Stan Musial statue is often a meeting place to celebrate victory, but on that October night it became a place for collective sorrow.

***

The Stan Musial statue as it appeared in the early 2000s in front of Busch Stadium II. Photo Credit: Associated Press

Few baseball teams had any sort of public statuary in the 1960s, but then again, few teams featured a player like Stan Musial, who had 3,630 hits, 475 home runs, and a .331 batting average during a twenty-one year career (1941-1963) that included one year of military service during World War II. He was the greatest Cardinals player of his era and is arguably the best in the franchise’s history. Plans were made to erect a statue in his honor soon after his retirement. St. Louis Mayor Raymond Tucker (1953-1965) commissioned Washington University artist Carl Mose to design and construct the statue, which was formally dedicated on August 4, 1968.[3] The Cardinals could have simply chosen to retire his number ‘6’ (which they did in 1963) and conclude all commemorative ceremonies for Musial, but public monuments fit a deeper desire for belonging that retired numbers do not elicit. Art historian Kirk Savage argues that “the public monument speaks to a deep need for attachment that can be met only in a real place, where the imagined community actually materializes and the existence of the nation is confirmed in a simple but powerful way.”[4] Seen in this light, the Stan Musial statue acts as an affirmation of the imagined “Cardinals Nation.” In a turbulent era of Cold War tensions, escalating conflict in Vietnam, and Civil Rights controversies, the Musial statue presented itself as a veneration of a man who former baseball Commissioner Ford Frick once described as “baseball’s perfect knight,” a model citizen on and off the field. By placing it in front of Busch Stadium (and choosing to keep and relocate the statue to the current Busch Stadium in 2006), Cardinals leadership aimed to remind fans that their ballpark was The House That Stan Built, constructed with home runs, World Series titles, and past memories of victory.

The Stan Musial Statue in front of the current Busch Stadium, with Stan the Man below. Photo Credit: David Carson

The Stan Musial Statue in front of the current Busch Stadium, with Stan the Man below. Photo Credit: David Carson

Not everyone likes the design of the statue or what it represents. Musial biographer Bob Broeg complained in 1978 that “the monstrosity . . . lacks The Man’s looks, his distinctive batting stance and a bat proportionate to the size of the bronze itself. In other words, it stinks.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bryan Burwell echoed Broeg’s criticisms in 2010, arguing that it was time for the Cardinals to remove a statue that actually denigrated Stan Musial’s legacy. Even Musial himself didn’t like the statue: he remarked in 1976 that “I never looked that broad . . . He missed the stance,” and in 2004 he commented that “[Mose] made me all bulky. I tried to get him to change it, but he just never would.”[5]

There are also deeper philosophical challenges to etching memories into stone. Public monuments are static representations stuck in a fixed design state, and they flatten the nuances, complexities, and contradictions that accompany any historical event, group, or individual. They often represent the voices of political and cultural elites who are mainly interested in promoting the status quo, and they are sometimes viewed as pretentious symbols inappropriate for a democratic society. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, for example, remarked in the 1830s that “Democracy has no monuments. It strikes no medals; it bears the head of no man upon its coin; its very essence is iconoclastic.”[6] More recently, freelance writer Luke Epplin argues that the Stan Musial statue conveys the sorts of problems Adams criticized 180 years ago: by placing Musial on a culturally powerful pedestal, the statue strips Musial of his humanity and portrays him as a saintly figure free of the uncertainties and insecurities of mere mortals.[7] In deifying Musial, sports fans are presented a glorified symbol of Stan the Saint, not Stan the Man.

Despite these concerns and criticisms, the statue remains standing. And even though the design appears the same as it did in 1968, its meaning is constantly transformed and repurposed for contemporary concerns. As the memories of Musial’s playing career fade from collective memory, the statue becomes a significant destination in and of itself along a larger journey through the experience that is “Cardinals Nation.” Even Epplin—despite his reservations about the romanticized nature of the statue—admits that “like most fans in the Gateway City, I convene with family and friends before St. Louis Cardinals’ games at the base of the Stan Musial statue outside Busch Stadium. ‘Let’s meet at the statue,’ we text on the day of the game, and despite the fact that 12 statues encircle the ballpark [today], there’s never any confusion about which one we’re referring to.”[8]

Equally important, the statue is a contested space within St. Louis society. Following an October night of heated clashes at Busch Stadium between Cardinals fans and local residents protesting the recent killing of teenager Michael Brown (who was black) by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (who is white), several essays sprung up online calling on the Cardinals to lead the city’s efforts towards peace. Cardinals fan blogger Larry Borowsky called for the team to reclaim the “Spirit of ’64,” a year in which the Cardinals won the World Series with a diverse cast of black and white players and the influence of Musial (who retired the year before) looming over their shoulder. Another native St. Louisan echoed these thoughts by arguing that the Stan Musial statue is a symbol of racial healing: “the quiet decency of a guy like Stan the Man seems like a great way to tackle these issues! . . . By treating black ballplayers like human beings, he was just doing what should have been done.”

The actual situation during this period, however, was far murkier. While Musial was personally supportive of racial integration, he was part of an environment hostile to black players on the Cardinals, and the extent to which he should have used his influence to actively fight this discrimination remains an open question. St. Louis was a segregated city for the majority of Musial’s career; local papers like the Sporting News vocally supported the exclusion of African Americans from both the St. Louis Browns and the Cardinals; and former owner Fred Saigh readily conceded that the all-white Cardinals “were a team for the South” during his tenure (1947-1953).[9] Like the statue itself, these claims of a happy period of racial equality within the Cardinals organization and the entire St. Louis region during Musial’s career mask as much as they enlighten.

The Stan Musial statue represents more than Stan Musial himself, and this fact is reinforced with the death of Oscar Taveras. Indeed, the statue fundamentally shapes the meaning of one’s membership in “Cardinals Nation.” On October 26, that statue connected the legacies of Stan Musial and Oscar Taveras in the imagination of Cardinals fans. The greatest player in Cardinals history, forever remembered alongside the player who had the greatest potential to be the next Cardinals legend.

Nick Sacco is a public historian and Park Guide with the National Park Service at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. He regularly blogs about history at his personal website, “Exploring the Past.”


Notes:

[1] See William Morgan, Why Sports Morally Matter (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[2] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983), 1-8.

[3] George Vecsey, Stan Musial: An American Life (New York: Ballantine Books, 2011), 310-311; Jerry Lansche, Stan the Man Musial: Born to Be a Ballplayer (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1994), 199-200.

[4] Kirk Savage, Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 4.

[5] Bryan Burwell, “Musial Statue Must Go,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 30, 2010; Vecsey, Stan Musial, 311.

[6] Savage, Monument Wars, 1.

[7]Luke Epplin, “The Problem With Remembering Stan Musial as Baseball’s ‘Perfect Knight’,” The Atlantic, January 24, 2013.

[8] Epplin, “The Problem With Remembering Stan Musial as Baseball’s ‘Perfect Knight’.”

[9] Tom Ley, “Cardinals Fans Get Ugly In Clash With Ferguson Protesters,” Deadspin, October 7, 2014; Larry Borowsky, “The Cardinals need to reclaim spirit of ’64 to heal St Louis’ racial tensions,” The Guardian, October 11, 2014; Zach Weiss, “What Would Stan the Man Do? A St. Louisan reflects on Ferguson,” Culture Shock, October 9, 2014; Steven Goldman, “Breaking the barrier: Integrating the major leagues one team at a time 1947-1959,” SB Nation, April 11, 2013.

Sport, Community, and Blue-Collar Egalitarianism: From “Save Our Browns” to “Together” in Cleveland’s Rust Belt Dreams

Last week, Nike introduced a new commercial. Featuring National Basketball Association superstar LeBron James, “Together” shows the Cleveland community rallying around its local hero. In grand and gallant fashion, James returned to the city on the shores of Lake Erie to reclaim his rightful place on the throne of his Rust Belt kingdom. The black and white, artistic production begins with James gathering his faithful patrons—the other basketball players that make up the Cleveland Cavaliers—around him in a pre-game huddle. “It’s our city, we gotta do it for them. We gotta do it for Cleveland, they’re waiting on us,” the two-time NBA MVP demands of his comrades. Soon, the crowd, and seemingly all of Cleveland, surround the self-proclaimed “kid from Akron” (a city ~40 miles south of Cleveland).

James, then, speaks to the whole community:

Every single night, every single practice, every single game, we gotta give it everything we got. Because they’re gonna ride with us. Everything that we do on this floor is because of this city. We owe them. We’re gonna grind for this city. They gonna support us. But we gotta give it back to them. We’re gonna get it done. The toughness that we have on the court is going to come from this city. Everybody. The whole city of Cleveland. That’s what it is all about. It’s time to bring them something special.

This heart-felt soliloquy ends and James calls everyone together in the huddle. “Hard work on three, together on six,” he commands.

1, 2, 3 “Hard work!” 4, 5, 6 “Together!” Panning over the city, the video offers shots of Clevelanders, of all races and ethnicities, men and women, boys and girls, children and adults, people in suits, and others dressed for physical labor, with arms linked together reciting the James creed.

1, 2, 3 “Hard work!” 4, 5, 6 “Together!”

Finally, James gets the last call: “Cleveland on three!” 1, 2, 3 “Cleveland!”
——
This commercial touches on the fabric of Cleveland. It draws on the historic blue-collar sensibilities of the city, something that Clevelanders believe makes them exceptional. Clevelanders have mettle. They work harder than others. They have the discipline to survive hard conditions. As James said in his letter that announced his return to Cleveland: “Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

LeBron James poster across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo courtesy of Jonah Rosenbloom.

LeBron James poster across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo courtesy of Jonah Rosenblum.

These narratives that thrive in Cleveland touch on the historic and current connections that exist between sport and community in major metropolitan areas. These connections, indeed, have been a ripe area for sport historians and other scholars of American sport. Many draw from Bendict Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities.” Sport scholars have used this concept to describe how, for example, two people living across town from one another can feel connected through cheering on the same team on a certain night, or over the course of many years. Most recently, an anthology edited by Daniel A. Nathan, Rooting for the Home Team, suggests (in the words of Nathan) that sports fandom “symbolizes a community’s preferred understanding of itself . . . It’s an expression of public pride and pleasure, a source of group and personal identity. It’s about sharing something, about belonging” (p. 2).

Indeed, Cleveland fans find solace in rooting for their professional sports teams. Their calls of “together,” and their blue-collar ethos manifests through how they “root for the home team.” But why did the narratives emerge? That answer demands a thorough study, but I offer a simple explanation: Clevelanders are responding to the ongoing denigration of their city. Their home has been mocked as a “miserable city” or, more specifically, the “worst city in which to be a sports fan.” Moreover, Cleveland has been lampooned in popular culture; much of this humiliation stems from its waning economy in the second half of the twentieth century combined with its sports teams that continually come up short.

A once thriving industrial center with the seventh-largest population of any city in the United States, Cleveland fell to forty-fifth in population by 2010. The city lost hundreds of thousands of jobs following World War II. And ridicule from its oft-igniting river that winds through the downtown area provided fodder for late-night talk show hosts, such as Johnny Carson, who routinely poked fun at the city, popularizing the slogan of Cleveland as the “mistake on the lake.”

Additionally, Cleveland’s sports teams suffered. Fifty years have passed since one of the “big four” Cleveland teams hoisted a championship trophy. Yet, they have come heartbreakingly close. In 1954, the baseball team won a then-record 111 games, before being swept by the New York Giants (the series that Willie Mays made his famous catch in deep center field). The Browns also found success in the 1960s, winning its last NFL Championship in 1964. But, if this had happened three years later, the Browns would be remembered as a Super Bowl team. Instead, the club remains one of the last teams to have never played in America’s favorite championship game. In the 1980s, the Browns came close to reaching the game, but John Elway’s drive and Earnest Byner’s fumble kept them from doing so. Likewise, Michael Jordan’s famous shot stuck a dagger in the hopes of the 1989 basketball team. And in 1997, the baseball team was but one inning away from winning its first World Series since 1948.

One event that perhaps best represents the plight of Cleveland fandom occurred on this date nineteen years ago. On November 6, 1995, Art Modell—then owner of the Cleveland Browns—shocked both Cleveland and football audiences across the United States when he announced that he had struck a deal with Baltimore and would be moving his club to Maryland following the season where they eventually became the Ravens.

Sports Illustrated Cover, December 4, 1995

Sports Illustrated Cover, December 4, 1995

Immediately following this announcement, Cleveland, like no other city before or since, organized a campaign to save its team. Coined the “Save Our Browns” campaign, Clevelanders began a protest movement involving myriad forms. They organized numerous large protests outside of the stadium at remaining games at Cleveland’s crumbling Municipal Stadium. They took a caravan of buses and other vehicles to protest outside of a Pittsburgh Steelers game when the Browns met the Steel City gridders on Monday Night Football. Politicians, such as Mayor Michael R. White, used the “Save Our Browns” campaign as a platform, gaining him substantial public support. The fans canvassed for signatures, acquiring thousands, before a group traveled to present them to the NFL administrators and other league owners at NFL meetings held in Atlanta. Finally, and perhaps most importantly (at least for researchers), Browns fans wrote thousands of letters to the NFL to protest Modell’s filching of their beloved gridiron club.

A little over 400 of these letters reside at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and as part of my master’s thesis research, which looked at the relocation of the Cleveland Browns, I read every one of these letters. In general, the correspondences suggest that Clevelanders aligned with some sort of “blue-collar” ethos that trumpets hard work, perseverance, integrity, grit, determination—all things Nike’s new commercial also propagates. The letters connected to blue-collar sensibilities. They associated traditional gender norms with football fandom. Importantly, and linking the themes from this 1990s movement to the Nike “Together” ad, many of the letters displayed attributes of whiteness—yet their letters were cloaked in egalitarian tones.

Indeed, many of the letters come from areas with a very high white population (86% of the letters come from areas outside of Cleveland’s city limites–places with a very high white population), something that is often forgotten in descriptions of the “Save Our Browns” campaign. Yet, the letters all suggested how the Browns brought the people of Cleveland (which currently has a black majority) together, often trumpeting many of the attributes that Nathan described about the relation between sport and community. They believed that saving professional sports—entertainment primarily for affluent suburbanites because of high ticket prices—remained the best way to bring the city together, or to help it rebound from its dismal past.

Race relations in Cleveland throughout the latter half of the twentieth century suggest why this may have transpired.

Like many other northern cities, Cleveland experienced massive white flight to the new suburbs as many African Americans migrated from the South to the industrial North. The city’s Hough district best represents Cleveland’s shifting demographics. In 1950, the area had a reported 95% white population. In 1960, 74% of the area reported “black” as an identifier. Racism and violence ensued with these shifting demographics. In 1966, four days of rioting ended with four black residents dead, while much property lay in ruin.

While many white residents moved to the suburbs, they remained connected with the city through its sports teams. This is not unique—many professional sports teams reside in cities that have high minority populations but a strong white fan base—but Cleveland, perhaps unlike other cities, has historically prided itself, at least in sports, on racial equality. The Browns helped spur the desegregation of professional football when they signed Bill Willis and Marion Motley in 1946. And the baseball team became the first American League team to sign a black baseball player in Larry Doby (the hypocritical nature of this pride combined with the current name and logo of the team is not lost on this author).

As the story goes, then, for Clevelanders, whether it be the fighting to save the football team in the 1990s, or rallying around the returning “King” in 2014, sports offer a way to link arms, a way to feel connected to one another no matter class difference, no matter race or ethnicity difference.

Although Nathan proclaimed the “connectedness” that people feel from sports, he also realizes the paradoxes. “The history of American sports is also one of exclusion, of segregation, that has forced some people—African Americans and women, most obviously, but many others—to play part,” he adds (p. 3). Indeed, American sports has historically been segregated across racial and ethnic lines. This plays a major role, too, in the connections between sport and community. It can take the form of people from specific racial or ethnic groups finding a shared experience. Or, it can, as is the case in Nike’s “Together” ad, allow fans to find solace in the community’s supposed racial harmony, all through simply “rooting for the home team.”

While Benedict Anderson might have referred to “rooting for the home team” as something of an “imagined community,” I contend that also “imagined” is the egalitarian nature of the city, what I might refer to as a perceived “blue-collar egalitarianism.”

Certainly, as seen through the narratives of Cleveland sports, from the “Save Our Browns” campaign to the recent return of James and Nike’s “Together” ad, Clevelanders have some sort of common vision when it comes to the linkages they see between their sports teams and the plights of their city. In the 1990s, Clevelanders felt they were campaigning for the whole city (and maybe they were, but certainly the most vocal supporters of the “Save Our Browns” campaign were white suburbanites). In 2014, Clevelanders view the “Together” ad as a symbol of the unity of Cleveland, despite the racial segregation that continues to divide the city.

Therefore, what does the notion of a perceived blue-collar egalitarianism suggest about the purpose of sport in a metropolitan area? Why was (in my estimation) the “Save Our Browns” campaign primarily run by people who come from places with a very high white population? Why, in 2014, does “Together” suggest the racial harmony of a city that in large part still remains segregated? Overall, what do these racial divisions, but egalitarian visions, suggest about the role of sport in Rust Belt America?

As James and Nike suggest, for this American Rust Belt city to prosper, all it takes is: “Hard work!” and for the people of Cleveland to work: “Together!”

Andrew D. Linden is a Ph.D. student at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the co-editor of Sport in American History. Currently, he is the Student-at Large on the Executive Board of the North American Society for Sport History. He can be reached at adl5182@psu.edu and can be followed on Twitter @AndrewDLinden. He maintains his own website at www.andrewdlinden.com.

Assessing the Olympics: The 2014 International Symposium for Olympic Research

London

Downtown London, Ontario

In the days leading up to Halloween, scholars from around the world traveled to London, Ontario, for the 2014 International Symposium for Olympic Research (ISOR). Started in 1992 by the International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS), the conference serves as one of the most preeminent forums for Olympic scholarship.[1] Researchers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States gathered on October 30-31 to discuss a wide variety of Olympic-related issues.

This blog post summarizes some of the information presented at the ISOR. Concurrent sessions inevitably meant that I missed exciting and influential conversations. Furthermore, the organization of this post stems from the themes I experienced, not those outlined by the conference organizers. For more information on all the panels, see the official ISOR program.

History

One of the ISOR’s functions is to provide historians the opportunity to critically explore the history of the Olympic Movement. MacIntosh Ross from Western University examined the prejudices that underlined Olympic qualifications in the 1920 Olympic Games. In “Who Gets to Play? The Maritime Region and the 1920 Canadian Olympic Team,” he explained that during this time period, Canada’s Olympians largely resided in the middle of the country; of the 1920 team, for example, 53% hailed from Ontario, 22% from Manitoba, 12% from Quebec, and 6% from British Columbia. Ross scrutinized the lack of maritime Olympic qualifiers and posited that these athletes faced mistreatment parallel to the marginalization maritime people faced in the broader society. In a similar exploration of discrimination in the early Olympics, I critiqued the introduction of physical examinations for female athletes in “‘A Careful Inquiry to establish her Sex’: Sex Testing in the Interwar Era.” I argued that the implementation of testing stemmed from the rise of women’s participation in track and field; unfortunately, recent events suggest that gender prejudices continue to plague athletics.

Toby Rider of Pennsylvania State University-Berks and Sarah Teetzel of the University of Manitoba traced the plight of Stella Walsh—an athlete oftentimes named in sex testing histories—and highlighted a lesser-known aspect of her Olympic career. In “The Strange Tale of Stella Walsh’s Olympic Eligibility,” the two authors discussed Walsh’s use of the “Cupid Clause,” a 1956 loophole that permitted women to compete for both their country-of-birth and their country-through-marriage. Because the IOC did not reciprocally offer men this option until 1978, Rider and Teetzel noted that the exception granted women a gender-based advantage, albeit one steeped in patriarchal assumptions. Although Walsh married Harry Olson in 1956, likely in an effort to utilize the “Cupid Clause,” she failed to qualify for the 1956 and 1960 Games.

While Rider and Teetzel described Walsh’s attempts to run for the United States in the 1950s, Erin Redihan of Clark University documented the country’s perception of the Olympics during the same time period. In “Winning Hearts and Minds: The Olympics during the Cold War,” Redihan argued that from 1952 to 1956, the Olympics grew in importance for both the White House and the US populace. When the Soviet Union returned to international competitions, a cultural cold war—which engulfed sport—ensued. While the Soviet Union and the United States avoided armed confrontations, other countries experienced violent clashes throughout the era. Graduate student essay winner John Petrella of Western University examined this issue against the backdrop of the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics. His talk, “Black, White, and Red All Over: Selected Canadian Newspapers and the 1968 Mexico City Massacre,” analyzed the coverage of the Tlatelolco Massacre.

Graduate Student Essay Winner John Petrella

Graduate Student Essay Winner John Petrella

In his assessment of The Globe and The Ottawa Citizen, Petrella found three significant themes. First, he noted that many reports depicted the massacre as a “battle,” thereby unquestionably accepting the Mexican government’s account of the events. Second, the coverage blamed the students for the violence, portraying the protestors as an antagonistic, uncontrollable mob. Third, many journalists supported the myth that the Olympics should remain apolitical. Thus, as Petrella concluded, the accounts provided a superficial and sanitized recounting of the tragedy.

As Cold War tensions seeped into the Olympic Movement, fears of drug use also permeated the Games. Many scholars typically focus on the IOC Medical Commission’s influence on the anti-doping campaign; however, to deepen this conversation, Jörg Kreiger from the German Sports University, Cologne, discussed the role of the IAAF. In “The Efforts of the IAAF Medical Committee from 1968-1981: Supporting Olympic Anti-Doping Fight?,” he posited that the track and field international federation prioritized the scientific aspects of drug bans over other elements, including social considerations and education, which consequently shaped the trajectory of anti-doping policies in the Olympics.

SI

Sport’s Illustrated cover, October 3, 1988.

Correspondingly, the keynote lecture presented by Ian Ritchie of Brock University and Rob Beamish of Queen’s University also grappled with the trajectory of anti-doping rhetoric in the modern Olympic Movement. In “Ben Johnson, Charles Dubin, and the Spirit of Sport: Canada’s Role in International Anti-Doping Policies,” the two authors located the importance of Canadian sport authorities in shaping contemporary anti-doping beliefs. As Beamish explained, the Dubin Report was interpreted to provide a mandate for the Canadian government’s involvement in the fight against doping; consequently, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport developed the “Spirit of Sport” ideology, an ambiguous notion about the essence of competition intended to maintain fairness. The World Anti-Doping Agency appropriated the phrase upon its creation in 1998. Beamish and Ritchie demonstrated how anti-doping measures are typically reactionary and usually implemented without consideration of social context. Moreover, it has been only a handful of men who have controlled all of the values imbued in the Olympics.

Media and Consumption

Along with historical inquiries, the ISOR also encourages researchers to consider the ways in which the Olympic Games are mediated, commercialized, and consumed. For example, in the buildup to the 2014 Winter Games, many people publicly debated the selection of Sochi, Russia, as the host city. Pacific University scholars Jules Boykoff and Matthew Yasuoka examined the reportage of the Games in “Media Coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.” The authors conducted a quantitative analysis of four UK and four US presses, and completed a qualitative analysis of four Russian presses. In the UK and US sources, Boykoff and Yasuoka found that the media most frequently (in 47% of all articles) deployed an “Anti-Gay Frame,” highlighting the discriminatory practices of the country. When the media discussed Russian President Vladimir Putin, reporters typically presented an “Autocrat Frame” and “Anti-Gay Frame.” Similarly exploring the media coverage of Sochi, conference organizer Janice Forsyth and her student Eli Vanduzer focused on the dialogue that surrounded snowboarding in the 2014 Winter Games. In “Business Rhetoric and Responsibility: Media Discourses on Snowboarding at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games,” Forsyth and Vanduzer examined how the media advertised “risk” to the general public. They found three notable themes: the media depicted the sport as unique and youthful; the media devalued injury and harm; and the media valorized risk.

Mario 2

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, developed by the Sega Sports R&D Department of Sega Japan, published by Nintendo.

While Boykoff, Yasuoka, Forsyth and Vanduzer examined print media, Fred Mason from the University of New Brunswick and Estée Fresco of Western University expanded the source base. Mason scrutinized Olympic video games in “Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Consuming the Olympics through Video Gaming.” Drawing on game studies, he explored the role of commercialism in four Olympic-themed videogames: Mario & Sonic at the Beijing Olympics; Mario & Sonic at the Vancouver Olympics; Mario & Sonic at the London Olympics; and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi Olympics. By “playing through” all four games, Mason found that they promoted peaceful competition yet simultaneously encouraged materialistic consumption. He concluded that the major thrust of these Olympic-themed video games is thus consumerism, not Olympism. Fresco also questioned the consumption of Olympic-oriented materials in “Commodity Fetishism in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.” She explained that Canadian organizers attempted to self-finance the Games through the selling of Olympic coins and stamps, as well as through a novel lottery system. Using a Marxist interpretation of commodity fetishism, she demonstrated how through the valuing of certain items, the required labor was concealed. For example, the organizers used the beaver mascot to sell Olympic goods; however, they ignored the connection of the fur trade to indigenous labor.

Celebration and Symbolism

Other scholars explored the celebratory consumption of unique Olympic artifacts. In “‘All Men Will Become Brothers’: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as Olympic Games Entertainment and Ideology,” Skidmore College Professor Jeffrey Segrave traced the evolution of “Ode to Joy” in connection with the Olympic Movement. One of Coubertin’s favorite melodies, the song became intertwined with the Games; yet, always with different intentions and interpretations, and never as an official hymn. For example, Berlin organizers embraced the song as a signifier of power, while in the 1950s “Ode to Joy” served as the neutral anthem for the German Unified Team. From Nazi propaganda to contemporary Samsung commercialism, the tune remains deeply entrenched in the Olympics.

Flag

The 9/11 Flag at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. AFP/Getty Images.

Historian Robyn Schwarz-Primer from Western University similarly explored the significance of an Olympic object in “Understanding Olympism through Trauma: 9/11 and the 2002 Salt Lake City Opening Ceremony.” In the presentation, she used trauma theory to illustrate how the use of the 9/11 flag in the Opening Ceremonies allowed the United States to use the Games as a forum to translate its post-9/11 narrative to an international community.

Activism and the Olympics

Finally, many scholars critique the Games in order to incite change. Keynote speaker Helen Lenskyj criticized the “Olympic industry” and suggested that the Olympics prove responsible for the current structure of men’s and women’s sport; no, she explained, “that is not a compliment.” In “The Olympic Industry: Sex, Power, and Politics,” Lenskyj argued that the Games limit both sport and sporting bodies. She then outlined the contemporary iteration of the “female apologetic” in the Olympics, suggesting that women now strive to display femininity and heterosexuality as dual mechanisms to counter the supposed threats of masculinization. Furthermore, sexuality was a central concern in the Sochi Games as Russia implemented several anti-gay laws. According to Lenskyj, the IOC and Putin proved well-matched: both were undemocratic, non-transparent, fraudulent, heterosexist, and always seeking to increase global power.

Chan

Sophy Chan discussed the disenfranchisement of the homeless population in Vancouver.

Other researchers also highlighted problems within the Olympic industry. Sophy Chan of Western University described how homeless populations are adversely impacted by the organization of the Games. In “Unveiling the ‘Olympic Kidnapping Act’: Homelessness and Public Policy in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games,” she critiqued two pieces of legislation: Project Civil City and the Assistance to Shelter Act, both enacted for the 2010 Vancouver Games. Project Civil City sought to eliminate homelessness, diminish the open drug market and decrease panhandling, as well as increase the public’s perception of the city for the Games. The Assistance to Shelter Act allowed the police to forcibly transport homeless individuals to shelters in extreme weather. As Chan pointed out, the coercion that underlined both policies was a violation of human rights. Similarly discussing the disenfranchised, Christine O’Bonsawin, from University of Victoria, focused on the oppression of indigenous people in British Columbia. In “Showdown at Eagleridge Bluffs: The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, the Olympic Sustainability Smokescreen, and the Protection of Indigenous Lands,” she argued that the organizing committee appropriated indigenous territories under the fraudulent guise of sustainability. Although alternative, more environmentally-friendly options existed, the economic incentives convinced the Vancouver organizers to use the natives’ land.

The representation and inclusion of disabled athletes also appeared throughout the program. Melinda Maika of Western University portrayed the ways in which the media plays a significant role in the interpretation of disability. In her talk, “The ‘Other’ Athletes: Representation of Disability in Canadian Print Media during the London 2012 Paralympic Games,” she highlighted the different ways the Canadian press depicted Paralympians. While Maika found that 61.4% of the coverage used athletic descriptors, secondary themes undermined these positive portrayals as many articles also embraced a “Medical/Patient Frame” or “Supercrip Frame.” Also considering the treatment of disabled athletes in the Olympic Movement, Ted Fay of SUNY Courtland, Eli Wolff of Brown University, and David Legg of Mount Royal University argued for the introduction of “universal design” in the Games. The presentation, “Unity and Disability in Diversity: Olympism, Universal Design and the Paralympic and Olympic Games,” outlined several proposals for the more complete inclusion of Paralympians. They suggested designing infrastructure inclusively from the onset of construction, not tacking on adaptations; completely connecting the Olympics and Paralympics; and unifying the medal count. As the authors noted, currently the philosophy is “Two Games, One Movement,” paralleling the disparities athletes with disabilities face.

From the history of the Games to contemporary ethical debates, scholars from around the world assessed, analyzed, and discussed the Olympic Movement. Significantly, the ISOR allowed for a meaningful exploration of the Olympics, and scholars provided suggestions for advancement and improvement. Many may find this particularly important as the Olympic Games extend both its power and popularity. Therefore, after the Rio Summer Games in 2016, the ISOR will again meet to continue this critical work.

[1] Robert Barney established the ICOS in 1989 and started the ISOR in 1992, following the Winter and Summer Games. When the IOC adjusted the Olympic format to every-other-year, the ISOR followed suit, hosting conferences in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014.

Lindsay Parks Pieper is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Lynchburg College. She can be reached at pieper.l@lynchburg.edu.

The Hard Calls: When Coaching Matters off the Field

Some days are harder than others in the coaching world. There are stories about young players who fall to untimely death, years when the coaches face personal illness, and records that people wish could be forgotten. However, sometimes the things that stick with us in this life have nothing to do with the field house.

I planned on writing about the cyclical nature of football offenses. I planned on talking about the imminent doom facing the young coach who has never defended the flex-bone or can’t understand that the odd front is not a complex as it looks sometimes. I wanted to write about the need to modify the spread when you’re down on speed but up on strength. I wanted to discuss the sleeping nature of offenses that incorporate misdirection to help the run game.

But something became very apparent to me this week as we look at playing on Halloween. This doesn’t come around often when we must pick between traditionally family focused fun nights and game night. I’m blessed to have kiddos who just want to be together on Friday nights to watch their oldest brother play ball. But as I think about the student athletes on the field, I realize that many of them are fighting between being leaders and indulging in the lifestyles of their peers. Tonight I witnessed a coach mentor a student athlete who felt pressured to attend a Halloween party that was advertising drug use and underage drinking. Of course, the coach explained how one night could effect his entire future. He shared with him about the young athletes across the country who lost scholarships over social media pictures and inappropriate tweets. He asked him who he wanted to look back and see in his mind 20 years from now; a young man who did things right and had nothing to hide or a kid who had to hide everything to look right.

It was particularly appropriate to me that I overheard him saying this to a young man. Our middle child is gifted both intellectually and athletically. I know parents always say they have kids who are way awesome and should run the world someday, but our son is freaky blessed. He is playing football for the first time in his life, starting as QB and is undefeated. He is number three in his class and works diligently at perfecting his juggling skills because he is interested in theatrical pursuits. Seriously, be jealous.

His recent discovery of girls and his elevated social status has lead him to “perform” in class lately. This is a new obstacle for us as parents. My husband and I attended a meeting today with three of our son’s teachers. In the meeting, we discussed the behavior issues they noticed in the last two weeks. I immediately knew that he would need to be removed from athletics if this continued. My husband did not agree. He made his argument and I made mine. Ultimately, we decided to discuss the choices our little guy needed to make to become a better person. We came to the conclusion that those choices had little to do with football and everything to do with character.

Today I learned that football is a vehicle that we use to mold men. It’s a way in to helping to fill the world with good character. The hardest calls a coach makes come when he has to be a father. My husband, and many other coaches, have to be fathers to so many young men. It’s nice to know that one stupid game gives them the opportunity to do that. I can only hope that it always works out for the best and everyone makes the right choice.

Moorea Coker

The Roller Derby Origin Story

By Colleen English, Guest Contributor

Colleen English is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Marshall University. She received a B.S. in Kinesiology from Penn State University (2009) and is working on completing her Ph.D. in Kinesiology (History and Philosophy of Sport) under Dr. Scott Kretchmar at Penn State. Her research interests center mainly on gender in sport, with particular emphasis on feminist philosophy and sport and the history of women in sports such as roller derby and track and field. She can be reached at englishc@marshall.edu and on Twitter @colleen_english.


At the end of the month, women from around the globe will meet in Nashville, Tennessee, for the 2014 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) Championships. There athletes will skate in exciting, physical, and dangerous bouts all while donning roller skates. This event signals the success of a revived sport, based in grassroots programs throughout the country. However, roller derby has a storied history dating back to the Great Depression that is often left out when fans remember the early days of the sport. Many people only consider its current iteration, featuring derby girls wearing short shorts, fishnet stockings, and wild hair and make-up playing a rough and violent sport in front of beer-drinking crowds in lesser-known skating rinks (not unlike scenes from the 2009 film Whip It!). Others who came of age during the 1970s might remember watching the intense rivalries between heroines like Joan Weston and wild villains like Ann Calvello on television. Though most assumed that the outcomes of roller derby matches were fixed, many tuned in to watch the entertaining rough play of skaters trying to pass one another and score points. However, roller derby’s history predates these versions of the sport. Unlike the intense, dangerous, and sometimes violent, sport we often think of as roller derby, it originated as a long-distance skating spectacle that looked more like the endurance crazes of the 1920s and 1930s than its more modern counterparts.

In 1935, the savvy entrepreneur Leo Seltzer was tasked with creating and hosting events at the Chicago Coliseum at the intersection of 15th Street and Wabash Avenue. Prior to scheduling events in Chicago, Seltzer had a number of jobs in the entertainment industry, including owning movie theaters in Portland, Oregon, selling films to theaters for Universal Pictures, and promoting another endurance spectacle, walk-a-thons. In order to fill the Coliseum, Seltzer created a new event to attract spectators. Scribbling the rules on a napkin, according to sportwriter Frank Deford in Five Strides on the Banked Track, Seltzer created the Transcontinental Roller Derby.

The Transcontinental Roller Derby was a multi-day long-distance race designed to follow an imaginary route across the United States. Illuminated on an electric map in the arena, the path traversed the country, journeying between New York City and Salt Lake City, or San Diego and Chicago. In order to travel these 3,000- to 4,000-mile distances, participants skated laps around a banked track set up inside the arena. Each day, the Transcontinental Roller Derby required that the skaters complete a certain number of miles around a track to avoid elimination.[i] The races featured teams comprised of one man and one woman and pitted the teams against one another in a format where men skated against men and women skated against women. The skaters would periodically trade-off during the day at regular intervals or when one teammate became extremely exhausted or injured. The Transcontinental Roller Derby could last for as long as 42 days and the contestants ate, slept, and skated at the venue. Sleeping in cots in the infield, the skaters ate six meals per day, and a nurse oversaw their health, weighing them and checking their heartbeat.[ii] Seltzer required that the skaters stay in the arena for the entire competition.

The Transcontinental Roller Derby gained early success in Chicago and eventually Seltzer formed a traveling troupe. Roller derby ventured to a number of cities, primarily in the Midwest, such as Cleveland, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minneapolis. As the popularity grew, skaters even traveled to Miami, Florida, and New York City.

Roller derby proved to be an important escape for those struggling from the financial hardships of the Great Depression. During Roller Derby’s flourishing years, from 1935-1937, it remained one of the cheapest forms of sporting entertainment and aligned with the prices of other inexpensive amusements. Seltzer recognized that his audience had little buying power and often provided discounted tickets. Potential spectators could purchase twenty-five cent ticket vouchers for only a dime at local grocers, department stores, and other shops. In From Roller Derby to RollerJam, roller derby historian Keith Coppage notes that roller derby fans never paid full price, because, in the words of Seltzer, “Americans love discounts” (p. 7). Seltzer’s son, Jerry, who would take over roller derby in the 1960s and 1970s, remembered that spectators in the 1930s only paid ten cents to enter the arena for as long as they wanted to watch roller derby.

These low ticket prices couldn’t be matched by other sporting entertainments. Chicagoans could expect to pay between fifty-five cents and $3.00 to attend professional sporting events in the city, including watching the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, and Blackhawks. Additionally, other forms of entertainment rarely matched roller derby’s inexpensive prices. Films, plays, and circuses provided much needed entertainment for struggling families, but often cost more than attending Transcontinental Roller Derby contests.

Because of these cheap ticket prices, Americans facing financial hardships could escape their problems by entering an arena hosting roller derby. For only ten cents, they could relax in an air conditioned venue and forget their troubles, while watching dozens of skaters go around and around a banked track. The early successes of roller derby are likely owed to Seltzer’s ability to draw working-class spectators who enjoyed the escapist atmosphere of the sport.

By 1937, the Transcontinental Roller Derby began to move away from its endurance-crazed roots. With a nudge from famed New York sportswriter Damon Runyon, Seltzer began to change the rules to make the contests more exciting. These new rules implemented a scoring system that awarded points to teams that could overtake their opponents, allowed for contact between skaters, and emphasized physical blocking (which led to its more violent nature). [iii] With these new rules in place, more pushing, shoving, and falling emerged as a natural part of the Roller Derby.[iv]

Also in 1937, a tragic event also signaled the demise of the Transcontinental Roller Derby. On March 24, while traveling from St. Louis to Cincinnati, a chartered bus carrying twenty-three skaters and roller derby associates blew out a tire and crashed into a bridge abutment in Salem, Illinois.[v] The forty-foot flames created by the explosion caused eighteen or nineteen people to burn to death in the fiery bus (newspaper reports were unclear on the final death tally).[vi] The driver and another person flew through the windshield while a few others managed to escape, though two passengers, including Ted Mullens, the master of ceremonies, succumbed to their injuries soon after hospitalization. Those that died in the crash included popular skaters, such as Joe Kleats and Libby Hoover. Although Seltzer, the surviving roller derby skaters, and new skaters attempted to carry on the Transcontinental Roller Derby after this unfortunate accident, it never really recovered. With new rule changes and a loss of important personnel, roller derby survived, albeit in a new and altered format.

These new rules and new format likely allowed roller derby to continue on and survive beyond the Great Depression years. Many pastimes from that era failed to maintain a following into the latter half of the twentieth century. Although Seltzer’s dreams of creating a widespread, elite, and legitimate sport haven’t yet been fully realized, his hard work, along with the role of his son Jerry, helped maintain the sport throughout the twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Its many incarnations suggest that something exceptional about roller derby helped it survive waves of popularity. Instead of fading away like most other sporting crazes of its era, roller derby evolved into a sport that has enjoyed numerous periods of popularity. Although it is often marketed more for its entertainment value and mass appeal, its nearly 80-year run solidifies its place in the American sportscape.


Notes:

[i] “25 Teams Start 3,000 Mile Roller Race Tomorrow,” Chicago Tribune, 12 August 1935, p. 15; “Roller Derby is Opened,” p. 34.

[ii] Quentin Reynolds, “Round and Round”, Collier’s, 22 April 1936, p. 15.

[iii] Telephone conversation with Jerry Seltzer.

[iv] Frank Deford, Five Strides on the Banked Track, p. 83.

[v] “19 Killed as Bus Carrying Skate Troupe Crashes,” Chicago Tribune, 25 March 1937, p. 2; “18 Killed in Bus as Skating Troupe Crashes in Illinois,” New York Times, 25 March 1937, p. 1; “Transport: Midwestern Spectacle,” Time, 5 April 1937.

[vi] Ibid.

Mike Torrez and His Athletic Career: Not Sufficiently “Mexicano”?

By Jorge Iber, PhD

Texas Tech University

In my first two posts for this blog, the intention was to introduce the readers to the significance of the role of Latinos/as in US sports history, and then, to provide but one example of an individual whose life and career (Coach E.C. Lerma from Duval County, Texas) highlighted some of the key issues/themes that can be examined through a systematic examination of Spanish-surnamed athletes.  In this post, I would like to be a bit more theoretical than previously.  By briefly discussing the life and career of a Mexican American major leaguer, Mike Torrez (who pitched for various teams in the late 1960s through the early 1980s), I hope to ask a not insignificant question: what makes some athletes heroes to a community, and others, not so much?  In other words, what makes Latino fans cheer for a Latino athlete?  Is he/she sufficiently Latino/a?  The case/career of Mike Torrez, when compared to a pitcher with similar credentials, but with a great deal more notoriety, Fernando Valenzuela, offers insight into this question.  This is a topic that I am researching/wrestling with as part of a book-length project on this former major league pitcher.

Mike Torrez’s family, on both sides, hailed from Mexico, and arrived in Topeka, Kansas, in the early part of the twentieth century.  Both grandfathers were employees of the Santa Fe Railroad, as was his father, Juan. The family lived in the Oakland neighborhood of the Kansan capital, literally a stone’s throw from the tracks.  Mike was a natural athlete, as were his two brothers (the family had a total of eight children), and he excelled at both baseball and basketball.  Through hard work, and coaching from his father (who also played baseball for Mexican American teams that often toured through parts of the Midwest) and older brother John, Mike competed successfully at various levels (though not high school, because his alma mater, Topeka High, did not field a team), finishing up in American Legion ball. Through his successes, he drew the attention of team scouts, and eventually signed with the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization in 1964.  From there, he played in the minors and eventually made it to the big club to stay starting in 1969 (his first call up was in late 1967, and he did spend the first weeks of 1968 with the Cardinals before being sent down for more “seasoning” in AAA).

Mike was successful with St. Louis, posting a 10-4 record in 1969, but then slipped to 8-10 and 1-2 before being traded to the Montreal Expos in 1971.  He went on to have a good career north of the border with some poor teams (finishing 40-32) before being traded again to Baltimore, then Oakland, and finally, the New York Yankees early in the 1977 season.  That year, he was part of the “Bronx Zoo” that featured Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and other “complicated” individuals.  While the ride was wild, the Bombers claimed the World Series, defeating the Dodgers in six games.  Torrez parlayed his season (and two Series victories) into one of the first “big money” contracts (puny by today’s standards: $2.7 million over five years) with Boston.  He then was part of the epic collapse of 1978 by the Red Sox, and is, regrettably, most remembered for having given up a home run to Bucky Dent in the one-game playoff on October 2nd.[1]  Mike lasted a few more years with the Sox, then was traded to the New York Mets, and finished his career with the Athletics, retiring in 1984.

During his time with the Mets, Mike defeated Valenzuela, 7-1 in a game on August 31, 1983. While putting together an overall record of 185-160 in the majors for a .536 winning percentage and winning one World Series title, Torrez never garnered the same attention and adulation of a Fernando Valenzuela, whose overall regular season mark was 173-153, for a .531 winning percentage and two World Series titles.  Was Torrez, who was born in the United States, perceived differently from the Mexican-born Valenzuela, and if so, then why?

While he pitched in the majors, Mike was acknowledged as a hero by the Mexican American population in his hometown and the greater Midwest.  There were many times when he graced covers of local “fiesta” brochures, and there were even caravans of barrio community dwellers that would travel to nearby Kansas City when he would pitch against the home-town Royals.  His popularity was significant, but never reached Valenzuela-like heights.  A key question to ask here is why did this phenomenon occur for a Mexicano, but not for a Mexican American?  Obviously, the fact that Valenzuela was in Los Angeles, and Mike pitched in locales with much smaller Mexican/Mexican American populations, has an impact.  But I think that there is more to this differentiation than mere geography and fan base.

In discussing this topic with colleagues in History and American Studies, some interesting questions have come up that have helped me to think more about the value of studying Latino participation in US sport.  Were American sports fans, by the early 1980s more ready to accept a “foreign exotic” than a homegrown, racialized “other,” for example?  What were the implications of such trends?[2]  What does this tell us about notions of identity among various generations?  Now that the Dodgers have a “new” and “Mexican” star (Adrian Gonzalez), they are making no bones about using him to connect with this fan base (he was born in the US, but played in Mexico and his father is prominent in Mexican baseball circles).  So, what “is” he?  Will he be a draw for “Mexican” as well as “Mexican American” fans?  What does this tell us about Latino life in the US at this moment in time?  What are the implications for the future?

Further research into the life and career of players such as Mike Torrez will, hopefully, help shed light on such issues.  Finally, what does the story of a Mexican American athlete from the Midwest, a region that is currently experiencing a dramatic growth in this (and other Latino) population (many small Midwestern towns now field teams that have significant numbers of Spanish-surnamed athletes) have to tell the current generation living in this region?  It is through further exploration of this new area of sport history that we can gain answers that are of both historical and current-day social value.

Jorge Iber is Associate Dean in the Student Division and Professor of History at Texas Tech University. He can be reached at jorge.iber@ttu.edu.


Notes:

[1] For a further discussion on the career of Mike Torrez, please see: Jorge Iber, “An Overview of the Early Life and Career of Topeka’s Mike Torrez, 1946-1978: Sport as a Means for Studying Latino/a Life in Kansas,” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 37 (Autumn 2014): 160-175.  In addition, please see: Mark Saxon, “Adrian Gonzalez Helps L.A. Reconnect,” March 6, 2013.  See: http://espn.go.com/espn/print?id=9024724&type=story.  Accessed on October 22, 2014.

[2] Discussions/Email correspondence between this author and Ben Chappell of the Department of American Studies, University of Kansas during October 2014.