The Illinois Slush Fund Scandal of 1966-67

By Murry Nelson, Guest Contributor

Murry Nelson is a Professor Emeritus of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on the history of basketball, and is the author of The National Basketball League: A History, 1935–1949 (2009) and Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League (2013). He recently edited a multiple-volume encyclopedia on the history of American sport, American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas (2013). He can be reached at

My current work is on researching and writing a history of Big Ten basketball and, in that project came across the Illinois Slush Fund Scandal of 1966-67. I was surprised at how little I knew of this, particularly since I am from Illinois and was a college student in the Midwest at the time of the scandal’s events. My lack of knowledge was seemingly matched by friends and colleagues to whom I mentioned the scandal and that, too, surprised me. That ignorance was not found among one of my best friends from high school, who had been a freshman at Illinois when this all occurred. When I told him of my new project this past spring, he immediately said that I hope you’ll talk about the Illinois “scandal” of 1966 and his tone was one of anger and frustration. That seems to coincide with the feelings of many Illinois alumni over the years.

Although there was a lot of background that could be discussed, a good place to start is the exposure of the scandal and the circumstances that led to that exposure. In the spring of 1966, the long-time athletic director of the University of Illinois, Doug Mills, who had served for more than 25 years, announced that he would be retiring from the university in the fall and there was immediate speculation on who would be his successor. After a lot of “jostling” the top candidates seemed to be Mel Brewer, the Assistant Athletic Director and Pete Elliot, the football coach, who had begun in 1960 and won a Rose Bowl title in 1963.

In mid-December, 1966, it was an open secret that Elliott would soon be named the new A.D. Initially, he would also retain the head coaching position, but it was likely that his assistant would attend to the daily athletic department duties during the football season and he, Elliott would address the larger policy issues. Once this was apparent, Mel Brewer paid a visit to the office of the University of Illinois president, David Henry, where he, Brewer, dropped a enormous batch of files on Henry’s desk and asked Henry to examine them, at least preliminarily. They were the records of a “slush fund” that the athletic department had established five years previously and which had spent approximately $21,000 during that time. The funds came from various boosters and companies and were divided into three parts- football funds, basketball funds and athletic director funds. Brewer was the administrator of the slush fund and, when it became clear that he would not be getting the position of athletic director, he decided to become an “informant”.

Henry was, apparently, nonplussed at this revelation, but immediately decided to act on the contents. He informed the basketball coach, Harry Combes three of his players, Rich Jones, Ron Dunlap and Steve Kuberski, should be suspended temporarily, while the university began an investigation into this situation. Henry also contacted the Big Ten office and told Commissioner Bill Reed what he had learned and how he was acting in response to these new revelations.

It should be noted the devastating impact this would have on the Illinois basketball team. The Illini had been rated #13 in the UPI national poll of college teams on December 20 and much of this was because of the veterans returning to the squad,  and the top sophomore help expected from Steve Kuberski, Dave Scholz and Steve Spanich. The team returned Rich Jones, Ron Dunlap, Preston Pearson, Jim Dawson; the former two would go on to professional basketball careers, while Pearson would become a top receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Dawson would be the MVP of the Big Ten in 1966-67. The team was one of the favorites for the Big Ten title. On December 21, Dunlap had 19 points and Jones, 18,  in an 81-67 victory over Stanford, raising Illinois’s record to 4-1. Two days later, three players, Jones, Dunlap and Kuberski, were declared ineligible for accepting illegal aid. Coach Harry Combes offered to resign at that time, saying that he was shocked at the situation. The players sat on the bench in street clothes as the Illini played in Chicago Stadium in a highly publicized doubleheader on December 23rd, defeating the University of California, 97-87.

The next day more players were named as being involved with the illegal fund, Spanich, and Randy Crews, a freshman. There were also seven football players named, but this seemed less important at the time since their season had ended. The files were to be presented to the athletic directors of the Big Ten for their determination of how the university, its athletic department and the individuals involved should be disciplined for the fund. That would take a while, but the basketball players were finished for now, as their eligibility had been removed by the university. The Big Ten review would determine if they would be punished more severely, as well as whether others would be.

Despite the loss of the four players from the varsity (Crews played on the freshmen team, since players only had three years of varsity eligibility at the time), many at the University of Illinois were hopeful that the penalties would not be severe and looked for some support from the athletic directors at the University of Iowa, Forrest Evashevski, and Michigan State, “Biggie” Munn. In 1953 Munn and Michigan State had been accused of paying out approximately $20,000 through the Spartan Foundation to players, mostly football players, but “no written records were kept and part of the money went unaccounted for. MSU received a mild one-year probation for what was labeled ‘improper aid to athletes’”.[i] Evasheski presided over a football scandal in 1961 which involved illegal aid, but there was even less of a punishment. Since they were both voting members of the panel deciding, it was quite surprising when a unanimous vote of the Big Ten Athletic Directors in the week of February 19, 1967, supported two-year penalties of Big Ten ineligibility for all the players involved on both teams, plus the demand for the immediate firing of Head Football Coach Pete Elliott, Head Basketball Coach Harry Combes and Assistant Basketball Coach Howard Braun.

The Illinois High School Coaches Association (IHSCA) voted to support the retention of the three coaches, in the face of this demand by the Big Ten. Defying the ban would lead to the potential expulsion of the University of Illinois from the conference. The action of the IHSCA in supporting the retention of the coaches was also publicly reinforced by the Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner; the football players of the university, the Illinois Alumni Association and the Board of the Illinois Athletic Association. On February 28, the University said that it would appeal the decision on the coaches and would not pull out of the Big Ten. No word was said about the students and their fate was seemingly sealed, despite the lack of a hearing.

The appeal by Illinois was to the faculty athletic representatives of the Big Ten and that was heard on March 3rd in Chicago. Besides the three coaches, there were still 14 athletes from football and basketball implicated. The father of Steve Kuberski said that his son was authorized by Illinois coaches to take the money and was told that it came from a Moline sponsor for Kuberski working in a Moline plant (John Deere) on semester and holiday breaks. According to Kuberski’s dad,

That money went from Moline to the slush fund. We thought the money was coming from the place he worked. If we had known that it was from a slush fund, Steve never would have gone to Illinois.

Kuberski did not get the money at the plant, but in monthly installments on campus of $15 to $35 a month. It should be noted that the NCAA allowed for $15/month payment to students for incidentals, but the Big 10 saw this as illegal. In this whole situation, the NCAA eschewed involvement, allowing the Big Ten to deal with this as an “internal” matter.

On the day of the appeal, it was announced that Steve Spanich had transferred to Quincy College, not far from his home in Rock Island, Illinois. He played at Quincy for the next two seasons, was drafted by the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher in 1968 and played in their minor league system through the 1971 season.

The next day, in front-page news, the Illinois appeal was rejected, 9-0, by the faculty reps, with Illinois abstaining. At this time, it was announced that Athletic Director Mills and Assistant Director Brewer had been involved with the fund for five years and upwards of 30 athletes had been involved, but only 14 still had eligibility.[ii]

The next day, more information came forth and, for some of the athletes, it was gratifying, as seven of them were cleared, but the other seven were all  suspended by the Big Ten, five permanently. Kuberski, who received periodic payments of $35/month and a total of $490 (over 16 months), was suspended for two years and promptly transferred at the end of the year to Bradley. It had been determined that he should have known that the money he received was more than he actually earned working at the John Deere plant. He sat on the Illinois bench for the remainder of the 1966-67 season, agonizing over the fortunes of the team, which dropped to a tie for sixth in the conference with a record of 6-8. He played two years at Bradley University, averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds per game in his senior year. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics and played nine years in the NBA. Randy Crews, previously mentioned, was cleared of all charges and no penalized. The others who were not penalized were not named.

Rich Jones received payments of $35 per month (a total of $720 not from the fund, but from a businessman/booster) and was suspended for two years. He transferred to Memphis State University (his home town; he was the only non-Illinois player on the roster), where he also starred for two years, then was drafted by the American Basketball Association. He played seven years in the ABA and one in the NBA after the ABA/NBA merger. Ron Dunlap received $15 per month (a total of $410). He also was married with a daughter, but this was not seen as extenuating in any manner. He remained in school, was drafted in the 1968 draft by the Chicago Bulls in the second round, played five years in the Continental Basketball Association and for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

The biggest beneficiary of the fund was running back Cyril Pinder, who received over $1100, mostly for trips home to Florida to visit/attend to his ailing grandmother, who had raised him. He was injured for a year, then was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and played five full years in the NFL.

Illinois vowed to continue the fight for their three coaches, leaving the student-athletes as collateral damage. There was one final appeal available, to the Big 10 University presidents, in a “show cause” hearing.  Meanwhile, the basketball season came to a close with Illinois dropping its final game to Ohio State, 100-79, to finish the Big Ten with a record of 6-8. Indiana and Michigan State tied for the title with records of 10-4, but when the Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball was awarded for the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten that year, the award went to Jim Dawson of Illinois. It is hard to imagine that a lot of that was because of his and the team’s ability to endure during a most difficult season. He also averaged 21.7 ppg for the year, which didn’t hurt, either.

On March 9th, it was announced that the Trustees of the University supported President Henry in his appeal. The story also noted that Woody Hayes, the Ohio State football coach, disagreed with the firing and saw it done as a warning to others, as much as it was a punishment to the coaches.[iii] In an accompanying article, Governor Kerner said that he would not interfere with the decision-making process. The Trustees reiterated their support and encouragement in a public statement five days later, also.[iv]

Four days later, Representative Tom Railsback (R-IL), who represented Steve Kuberski’s district of Illinois, announced that e would seek a Congressional probe of the Big Ten’s athletic aid. He noted that the boys involved believed what they were told, that the payments were legal since the coaches said so. Not so, he countered, with the coaches. “They hardly could have helped but know that this violated the rules of the Big Ten.”[v] The next day, Doug Mills said that he had been “misinterpreted” when he said that President Henry knew of the fund. This was not true.[vi]

On March 18th, the University made its final plea to the Council of Presidents, a show cause hearing to show why the University and Big Ten should not split as a result of this situation. The appeal was denied and the University was ordered to fire the three coaches by March 21 or have the University suspended from the Big Ten. That day the three coaches all quit, saving the university and everyone else the anguish of protracting the situation any more. A new Athletic Director, Gene Vance, a former Illini Whiz Kid of the 1940s, was hired and would take office, April 1st. Until then, acting A.D., Professor Leslie Bryan, Director of the Institute of Aviation, would continue in the position.[vii]

Three days later, a Champaign businessman announced a drive to raise $10,000 for each of the three coaches to be presented at a dinner in their honor, but the next day, the coaches announced that they would refuse such gifts, but that they would attend the planned dinner. That same day, Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Chicago) said that he supported a probe of the Big Ten in the case of Illinois. In that same article, Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears tight end and former All-American at Pitt, was also adamant in his disagreement with the Illinois punishments. Ditka said that when he was recruited at Indiana, all the recruits were at a meeting where they were told that they would receive $50 per month and that he was offered even more from at least one Ivy League school.[viii] A few days later, the fired athletic director of the University of Pennsylvania, Jerry Ford, claimed that he had been fired for challenging the use of a slush fund at the school. (Was this one of Ditka’s targets?)[ix]

Illinois tried to recover. They hired Jim Valek as the new football coach, who went 8-32 over the next four years. They hired Harv Schmidt as the new basketball coach who went 89-77 in seven years at the Illini helm, but lost many top Illinois players to Indiana, something that had hardly happened before. In what might be seen as a coda to all this, Tribune sportswriter, Robert Markus, in summing up sad sports stories of 1967 had this to say about the Illinois slush fund scandal,

A Greek tragedy in modern dress. The jealousy or remorse, depending on who’s telling the tale, a man destroyed himself. Disgraced his associates and the University of Illinois’ athletic program and shook the Big Ten to its very foundations.[x]

This does not end the story, however. In fact, as my alumnus friend made clear, it may never end. Posts/web sites from the Phoenix alumni of the University of Illinois, from 2004 from and the Champaign News-Gazette of 1999, indicate that this story continues to have “legs”.[xi]  Is this what Penn State alums will feel in 2050? How could this happen with the NCAA steering clear of it? That surely would not be the case today. And how might we view it, when we consider both the efforts of players, headed by the Northwestern players, to be more justly compensated for their work as “employees” of the university? How does all this square with the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit? And what of the statements of the five “power conferences”, who will now provide their own version of better compensation for their athlete/workers?

In conclusion, was this fair? If so, to whom? Certainly the players got short shrift. As for the coaches, Combes was done at 52 and, according to his brother, lived a sorrowful life after this. He died ten years later. Howard Braun, barred from coaching in the Big Ten, worked for a bank in Champaign, was pro golf manager at a Champaign course and died in 1996 at 83. Elliott returned to coaching six years later at Miami (FL), where he was also athletic director. In 1978, he became an assistant coach of the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals and from 1979 to 1995 was Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He died there in 2013 at age 86.

Illinois archival materials on this entire matter are found at


[i] Dan Jenkins, “The Fighting Illini”, Sports Illustrated,  v.89, no.10, p.90, March 6, 1967. Also found at, Accessed October 2, 2014.

[ii] “Illini Appeal Rejected”, Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1967, Pt.1, p.1.

[iii] “Illinois Trustees Back Henry’s Statnd”, Chicago tribune, March 10, 1967, Pt.3, p.1.

[iv] “Urge Illini to Keep Fighting”, Chicago tribune, March 15, 1967, Pt.3, p.1.

[v] Aldo Beckman, “Probe Sought of Big Ten’s Athletic Aid”, Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1967, Pt.3, p.3.

[vi] “Mills Denies Henry Knew of Fund”, Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1967, Pt.3, p.1.

[vii] “Illini Make a Final Plea to Big Ten Today”, Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1967, Pt.2, p.1. Roy Damer, “Big Ten Denies Illini Appeal”, March 19, 1967, Chicago Tribune, Pt.1,p.1. “Three Illini Coaches Quit”, Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1967, Pt.1, p.1.

[viii] “Plan $10,000 Gifts for 3 Ex-Illini Coaches”, Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1967, Pt.3, p.1. “Illini Coaches refuse $10,000 Gifts”, Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1967, Pt. 3, p.1. “Wants Congress to Probe Big 10 in Illinois Case”, Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1967, Pt.2, p.1.

[ix] “Fired Penn Aide Hurls ‘Slush’ Charge”, Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1967, Pt.3, p.1.

[x] Markus, Robert, “Stories We Could’ve Done Without in ‘67”, Chicago Tribune, December 25, 1967, Pt.3, p.3.

[xi], Accessed October 2, 2014., Accessed October 2, 2014.

Popular Teams, Harris Poll and the Big 4 Sports

While writing my book, The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, DC Basketball  on professional basketball industry and Washington, DC, a central question emerged about the city’s fans.  From the origins in the late 1920s through the Bullets in Landover, Maryland, the city’s teams never drew very well. Even when they reached the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals against the Minneapolis Lakers  in 1949, the Lakers drew double the crowd that the Capitols did. The late owner Abe Pollin fretted over the limited attendance after his Washington Bullets won the 1978 Finals. He proposed the reason for the small turnout was that few people who lived in the nation’s capital were actually from the Washington area, so they maintained their loyalty to their hometown teams.

This is one reasonable contribution to the issue but not the main answer that many believe. Population figured  indicate that many natives from the area lived in Washington and their drives for constructing stadiums and bringing the Army-Navy Game to the city, reveal their interest in sports. Yet this definition of the Washington, DC sports fan as a transient remains one of the main definitions of the area’s fans. This motivated me to begin working on a project to understand the city’s sports fans and their support of the “Big 4″ sports in the United States.

The concept of the “Big 4″means that each of the professional sports leagues in North America, Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), NBA, and the National Hockey League (NHL) are the largest revenue producers out of all the leagues in their sport worldwide. Each is also a place where players and coaches can become icons notable worldwide. During the research for this project on fans, I discovered how unequal the Big 4 are amongst themselves.

The Lou Harris and Associates company began polling sports fans in the early 1970s to determine the favorite sport in the country or how many fans followed each sport. These studies continued but were joined by polls that discovered fans’ favorite teams and athletes in 1992. The first polls asked a sample of people to indicate their favorite and least favorite teams in the MLB, NFL and NBA. According to Regina Corso, Director of this area of polling, they never asked about the NHL because they did not have a large enough sample of people to create a poll result in which they had confidence. Harris-Interactive-Poll-Research-ATLANTA-BRAVES-NOW-THE-NATIONS-FAVORITE-BASEBALL-TEAM-1992-05; Harris-Interactive-Poll-Research-CHICAGO-BULLS-MOST-POPULAR-AND-DETROIT-PWONS-LEASI-1993-01; Harris-Interactive-Poll-Research-COWBOYS-REDSKINS-AND-BEARS-ARE-AMERICAS-FAVORITE-NFL-TEAMS-1992-09

Before the start of the new millennium, the Harris Corporation had stopped asking people about their favorite NBA teams. Ms. Corso cited the same reason but also stated, “No one has asked for them.” The polling company’s customers are local media outlets, and apparently, they did not have a need to reference the country’s preferences in basketball. How did Harris’s staff think it did not have a statistical sample (Regina Corso said that they require at least 10%), when a Harris survey from 1998 stated that over 44% of fans identified themselves as followers of professional basketball? More intriguing is the lack of interest from the media. Did these outlets believe their readers and viewers had little interest in the subject to make it worth not reporting? Did the stations and newspapers’ editorial staffs have little interest in the topic?

Does the lack of polling for professional basketball and hockey while football and baseball questioning remains indicate that the concept of the Big 4 is misleading? Is the Big 4 more accurately viewed as the Big 2 and Small 2? In 2014, Harris released a poll that indicated the favorite sports of fans in the United States from 1985 through 2013. The NFL’s product has climbed from 24% to 35%, while MLB’s has declined from 23% to 14%. After college football (10 to 11%) and auto racing (5 to 7%), the NBA and NHL products follow, with basketball remaining at 6% and hockey climbing from 2 to 5%.  If favorite sport is an accurate indicator, it seems so.

50 Years After His 10K Gold Billy Mills is More than an Olympic Legend

Image from Running Strong for American Indian Youth

Image from Running Strong for American Indian Youth

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most magical moments in Olympics history. Billy Mills became the first American to win the 10,000m in 1964, and he did so in dramatic fashion. The story is so incredible even Hollywood couldn’t have dreamed it up. But, perhaps, more significant and more important than his athletic achievements is what Mills has done in the years since.

Mills, an Oglala Lakota, was born in June of 1938 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His family was poor. His father worked odds jobs — he was briefly employed in the Indian Service and occasionally boxed for money. Conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation were horrific and the Depression only made them worse. At the time of his birth, the Federal government provided 82.5% of the income for the entire population on Pine Ridge. By the time he was 12, Mills’ mother, father and sister had died. He and his brothers were orphaned.

Billy Mills’ oldest brother, Sid, was 21 at the time. He was in the Navy, married, and had a family. Responsible for looking after his younger brothers, he sent them to the Haskell Institute — a federal Indian boarding school in Lawrence, KS. Billy attended high school there and that’s where he found running.

Though Billy was active and ran throughout his childhood, it was always a part of play, not an avocation. After failing to earn a spot on the Haskell boxing team, Mills reluctantly joined the cross country team. He became an almost immediate success. He found a supporting mentor and father figure in his coach Tony Coffin, who pushed him to develop both academically and athletically. Mills broke the state records of two Olympians (Glenn Cunningham in the indoor mile, and Wes Santee for the 2 mile cross country run) during his high school career. His name was in the newspaper, a lot. Coffin told Mills that it was fine to read the stories about himself, but he should combine those with other stories — stories about local, national, and global issues. These lessons helped Mills and informed his writing as a journalist for the Haskell Indian Leader student-newspaper.

Following his graduation from Haskell, Mills followed in the footsteps of the Olympians whose accomplishments he equaled. He enrolled at the University of Kansas. Though he was already familiar with the city of Lawrence, the University showed him a different world, a tougher world. Mills experienced racism, he struggled on the track, and he often felt lost and out-of-place. Although he won a Big 8 championship and was named an All-American, his career was a disappointment to many as he failed to live up to their expectations.

Again taking the familiar path of prior Olympians, he joined the U.S. Marines Corps following his graduation in 1962. Wes Santee had explained to Mills that military service allowed former athletes to remain amateurs and permitted them to continue training. It was the support structure for the vast majority of the country’s Olympic hopefuls, particularly during the Cold War. The Marines also appealed to Mills’ heritage. American Indians have historically served in the armed forces at a higher level than any other population. Mills’ father and brother served, and it felt like the right thing to do. Along with his marriage to Patricia Harris in 1962, Mills credits his time in the Marines as something that changed his life. Both renewed his sense of purpose and supported him on his journey to accomplishing his dream: winning an Olympic Gold Medal.

When Mills qualified for the 10,000m at the 1964 Olympics, he had the 8th fastest time in the world that year. He was never viewed as a serious contender, however. Australian Ron Clarke held the World Record and won the 1960 Gold Medal — he was the favorite. The top American hopeful was an 18-year old phenom, Gerry Lindgren, but it was viewed as a stretch even for him to medal.

Despite these prognostications, each runner still had to toe the line in Tokyo and survive the grueling 25-lap race. Heavy rains the night before didn’t make it any easier. The cinder track was sloppy and poised to turn the event into a physical race. Billy Mills had as good of a chance as any.

Since his college days Mills had changed his training strategy. He had a new training partner and coach in the Marines. Much of his focus was on logging miles, building his endurance, while staying sharp enough to kick if he needed to. The training had paid off. Mills also qualified to run in the 1964 Olympic marathon a week later. Going into the 10,000m, Mills strategy was to stick with the leaders. Sports Illustrated‘s preview of the Olympics noted that Clarke “is immensely strong but lacks sprint.” If Mills could stay with him, he had a chance.

Mills race plan worked. As the race’s last lap approached, he was in the top three and within striking distance. He was ready to make his move. Then, as they approached the final turn, he was bumped out into lane 3 by Clarke. Muhammed Gammoudi passed him and Clarke. He was in third barely hanging on.

Now entering the finals stretch, Mills had to go. It was his last chance. Trusting his training, he began sprinting, forcefully extending his legs, lifting his knees, and dicing the air with his arms powering his way through a crowd of lapped runners and back into contention. Gammoudi who had taken a commanding lead was beginning to fade. Clarke was on his heals. Mills remained in third but was gaining ground.

With 50 meters to go, Mills overtook Clarke and seemed to be gaining speed. Shocked by the cheering, Gammoudi glanced to his right with 20 meters left. His eyes were greeted by a blurry silhouette of Mills zooming by. Seconds later the race was over. Billy Mills had won.

The shock and elation of the race were captured beautifully on the NBC telecast. Announcer Dick Blank interrupted the call by screaming “LOOK AT MILLS! LOOK AT MILLS!” and chortling with glee. On the track, Japanese officials were equally as shocked. They seized the exhausted Mills asking “Who are you? Who are you?”

In the days following the 10,000m Billy Mills became a household name. His identity was implanted in the public consciousness. Newspapers worldwide ran feature stories introducing the sensation of ’64. The world was touched by his story: an impoverished American Indian, orphaned, succeeding against the longest odds. Mills became living proof of the American Dream. He was also an American patriot, a Marine Lieutenant with a sixteen-month old daughter. His Olympic moment transformed his life.

Now 50 year later, Billy Mills continues to be transformed by that moment, and he shares that transformation with the world around him. Relying on his Lakota heritage and the values taught to him by his family, Mills has embarked on a traditional giveaway that requires he repay those who have helped him along his journey. Except, Mills has expanded the reach and definition for contemporary times. Winning the Olympics required the help of thousands of people all over the world, from various cultures. In his post-Olympic life Mills has sought to reach out to all of them as well.

The concept of the giveaway informs his humanitarian and philanthropic work. In 1983, he created the film Running Brave to share his story (financed and produced entirely by Americans Indians ). In 1990, he published a book, Wokini, that shares the Lakota lessons that have helped shape his life. Additionally, he has traveled constantly visiting over 100 countries sharing his story. The primary focus of this outreach is American Indian youth. Mills hopes that his story can be an inspiration and an example to help develop self-esteem and cultural pride as well as dignity and character. While sport is a key component, extracurricular activities of all kinds serve as venues for development.

Mills’ foundation, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, is the lead arm of these efforts. The organization takes a holistic approach by addressing the “important needs of food, shelter, youth initiatives, and culture and language preservation.” Since it’s creation in 1986 it has raised well over $650 million.

Billy Mills’ story is important to me for so many reasons. As a former runner, he was one of my heroes growing up. The final hill at the University of Kansas’ Rim Rock Farm cross country course is named “The Billy Mills Ascent.” During my high school years this was the site of the Kansas state cross country meet. My teammates and I spent hundreds of hours training for that hill, preparing for the aching pain of the journey to its top before embarking on a 400m sprint to the finish.

That hill is symbolic of so much about Billy Mills’ life. The long painful struggle up a dark, tree lined hill, that crests into the morning sunlight on a chilly October day. Though you’re at the top and the hardest part is behind you, it is not the end of the race. You have to keep going, pushing forward, willing yourself to take one more step because the end is insight and the purpose of each step is now clear. That purpose for Mills is the empowerment of others and the betterment of American Indian youth. It’s a purpose he has dedicated his life to.

This story is also important to me because Billy Mills has, in a lot of ways, informed my entire career as a historian. Mills’ story introduced me to the power of sports and its tremendous impact on individuals, policies, and society. It forced me to confront issues of representation, authority, and power. While writing my master’s thesis, I also had to confront my own position as a fan, a scholar, and a person of privilege peering into a foreign world. His story changed me and has changed my view of the world.

In many ways I’m personally indebted to the Mills. They opened their home to me for an oral interview in the January of 2011, and shared so much of their lives with me. Billy and Patricia continue to be generous and inspiring people. I consider them friends. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his incredible Olympic victory, it is important that we understand both their struggle and their work to improve the lives of others. His journey to the 1964 Olympics is intertwined in a complex history of race, sports, and federal policy just as their lives since then are a part of a history of activism and philanthropy pushing back against many of those same issues. These complex histories never really have an end, and celebrating them as moments of complete victory does a disservice to the continued struggles and successes that have followed.

To join in the Billy Mills 10k 50th Anniversary visit:

Andrew McGregor is a PhD Candidate at Purdue University and the founder of this blog. He is a Kansan and wrote his master’s thesis on Billy Mills and Jim Thorpe. His dissertation explores the world of Bud Wilkinson and Oklahoma football. You can reach him via email at or on Twitter: @admcgregor85

Opening Pandora’s Box?: Transgender Athletes and the Fight for Inclusion

Zeam Porter loves basketball. Last season, through great perseverance and resolve, the Minnesota high school junior earned the honor “Most Improved Player” as a sophomore. Yet, according to Porter, who identifies as “trans genderqueer,” the title was misleading. “The plaque said the wrong name,” Porter explained. “The cheers I received were the wrong name. ‘Go girl’ does not go for me. I’m not a girl.” Sadly, due to the anxiety and depression caused by being forced to compete on the girls’ team, Porter quit. “My love for basketball . . . made me believe I could handle being on the wrong team. That was wrong,” said Porter. “Constantly being misgendered and called the wrong name took away my soul. I already feel like I don’t have my own body—now I am soulless.”

Over 150 community members gathered to discuss the MSHSL's proposal. CBS Minnesota

Over 150 community members gathered to discuss the MSHSL’s proposal.
CBS Minnesota

Porter shared this personal anecdote in an open forum near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Along with the high school junior, more than 150 Minnesotans gathered on October 1, 2014, to discuss the Minnesota State High School League’s (MSHSL) intent to outline a gender-inclusive sport policy. The MSHSL had initially sought to follow the examples set by other states and release guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes in high school sport. Yet, the seemingly mundane plan quickly became a contentious topic of conversation in all corners of Minnesota.

As the MSHSL finished drafting its recommendations, the Minnesota Child Protection League released a controversial advertisement in the Star Tribune. The full page ad asked: “A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU ok with that?” Consequently, the MSHSL received over 10,000 emails—comprised of both positive and negative messages—and convened the standing-room only community meeting to debate the guidelines.

At the well-attended forum, athletes, parents, educators and community leaders alike shared their views on transgender participation in high school athletics. Porter characterized the policy as a “great start” for inclusivity. Alison Yocom of the Transforming Leadership Team similarly called the plan “the right thing to do” and asked “since when does Minnesota exclude individuals from any activity?” Unfortunately not all shared such sentiments.

Retired educator Norene Shepherd suggested that “we are about to open a Pandora’s Box” and urged board members to vote against the proposal. “Our anatomy is what it is, not what we would like it to be,” she reasoned. Parent Daphane Edwards noted that “activities that are organized by gender have been organized that way for sound reasons.” Many echoed these thoughts, and further cited locker room difficulties and fears of unfairness as evidence.

Such anxieties, however, are not new.


Conversations surrounding transgender athletes typically highlight issues of (un)fairness and advantage, and also reaffirm a belief in separate and distinct sex/gender categories. Moreover, resultant policies have historically upheld sex/gender-segregated competition rather than recognize gender variance. Despite different historical contexts and shifting sex and gender norms, the rules implemented to control transgender athletes frequently upheld a binary notion of sex, bolstered gender differences and reified assumptions of male superiority in sport.

Policy Assumptions

Historically, the idea that gender fluidity existed as a potential “Pandora’s Box” for sport stemmed from an assortment of concerns. Most frequently, opponents highlighted the need for fair play, stressed the existence of biological advantage and argued for sex-segregated sport. The angst displayed in Minnesota was, therefore, not newfangled as such anxieties have underscored most transgender athletic policies.

Foremost, discussions of transgender athletes focused on the possible disruption of the mythical even-playing-field. According to sport scholar Heather Sykes, the “unfair advantage thesis” suggested that sex/gender transgressive athletes are likely to have physical-strength-advantages over other—usually women—competitors. For example, male-to-female transgender golfer Mianne Bagger once complained that “my biggest gripe is the assumption that I have an unfair advantage and hit the ball a country mile longer than everyone else.”

In conjunction with the unfair advantage thesis, transgender policies also hinged upon the social belief that all men are superior to all women in all sports. As Knutte Jonsson argued, biological arguments of difference “are used to legitimate the gender hierarchy . . . by seeing women’s (inferior) gender roles as something that is natural.” This mentality notably shapedsex_symbols_track the reception transgender athletes received; the emphasis on male-to-female transgender competitors stemmed from the conception of male sporting prowess. In addition, as Sykes argued, the suggestion of biological advantage also posited that men will change sex in order to reap the benefits of women’s sport—the benefits they are unable to claim in men’s sport. As male-to-female transgender tennis player Renée Richards sarcastically recalled, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) believed that if she competed on the women’s tour, “the floodgates would be opened and through them would come tumbling an endless stream of made-over Neanderthals who would brutalize Chris Evert.” This interminable flow has yet to materialize.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the history of such policies in sport illustrates the impossibility of drawing a clear line between men and women. The various procedures and stipulations enacted repeatedly demonstrated the fallacy of such a demarcation. According to Laura A. Wackwitz, by “situating people into seemingly distinct, but nevertheless constructed categories, governing bodies of sport wield oppressive power that serves to create and reinforce a system of difference based upon hierarchy.” Not only does this attempt to uphold a dichotomy persist, but the dedication to the male-female divide in sport maintains deep historical roots.

The Rise of Women’s Sport and Fears of the “Transsexual Empire”

Women’s sport increased in conjunction with the women’s liberation movement and tennis player Billie Jean King was among the first to embrace the cause. Led by the vocal advocate, female tennis players began to work for equality in tennis and eight of the top competitors started the Virginia Slims Tour in 1971. Shortly thereafter, King earned $117,000, becoming the first female athlete to breach the 100-grand mark. Her easy defeat of Bobby Riggs in 1973 also provided justification for the expansion of women’s sport. King’s on-court efforts buttressed the women’s movement and provided a strong symbol of successful female encroachment into traditionally masculine realms. Yet, the discovery of Renée Richards, a male-to-female transgender competitor, in women’s tennis raised questions of fairness and masculine biological superiority.

After competing in a local California tournament in 1976, Richards vied to compete in the U.S. Open. After she announced her decision to participate, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) took an oppositional stance and denied Richards access, claiming that “entry into women’s events at the U.S. Open, the leading international tennis tournament, of persons not genetically female would introduce an element of inequality and unfairness into the championships.” The USTA ordered a chromosomal test for all female competitors in the 1976 U.S. Open, successfully barring Richards—until she filed a lawsuit. Richards sued the USTA for overt discrimination and the deprivation of her civil rights. The New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the decision required the USTA to accept Richards as a woman and allow her to participate in women’s tournaments. Richards won the case; however, her victory did not force dramatic change beyond the tennis courts.

Notably, not all sects of society applauded the decision. Some feared male-to-female transgender athletes diminished the

achievements of women’s sport and belittled the goals of the women’s liberation movement. Gloria Steinem, for example, embraced the unfair advantage thesis and wondered “if Richards had changed identity only to prove that any man, even a former one, could beat any woman.” Janice Raymond, a self-identified radical feminist, expressed even more hostile opposition to the possibility of transgender athletes’ inclusion in sport. Raymond argued that “transsexuals” were reconstructed men, living under a guise of femininity, who wanted to gain women’s power in an attempt to maintain patriarchy. Essentially, she posited that male-to-female “transsexuals” served as the male solution to women’s liberation. Richards’ inclusion, therefore, was an effort to dismantle the triumphs in women’s tennis. According to Raymond:

The latest transsexual notable has been Renée Richards who has succeeded in hitting the benefits of sex discrimination back into the male half of the court. The public recognition and success that it took Billie Jean King and women’s tennis years to get, Renée Richards has achieved in one set. The new bumper stickers might well read: ‘It takes castrated balls to play women’s tennis.’

Concerns over Richards’s participation forced the USTA to try and delineate the difference between a “man” and a “woman.” Other organizations later faced a similar task.

In 1987, male-to-female transgender golfer Charlotte Ann Wood finished third on the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Tour and reached the semi-finals of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. Her presence drew outrage and female competitors protested her “extra power” and “unfair advantage from the tee.” Resultantly, in 1989 the USGA introduced the entrance requirement “female at birth” for all women’s competitions. Focused on the gendered assumption of biological strength discrepancy, the USGA implemented the clause in an effort to deter supposed unfairness. Tellingly, the USGA did not reciprocate with a “male at birth” stipulation for entrance into men’s contests.

Following suit, in 1991, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) also incorporated the “female at birth” stipulation for all competitors. Clearly the concerns about transgender athletes’ involvement in golf stemmed from a belief in female athletic inferiority. The resultant stipulations of the USGA and LPGA thus popularized notions of male advantage in the sport. Moreover, the USGA and LPGA both assumed the existence of two separate and distinct sex/gender categories based upon biologic difference.

In contrast to the “female at birth” clause instituted by the USGA and the LPGA, Women’s Golf Australia (WGA) instituted a policy in 1999 that allowed transgender golfers to compete. Aided by the WGA’s seemingly progressive gender stance, male-to-female transgender athlete Mianne Bagger competed in an amateur tournament that year and defeated former winner Lyn McGough. After defending her title in 2001 and 2002, Bagger was asked to compete in the 2004 Women’s Australian Open, becoming the first transgender athlete to participate in a professional tournament.

Prior to each of Bagger’s debuts, as an amateur and as a professional, conversations focused on her supposed masculine strength and the possibility that she possessed an unfair biological advantage. For example, Warren Sevil, the general manager of the Australia Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG), explained:

It’s just that golf courses are set up differently for women because of the fact they’re not as strong. Long par fours for men are par fives for women. Otherwise, Greg Norman, say, or any other male professional who decided to have a sex change would be entitled to join . . . and they’d dominate.

This discourse forced Bagger and her advocates to repeatedly downplay her skills for acceptance. In order to gain approval, she had to appear appropriately female, which entailed performing at a level lower than men. As Bagger explained, “I’m on hormone replacement therapy which means I’ve lost the muscle tone and strength I had.” The degradation of her talent and minimization of her physical strength emphasized a supposed difference between male and female golfers, one which placed women below men.

Shortly after Bagger’s participation in the Women’s Australian Open, the ALPG and the European Tour both dropped the “female at birth” entry requirement. Influenced by Bagger’s warm public reception and the implementation of the Stockholm Consensus, the USGA followed in 2005. The USGA, however, demanded extensive medical scrutiny for all potential transgender competitors. Five years later, the LPGA dropped the discriminatory clause, only after the threat of a lawsuit forced the organization to remove the restriction. The LPGA eventually adopted stipulations based on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Stockholm Consensus.

The IOC, the NCAA and the Trickle-Down Effect

The IOC’s 2004 policy, the Stockholm Consensus, attempted to address the potential “Pandora’s Box” of transgender athletes. The policy divided transgender athletes into two groups. For those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery pre-puberty, the Stockholm Consensus allowed them to compete without restriction. For the other group, the IOC established a narrow set of problematic stipulations:

  • Surgical anatomical changes have been completed, including external genitalia changes and gonadectomy.
  • Legal recognition of their assigned sex has been conferred by the by the appropriate official authorities.
  • Hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex has been administered in a verifiable manner and for a sufficient length of time to minimise gender-related advantages in sport competitions.

In addition, the Stockholm Consensus noted that each athlete must undergo individual investigation prior to Olympic participation.

Through the Stockholm Consensus, the IOC prioritized gender classification and privileged sex-segregation. Moreover, the Olympic protocol created amended sex/gender definitions that forced individuals into a specific category: men or women. The debate of fairness again focused primarily on male-to-female participants and the IOC proved persuaded by the assumption of biological masculine superiority.

Yet, more disconcertingly, in the wake of the Stockholm Consensus, several sport organizations implemented strict sex/gender policies which mirrored those of the IOC. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Office of Inclusion, for example, published the “NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes” in 2011 as a guide for athletic directors, administrators and coaches. Based on “current medical and legal knowledge,” the resource articulated two areas of concern for intercollegiate athletics: mixed teams and the use of banned substances. Tellingly, a biological male participating on a female team made the squad a “mixed team,” whereas a biological female competing on a male team did not. Conviction in male biological superiority in sport again underscored the stipulation. To combat supposed advantages and resolve the issue, the NCAA required one year of testosterone suppression for male-to-female transgender competitors.


Finally, even more alarming is the trickle-down effect such policies have had on high schools. In February 2014, the Virginia High School League adopted guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes into sport. According to the policy, athletes must undergo sex reassignment surgery, including the surgical removal of external sex organs. Additionally, he or she must also receive hormonal therapy “such that it minimizes gender-related advantages in sports competition.” To require surgery not only forces high school students into a socially-circumscribed sex/gender category, but also mandates a painful procedure—one often not covered by insurance—and severely limits athletes’ access into sport. Regrettably, other state associations proved similarly exclusive. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association passed a resolution that requires each student-athlete to “participate according to the gender they were assigned at birth.” In parallel fashion, the Georgia High School Association, New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association and North Carolina High School Athletic Association ruled that a student’s team is determined by the gender noted on his/her birth certificate.

Fortunately, the MSHSL had planned to implement different stipulations—guidelines that did not require sex reassignment surgery or solely use birth certificates to classify gender. In the draft, the organization sought to allow “participation for all students regardless of their gender identity or expression” in an environment “free of discrimination.” Therefore, the MSHSL suggested schools use high school transcripts, personal statements, parental letters and “appropriate medical documentation” to determine team placement. The guidelines recommended male-to-female transgender students undergo testosterone suppression; however, sex-reassignment surgery was not a requirement. Although such a policy would have encouraged Zeam Porter to return to basketball, the community outcry sparked by the shower advertisement convinced the MSHSL to table the policy until December.

Assumptions of advantage and notions of fairness have historically underlined transgender athletic policies and clearly continue to do so in Minnesota.

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

Review of Alan Klein’s Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice

Temple University Press, 2014.

This time of year, it’s not entirely uncommon for sports journalists to comment upon the remarkable quantity of non-US born baseball players stealing the show in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) postseason. Other times the coverage is less laudatory. Two on-field conflicts erupted in late September of 2013 involving a Dominican player (Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez, respectively) triumphantly celebrating a home run in a manner that irked the opposing team. Brian McCann, then catcher of the Atlanta Braves, was one of the key forces in both altercations. He confronted both Gomez and Fernandez, representing a resistance rooted in traditional notions of the way the game is “supposed to be played” (read: a WASPian work ethic of composure, modesty, and stoicism that deflects attention away from the individual and onto the whole).

The debate and struggle over the “right way to play the game” and who gets to decide crystallized in an intense gaze on rising Cuban star Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers (one that’s only continued in this year’s playoffs). On and through Puig circle competing definitions and interpretations of the role race, ethnicity, nationality, masculinity, culture, age, education, and class play in policing player comportment. The discussion often whittles down to a binary construction: a dichotomy of US-born (mostly white) players’ “respect” for the game juxtaposed against Caribbean-born (mostly brown and/or black) athletes’ “immaturity” and self-aggrandizement. Although MLB seems overtly concerned with reasserting the United States’ central geography in the production of players (see this telling map published on October 1), Northeastern University Professor of Sociology-Anthropology Alan Klein is quick to point out that the most significant sites of struggle over the control of MLB’s talent flow are not located within these controversial skirmishes.

In his new book Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice, Klein maintains that the battle between MLB and Dominican baseball “mirrors global relations between those with power and subalterns” (p. vii). This “little-known baseball war” is mostly hidden behind the scenes in “legal and policy chess moves.” At stake is the ability of the Dominican Republic to gain a measure of sovereignty over its influence on the future of baseball (p. vii).

Klein writes engagingly and authoritatively for both scholarly and popular audiences. He’s been researching MLB’s organizational structure and business interests in the Dominican Republic for the past three decades and has published widely on the subject, including books Sugarball: The American Game, the Dominican Dream (1991), and Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball (2006). Notable scholars and journalists have praised Klein’s standard setting work as “indispensable.” As The Nation’s sports editor Dave Zirin correctly notes, “If you don’t understand the Dominican baseball pipeline in all its dimensions, then you can’t say you understand baseball in the twenty-first century.” The reader can sense Klein’s personal and professional investment of 25-plus years spent earnestly assessing the definitive relationship that has contoured the scope of MLB.

His overall purpose is to examine the relationship between MLB and the Dominican Republic and illuminate the changes that have altered both parties and the nature of the relationship itself since the early 1980s. Moreover, his aim is to produce a cogent analysis of the conflicts and struggles between MLB, possessing immense power, and the vulnerable labor pool of Dominican teenagers. As WBUR’s Only a Game host Bill Littlefield interprets, Klein explains that “point of view is all. Behavior that strikes MLB’s executives and general managers as ‘wily and scheming’ seems merely ‘creative and open’ – as well as logical and utterly necessary – to those representing the players.”

MLB has exploited this unequal partnership for decades, but the “new pride” emanating from Dominicans reflects the recent shift in balance towards the Dominican Republic to at least make the process of player development and production a contested one. Dominican players form the core of athletes MLB relies upon (roughly 50% of minor league ball players, and close to a quarter of those in the majors) to generate its $7 billion in annual revenues; in return, the Dominican has received between $50 and $75 million in annual revenues (quick math suggests that’s between .7% and 1.1%). Klein argues that buscones [variously (mis)understood as unregulated player-finders, trainers, scouts, and/or agents] or what he terms “player developers” are centrally located in this fight for greater autonomy. A key argument of the book is that while MLB has structurally become integrated in Dominican baseball, “Dominicans have emerged and entered the game at all levels of the industry as a potential harbinger of Dominican presence—their drive to do more than just supply talent. This new system is the outcome of the consensus and conflict between North America’s and the Dominican Republic’s notions of who should control the sport and for what end” (p. 2).

Dominican Baseball is an energizing and highly readable mix of theoretical and ethnographic work that provides an anthropological perspective Klein deems necessary. In addition to Sugarball, this book should be read alongside works such as Adrian Burgos Jr.’s Playing America’s Game, Rob Ruck’s Raceball and Thomas Carter’s The Quality of Home Runs. His analysis provides fans, students and scholars with a nuanced understanding of the complexities, contradictions, and forces at play in the negotiation of interests between MLB’s rules and policies for maximum profit, and the on-the-ground realities of survival for baseball prospects, their families, and trainers. Moreover, he clearly illustrates how Dominicans are systematically and derisively demonized in US sport media, representations used to rationalize and justify MLB’s neo-colonial control of the island’s baseball institution.

Klein’s analysis of this contentious, but mutually beneficial relationship (if heavily skewed towards MLB) is framed in the first two chapters through an adapted theoretical framework of the Global Commodity Chain (GCC). He adjusts this structural, linear, and Euro-centrist model and applies it to the MLB chain which produces a human being, not a just a commodity. In short, he humanizes the GCC by opening its multiple nodes of production/consumption/distribution for the fluidity and flexibility of experiences that actually accompany the dynamism of lived relations. The mothers and fathers of these athletes are rendered as somewhat homogeneous-dependents in the analysis, pointing to further directions for work in the field that could provide similar notions of agency, power, and resistance to their subjectivity. Additionally, the official state-run Dominican baseball institution is left outside the framework of the ethnographic analysis. We do not learn much about them other than that they are a rather ineffectual and compliant puppet-extension of MLB.

The expansion of the GCC model is crucial, however, because it grants the actors within the chain a strain of power and agency that allows them to mold, modify and reshape the chain as they pass through, exit, and re-enter various stages in nonlinear and circular fashion. Equally as informative for his interpretation is the concept of the informal economy that explains the cultural relativity behind discourses, laws, and policies that demonize Dominican baseball players for their supposed transgressions in age/identity fraud, steroid use, and lack of education. Posed vis-a-vis the informal economy, these questions become ones of survival rather than morality.

Klein argues that viewing Dominican baseball within its late global capitalist and neoliberal economic contexts demonstrates how MLB is as much at fault as any party for creating the conditions of existence and possibility from within which Dominican ball players, families, and trainers must operate. In short, narrowly conceived Dominican “problems” and “corruption” are better understood as adjustments and adaptations within a flawed system that impedes access and opportunities to “legitimate” forms of identity and sustenance.

Perhaps most importantly, the revised GCC model and informal economy framework allow Klein to deconstruct the ways in which buscones have been vilified as evil, greedy, exploiters of child labor. Instead, he demonstrates how most player developers provide young teens and their families with food, housing, education (if desired), financial support, and medical needs while building and refining baseball skills. They also secure tryouts and negotiate with MLB clubs and baseball academies on behalf of the players.

The middle chapters present thorough analyses of the baseball academies and buscones. Both function as pivotal sites on the MLB commodity chain. The academies exert a degree of coercion and generate compliance from the ball players who are constantly forced to prove themselves. Klein shows that this is not a fixed or static system, however. Players too are able to push agendas while simultaneously fostering their resocialization within the academy.

Buscones are the most contested element of the chain and represent the most overt challenge to MLB’s hegemony in talent acquisition. MLB wants to incorporate and inoculate them, likely because millions of dollars flow through buscones’ commission and into the Dominican informal economy. In turn, these funds help constitute a “mosaic of Dominicans” in positions of responsibility and power that have begun to reconfigure relations with MLB (p. 5).

Chapters five and six consider the ideological and institutional battles over the shaping and producing of Dominican baseball players under an increasingly Foucauldian, post-9/11 sphere of invasive surveillance and evaluation. For many on the island, the US and MLB presence nonetheless resembles the more outwardly visible historical US military, corporate, and state power. Klein allows the voices of buscones to come through most forcefully, articulating the political and nationalist overtones of their challenge to MLB’s attempts at unilateral control.

MLB’s “old prejudice” continues to manifest in an imperialist attitude that justifies extracting renewable Dominican resources as cheaply as possible for maximum profit.  The “new pride” resides in buscones located at the base of the commodity chain — a site of organization and agency. The thrust of this new pride mobilizes potential challenges and progressive social action. One might infer that this new pride supplements the subtly resistant, but ultimately co-opted patriotic celebration of successful Dominican ball players that reproduces the status quo.

At times Klein offers a scathing critique of the MLB Commissioner’s Office “ethnocentric hubris” and “culture trumping.” In the last instance, however, he utilizes Sociologist Robert Merton’s concept of unintended consequences (rather than domination and hegemony) to explain the evolution of the Dominican-MLB relationship. Although at once “unified and fractious,” he suggests that MLB and Dominican baseball will “sink or swim together” through unanticipated outcomes produced under a system of neoliberal economics and governance, transnational links, and global forces (p. 166).

What remains clear, however, is that questions remain regarding the extent to which buscones and others will be able to not only gain access to and govern MLB’s commodity chain, but reform and ultimately transform it into a more fully humane and just process.

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


Midseason Report

The homecoming mum:


I thought I would try something new and post from the game tonight. At this very moment I sit in a stadium that seats 20,000 people at a conservative estimate. It is an oddity that we play a varsity game on a Thursday night and it really does throw off the vibe for the week. Last week was our homecoming game and I was keenly aware of the electricity in the air throughout the week. The entire week was devoted to quasi forms of cosplay set to themes, a plethora of baked goods and activities surrounding voting of royalty, and a entirely too large amount of money on glow sticks, silly string, air horns and flashy light up things for a blackout pep rally to end the week.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the homecoming ritual, however, is the mum. I’m not sure if this is a Texas football thing or not, but the mum is the largest marker of class, desirability, social stratification, and irrevocable school devotion known to man, I’m sure. Not only do folks order the mum from local flower shops months before the day of revealing it to rest of the student population, the local craft stores stock as many things to decorate or build the homecoming mum as they do Christmas decorations.

Let me see if I can describe the mum for those who have never seen it. It is a concoction of ribbons which flow from the bottom of a faux chrysanthemum all echoing the school’s colors. On the ribbons are markers of class (freshman, senior, etc) the current pairing of mates, and denotations of extracurricular events. It’s the mid season letter jacket constructed of hot glue and adorned with bells and whistles; literally.

I enjoy the mum and all the crazy things it represents. Tonight I did a short poll (really only 5 people) who were all from states other than Texas. One of them knew what the mum was and she was from upstate New York (Doesn’t count). All in all, the mum represents Texas football: a large sometimes obnoxious business with a devoted fan base which often a gets to a point where we just need to evaluate what we are focused on. The young girl in the picture above is adorned with  the most ostentatious mum I found. :/

Beyond Football: The Political Career of Bud Wilkinson (part 1)

On Saturday, November 23, 1963, Oklahoma and Nebraska were schedule to meet in Lincoln. It was an important game in the Big 8 standings. The Sooners were 7-1 going into the game, 5-0 in conference play. Their only loss that season was to Darrell Royal and a pesky Texas team that seemed to always have Oklahoma’s number.

Nebraska had a good team. They were 8-1 and undefeated heading into their last conference game. Their only loss came against a tough Air Force team. The matchup between the Sooners and Cornhuskers would decide the conference championship.

The Sooners were confident before the game, though Coach Bud Wilkinson, as he did every week, praised the opponent and suggested they might be the better team. Oklahomans knew the truth. In his 16 years at OU, Wilkinson’s Sooners had only lost to Nebraska twice. Oklahoma was the one, true Big Red.

The team flew to Nebraska on Friday morning. They arrived and had lunch at the hotel before tragedy intervened. President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Initial reports listed him as seriously wounded but by late afternoon reality had sunk in. The president was dead.

His assassination sent shockwaves throughout the country and the sank the nation into mourning. The assassination had a profound impact on the Oklahoma football program. More than any other football team in the country, the Sooners had a close connection to Kennedy. Coach Wilkinson was friends with Kennedy, and the president seemed to take an interest in the team. The previous January he visited them in the locker room before their Orange Bowl matchup against the University of Alabama. During his short visit he joked that “I thought I’d drop by to see who was physically fit” because Wilkinson was Director of his President’s Council for Physical Fitness. Unfortunately, the Sooners lost that game to the more fit Crimson Tide.

Kennedy’s death rattled the Oklahoma team and their coach. Across the country dozens of games were called off or postponed. These included several major rivalry games such as Harvard – Yale, Wisconsin – Minnesota, as well as Duke – North Carolina, Boston College – Boston University, and Columbia at Rutgers. In-state rival Oklahoma State cancelled their home game against Kansas State, too. On the Tuesday following the president’s death, Army and Navy announced that they were postponing their annual game one week at the request of the Kennedy family.

While most of the college football world responded this way, some teams went ahead and played. Friday night following the assassination, the Nebraska Board of Regents announced that the game with Oklahoma would go on. The Nebraska Board was “deeply sorrowful about the death of President Kennedy,” but believed that “the people of the State of Nebraska wish to have the Nebraska-Oklahoma game as scheduled.” “This will be done.” their statement read.

This was undoubtedly done with some scheduling concerns in mind. The matchup with the Sooners was the last game on Nebraska’s schedule, but the following week Oklahoma was set to take on Oklahoma State. Cancelling the game would affect the Big 8 standings, and postponing it would push it back two weeks to December 7th. There were also issues of travel and expenses, the chaos of refunding and exchanging tickets. And, Oklahoma was already in Lincoln. Faced with a tough decision, Nebraska opted to play the game.

The University of Oklahoma, of course, had to agree to play. They did. According to University President George Cross, it was a difficult decision for him to make. Cross consulted with Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon, who left it up to him. He consulted with Wilkinson and the team. They thought playing the game would maintain a sense normalcy and give people a distraction from the tragic events. Some reports even claim that Wilkinson discussed the matter with Bobby Kennedy over the phone, and he suggested they play.

The game was played in front of a dour, cheerless crowd. It was a sloppy game marked by turnovers. The first half was a defensive battle. Oklahoma held tough allowing only a Nebraska field goal, but failed to score. The Sooners’ woes continues in the second half. They lost three fumbles in the third quarter before throwing two interceptions in the fourth. The Cornhuskers led 29-7 with 5:43 left in the game.

Despite the long odds, Oklahoma continued to fight back. Starting at their own 25 yard line, the Sooners found their rhythm. They ran for two quick gains of four yards. The next play resulted in an incomplete pass as the defense hit the quarterback. He was shaken up and replaced. The new quarterback pitched the ball for a deft, six yard rush and a first down. Next, OU took to the air for back-to-back completions of 16 and 15 yards. Now at the Nebraska 31, momentum was building. Three plays later, Oklahoma cut the deficit to 29-14 on a reverse that went for 27-yards. A minute and fifty-seven seconds remained. They were racing the clock.

The defense was once again formidable, recovering a fumble on the third play of the Nebraska drive. It was Oklahoma ball at the Cornhusker 25 yard line with 42 seconds left. On first down, the Sooners threw a quick strike for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed, but Oklahoma was inching closer.

A fumble on the ensuing onside-kick nearly gave the Sooners another possession, but Nebraska was able to corral the ball. They kneeled on the next play, and escaped with a 29-20 victory.

After the game, in his weekly “Football Letter,” Wilkinson wrote, “It seems perhaps a bit strange to say that I am truly proud of our team after losing the conference championship. Yet I am. You are never actually defeated until you give up.” Amidst the chaos and the tragedy surrounding the Nebraska game, the Sooners refused to give up. They rebounded the following week defeating Oklahoma State 34-10 and finished the season 8-2.

Immediately following the season, rumors began to swirl about Wilkinson’s coaching future. Unlike earlier in his career, Sooner fans were not worried about him being lured to another coaching job, but rather leaving sports altogether for a political career. Wilkinson had long shown an interest in politics. During the early 1950s he develop close relationships with Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators, Robert S. Kerr and A.S. “Mike” Monroney. He also became close with President Kennedy and his brothers while serving as the director of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness. Presidents Eisenhower and Truman were fond of Wilkinson too, and took in Oklahoma games. Truman had the utmost respect for Wilkinson, telling the The Oklahoman “it’s a lot tougher to be a football coach than a president.”

Wilkinson, of course, never thought of becoming president, though running for Governor or Senator did cross his mind. Indeed, in 1961 Oklahoma newspapers were filled with rumors that Wilkinson might run for governor. Both parties wanted him, but ultimately their recruitment efforts failed. Neither could seal the deal. The speculation continued, however. When Senator Kerr died in January of 1963, Wilkinson’s name immediately came up as a possible replacement. He had experience in Washington. He was likeable and well-spoken, friends with the president, and there was no beating his name recognition.

Four days after the Oklahoma State game, Wilkinson’s son, Jay, did little to quell the speculation. On December 4th, the Oklahoma Daily printed an AP article at the bottom of its front page. The headline read “Jay Hopes Bud Will Run.” Through Jay did not know for sure if his father would run, he believed “He’d make a great senator.”

The idea of a sports figure turned politician was peculiar. Boxing hero John “Old Smoke” Morrissey did it in the 1860s as a Congressman from New York. So too did Gerald Ford, who in 1963 was a Representative from Michigan climbing the ladder of Congressional leadership. But neither of them had quite the same acclaim or cushy position. Ford turned down the NFL during an era when salaries were minimal and the league was viewed as second-rate behind the college game. Morrissey was done boxing; past his prime. Wilkinson, on the other hand, was 47. His teams had won 3 national championships and compiled winning streaks of 31 and 47 games. The 1963 season was only the third time his Oklahoma teams failed to win their conference in his 17 years. The idea of leaving all of that behind for a shot at politics seemed ridiculous.

But Wilkinson was considering it. He did little to deny the rumors. Tension was building around the Oklahoma football program.

Caught in the middle was University President George Cross. Since 1961 he’d been responding to questions and rumors about Wilkinson’s political ambitions. In his book President’s Can’t Punt, Cross recounts a story of at least one member of the OU Board of Regents, with the blessing of the sitting governor, trying to convince Wilkinson to “take a leave of absence” and run for Governor in 1962. Wilkinson discussed the proposal with Cross, who believed that the coach never took it seriously.

The whole thing struck Cross as odd. The board member and the governor seemed to be oblivious to university guidelines because “the university had a specific policy that any of its employees who ran for major public office must resign.” While undoubtedly relieved by Wilkinson’s lack of interest, Cross sensed that his interest in coaching was waning. In fact, he openly admitted this disinterest to Cross when discussing an offer to coach at Stanford between the 1961 and ‘62 seasons. Wilkinson thought a change might re-energize him.

Cross was unsure what made Wilkinson stay. Perhaps it was the lure of politics on the horizon and his in-state connections. Or maybe it was the positive outlook for the 1962 season. The program was on NCAA probation in 1960, and the Sooners had the worst two seasons of the Wilkinson era in 1960 and 1961. The promise of the 1962 team may have given the coach hope that the worst was behind him.

The 1962 season was indeed a success. Wilkinson claimed his fourteenth conference title and a berth in the Orange Bowl. With President Kennedy on hand, Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide, led by a young, cocky Joe Namath, pummeled the Sooners in Miami 17-0. Though no one knew it at the time, it would be Wilkinson’s last bowl game. The loss to Nebraska in 1963 cost Wilkinson’s Sooners both the Big 8 and a repeat trip to the Orange Bowl.

Instead of enjoying the warm Miami sun in January 1964, Wilkinson was dodging questions and writing press releases. Though Wilkinson informally told President Cross he was resigning as head football coach “a few days after the football season,” he wanted to wait a few weeks before they announced it publicly so that he could craft a statement. At the time of this conversation, Cross indicated that Wilkinson had not yet decided to run for Senate and expressed his desire to remain Oklahoma’s athletic director.

The announcement of Wilkinson’s official resignation finally came on January 11th, 1964. In his statement Wilkinson confirmed that he was considering running for Senate, but added “my resignation is not motivated by politics.” Instead, Wilkinson was hoping to end speculation about his future for the good of the team. “I’ve been asked at the end, or near the end, of every season since 1957 when I was going to resign,” he explained. “I would have liked to have decided earlier,” he continued, “but I’ve been to Minneapolis three times since the end of the season. My brother’s recent illness and death have added to my responsibility to his widow and my mother.” Wilkinson also cited the President’s Council on Physical Fitness “as an increasing obligation.”

It is clear that these new burdens weighed on Wilkinson. As recently as September 1963, he told The Oklahoman that “I enjoy coaching very much and as long as I can do an effective job I have no thought of retiring.” “Seriously, I’d be most surprised if I ever left Oklahoma. I’m very happy here at the university,” he added. But Wilkinson was careful to avoid absolutes, “the future just isn’t that certain.” The death of his brother and President Kennedy, were two of those uncertainties.

Reflecting on what made his Dad quit coaching, Jay Wilkinson believed Kennedy’s assassination was a major factor. Though he sometimes disagreed with the President, they had a level of mutual respect that provided Wilkinson with both frequent access to the White House and the freedom to administer the President’s Council on Physical Fitness as he saw fit. Wilkinson frequently told people that he thought his working Washington was more important than his work in Oklahoma. He believed in public service and doing more than sports. The death of his friend, Kennedy, signaled it was time to step up.

Wilkinson’s long awaited entry to Senate race was complicated and delayed for almost a month after he resigned. The main issue was that remained Oklahoma’s athletic director. The board thought this was a strong armed move to force them to hire his long time assistant Gomer Jones. They felt that it prevented OU’s ability to attract good replacement candidates because most would want both jobs — head football coach and athletic director.

Wilkinson meant no harm by his decision to retain the title. He cited other former coaches who left the sideline but stayed athletic director. Instead, he thought the board was playing politics; trying to force him to make a move. They wanted to know not only if he was going to run for senate, but which party he’d affiliate with. Wilkinson had long been rumored to be a Democrat.  He worked with Kennedy after all, and he was a close-friend of Oklahoma Senator Mike Monroney. The Oklahoman described Monroney as “a post-game kibitzer in the Wilkinson kitchen” and Wilkinson as “a social drawing card among the Monroney’s top level guests” in Washington. Their relationship was both personal and professional. Despite these relationship, many observs recall seeing Wilkinson wear an “I Like Ike” pin in 1956. He had also become close with Oklahoma’s Republican Governor, Henry Bellmon. No one knew for sure where his loyalties lay.

On February 5, 1964 Wilkinson officially entered the race. A week earlier he switched his registration from Democrat to Republican. All of the questions had been answered except one, would Wilkinson win?

Andrew McGregor is a PhD Candidate in History at Purdue University and the founder of this blog. You can reach him via email at or on Twitter: @admcgregor85

Historians in Kinesiology: The Evolving Vocational World of Academic Sport History

By Ari de Wilde, Guest Contributor                   

Ari de Wilde is an Assistant Professor of Sport and Leisure Management at Eastern Connecticut State University. His main research interests are in the business history of sport and the North American bicycle racing industry. He received his BA from Bates College —2005— (History), MA—2007— and PhD—2010— from The Ohio State University in Sport Humanities. His articles and book reviews have appeared in the Journal of Macromarketing, Journal of Historical Research in MarketingJournal of Sport HistoryQuest, and International Journal of Sport Management. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aodewilde.

My blog post today is about history in kinesiology. The post should be of interest to those who wish to pursue a career as a tenure-track faculty member in a department of kinesiology. That is the vocational location of one of the largest contingents of the North American Society of Sport History’s (NASSH) members, in departments of physical culture, education, human performance or kinesiology (as the discipline is most commonly known today). Scholars in the field, and historians working in kinesiology, cover a vast array of material and respond to a plethora of questions.

Recently, historian Amy Bass prestigiously and ambitiously wrote a state-of-the-field manuscript for the Journal of American History. She focused her essay on sport history’s contribution to history and argued for the primacy and importance of the cultural turn in sport history. In addition to her article, others by historians such as Lisa Doris Alexander, Susan Cahn, Adrian Burgos, Jr., Rob Ruck, Randy Roberts, and NASSH-president Daniel Nathan wrote responses to Bass’ piece. Broadly, the authors responded to ideas of sport history’s place in terms of maturity, scope and the cultural turn(s).

Taken as a whole, the scholars’ assessments of the field were generally upbeat. They noted that the field seems to be coming to fruition and Burgos, Jr. of the University of Illinois pointed out that in recent years there have been two endowed chairs created in departments of history with the Allen H. Selig Chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Homer Rice Chair in Sports and Society at Georgia Tech . There was little discussion of the changing dynamics and tensions in departments of kinesiology. In this post, I hope to outline a few of them.

Historians studying within kinesiology work along similar lines to scholars studying “applied” histories in departments of art, music, science, education, medicine and business. These scholars, too, often have to be able to both respond to debates in history departments as well as current issues and theories in their respective professional fields. In 2005, the Journal of American History published an article examining “History in the Professional Schools.” Scholars interviewed for the article, such as Nancy Koehn, the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, discussed how trained historians work in departments of medicine, business and education. While scholars in these fields work at some of the top universities in the world such as Harvard, Yale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one issue for historians of and in kinesiology, is that departments devoted exclusively to the history of science or art are in decline. Still, scholars in these fields can provide disciplinary insights to historians that have to serve multiple methodological masters as they must be relevant to the professional schools in which they are employed and, on the other hand, they must be aware of trends and scholarship from history and comparative studies departments.

Historians in kinesiology come in many different stripes. At the moment, there are few trained sport historians in kinesiology who have part of their faculty appointments related to teacher education and relatively few in science. There are a growing number of sport historians in sport management programs, who must be able to teach and research in sport management areas. The majority of historians in kinesiology, though, work in large university systems, such as Penn State and the California State systems, where they are allowed to primarily focus on socio-cultural classes. One continuing challenge remains for historians in kinesiology to justify their positions as relevant to other disciplines in kinesiology.

They can have multiple educational backgrounds. Sport historians in kinesiology departments sometimes come from departments of history or comparative studies, but kinesiology department-trained scholars mainly staff these positions. These scholars have graduated from kinesiology PhD programs, such as the Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas, the University of Maryland, University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University and take classes in sport humanities from a few faculty focused on socio-cultural studies in kinesiology departments and in history and sociology departments. Additionally, they have usually taken classes in other related kinesiology disciplines.  Historians who are graduates of kinesiology departments have written many award winning books, reviewed by such papers as the New York Times. Kinesiology-trained scholars have also served as Chairs of American Studies’ departments at both the University of Maryland and the University of Iowa.

These scholars can often attest to the somewhat unique experiences of inter-department study experience. As a graduate student in the sport humanities, I  would have class with my program’s core faculty, but I would also take classes in both the history department as well as sport management classes in my own kinesiology program. While I found acceptance and mentors in both places, there were tensions in both as well. In the history department it felt to me that sport was viewed with a tinge of suspicion and, in my experience, needed more justification than other subjects. In sport management, the place and use of historical methodology as something applied to management was questioned, if not assumed to be a totally different discipline. These types of tensions are common to interdisciplinary scholars. As a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “The Curse of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D.” highlights, there are extra-questions for scholars with interdisciplinary degrees. As such, historians in kinesiology are often methodological outsiders in their own departments as well as to other departments on campus.

The discipline of kinesiology evolved largely out of physical education and the business of preparing future teachers of physical education. While some kinesiology departments still have teacher education programs, many do not, and encompass a broad range of areas of study, roughly following the “Big Ten Body of Knowledge” meetings from 1964 to 1966 and Quest publication that called for the creation of specialized areas that included:

  1. Sociology of Sport and Physical Education
  2. Administrative Theory
  3. History, Philosophy and Comparative Physical Education and Sport
  4. Exercise Physiology
  5. Biomechanics
  6. Motor Learning and Sports Psychology

Some of the most famous scholarly journals devoted to the kinesiology discipline remain Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (1930-) and Quest (1963- ). Practically speaking, a scholar working in kinesiology should publish articles in both history journals as well as kinesiology journals. In addition, kinesiology departments, similar to science-oriented departments, tend to expect scholars to produce articles. This can be a bit of a culture shock for historians who are trained to focus the majority of their efforts on producing book manuscripts. Finally, scholars in kinesiology need to be able to teach both history classes as well as specialties in kinesiology.

Colloquially, most contemporary scholars will say that the title of  “Kinesiology” denotes the scientific study of sport and the body. And departments of kinesiology are frequently focused on various areas of exercise science including bio-mechanics, physiology and motor behavior. There are still a good amount of positions available in sport history, but the field is clearly evolving. As Fred Mason described in his manuscript “Losing Ground in the ‘Run Toward Science’: The Liberal Arts and Social Sciences in Kinesiology,” the specialization era has resulted in increasingly disparate areas of knowledge. Generally, the “harder” exercise sciences have dominated and scholars in those areas have often seen those working in “softer” humanities disciplines as outsiders to the core work of the scientific study of the body. Contextually, the move towards kinesiology as a science has been fueled in the United States by an increasingly neo-liberal government environment in which it is easier to justify funding for science and technology education and the hiring of scholars that can obtain grant funding. In many cases, departments will hire faculty members in other more “traditional” disciplines and ask them to teach sport history sections as part of their course load.

Another area of study that has grown significantly in kinesiology is sport management. As one could probably connect by looking at the Body of Knowledge areas listed above, sport management partially evolved out of the Administration of Physical Education or “Administrative Theory.” However, it has taken a very distinct “business” turn in orientation. There are now over 300 undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States and similar to the move of some science programs, an increasing number of programs are located within business schools. But many elite sport management programs still reside in kinesiology. One example is at the University of Michigan, where the renowned sport management program is staffed by some of the most accomplished sports economists in the field.

There are few quantitative figures available on jobs for historians of sport. On the NASSSblog, the blog of the North American Society for Sport Sociology and general clearinghouse for socio-cultural oriented jobs, I was able to find 35 jobs for which sport historians could be considered from 2005 to 2012. Almost uniformly, those jobs were in departments in kinesiology. Comparatively, I found a total of 228 jobs listed on the blog during that period, which varied from sport psychology jobs to sport business positions.  There are more numbers on the overall job market in history departments. Robert B. Townsend, assistant director of research and publications for the American Historical Association has tracked the market for American historians. In one of his publications, he created a chart showing number of history PhDs versus the number of job openings available. The chart shows that except for two periods from 1986 to 1992 and 2005 to 2009, doctoral recipients outnumber job posts, sometimes by more than 100 from the mid-1960s to 2011. As Townsend points out, there are limitations to this kind of analysis as going after a tenure-track job is only one of many things that one could do with a doctorate in history, but it does illustrate the market.  With fewer potential qualified PhDs for kinesiology jobs, there is a sizable market for historians in kinesiology.

In sum, there are many challenges and opportunities for historians in kinesiology. For the foreseeable future, historians of sport in kinesiology departments will have a notable presence They, however, will have to continue to justify their positions in an academic world of increasingly quantifiable research, learning outcomes and assessments. Despite the challenges, the prospect of tenure-track jobs for sport historians is less bleak than assessments of jobs in history departments. So, historians working in kinesiology will continue to provide a critical mass to the field of sport history.

References Not Linked:

Bass, Amy.  “State of the Field: Sports History and the ‘Cultural Turn.’” Journal of American History 101 (2014): 148-172. More generally for the article and responses, see “State of the Field: Sports in American History.” Journal of American History 101 (2014): 148-197.

“Interchange: History in the Professional Schools.” Journal of American History 92 (2005): 553-576.

Zeigler, Earle and King McCristal. “A History of the Big Ten Body-of-Knowledge Project in Physical Education.” Quest 9 (1967): 79-84.

On selected related articles not referenced, see: 

Twietmeyer, Gregg. “What is Kinesiology: Historical and Philosophical Insights.” Quest  64 (2012):4-23.

Sage, George.  “Resurrecting Thirty Years of Historical Insight About Kinesiology: A Supplement to “What is Kinesiology? Historical and Philosophical Insights.” Quest 65 (2013): 133-139

Dyreson, Mark.  “Sport History and the History of Sport in North America.” Journal of Sport History 34 (2007): 405-414

Adelman, Melvin L.  “Differing With Dyreson, but finding many points of agreement: Another look at the road of sport history and sport historians.” Paper presented at the North American Society for Sport History, Asheville, North Carolina, 2009.

Reeling ‘em In: Fly Fishing Lessons for Applying to Grad School

During my two years of coursework at Mizzou, I earned a reputation for using sports metaphors in class. While other grad students referenced – and acted like they understood or had even read – Foucault, Marx, or the like, I referenced sports. For example, in one class I asked if Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity was a walk off. Another time, I compared one book to a University of Texas football recruiting class – all hype, no development, and no delivery. Most of the time I got blank stares. But in order to get through the slog of weekly book reviews, I had to keep myself entertained. So when I had the idea of writing an advice post on applying to graduate school, I decided to stick with what I know.

Hunter Fly Fishing 2The idea for this post came to me during a summer camping trip in southern Colorado. Everyday my step-dad and I went fly-fishing. We got up early, drank coffee, planned for the day, and hit the river. After a full day of fishing we got in the car to air the problems with our cast, and lie about how many fish we caught. Since my step-dad is a history professor and the Director of Graduate Studies at Baylor, we often talk shop during our breaks from fishing. The advice that follows mixes his instruction on both fly-fishing and the application process. From my experience, the lessons from fly-fishing are many. But for the sake of this post, I found a lot of similarities between a day on the river and applying to Ph.D. programs.

The first part of any day in the mountains begins with a strong and grainy cup of coffee. Something about chewing the last sip enlivens your senses. Then you start to plan the day. This is my favorite part. The optimism is thick. To start, you have to be honest with the tools you are working with. How many flies do you have in your vest? Are your flies going to catch fish on the stretch of water you want to fish? Do you want to use a six-foot rod in a small stream or a nine-foot rod on a large river? Answering these questions sets up the parameters for your day. In the Conejos Valley, your answers give you a different experience each day.

The application process follows a similar pattern. Before you start filling out applications or sending out transcripts, you must have a frank conversation with yourself. You need to assess your tools. Are you coming out of an Ivy League undergraduate program with a 4.0 (not me)? Or did you decide to try this academia thing in the spring semester of your senior year with a … not 4.0 (that’s me)? Who can write your letters of recommendation? What did you get on your GRE? Do you have a good writing sample? What is your dissertation topic? Honest answers to these questions will help you think about the types of program that fit your academic profile.

Back to fishing. Once you figure out what type of water to fish, it is time to start casting. I am going to resist the urge to geek out over the nuances of fly-fishing, but some is necessary. In a river or stream, trout swim in the slower waters behind rocks, river bends, or banks. This is called a hole. Here, fish expend less energy as they wait for food to float by in the faster water. Unlike fishing with a bobber and a worm, you can’t just throw your fly right on top of the trout and wait. That scares them. Instead, you land your fly just above the hole and let the water float your fly past. Standing in one spot on the river there are three different holes. The first is an easy cast. Barring a gust of wind or ill-placed bush, you can make a good cast and expect to catch something. But the something is probably small. The second hole is a tougher cast. The hole is smaller and the water faster, but if all goes well a good-sized fish is in there. You probably won’t catch a fish to hang on your wall, but it is also not too small to eat like in the first hole. The cast is demanding. These are usually right against a bank, a tree is hanging out over the hole, and if you don’t land it perfectly you will surely lose your fly. All of this trouble means that these fish don’t get caught easy, and grow much larger than in the other two holes. High risk, high reward. The great part about getting out in the river is that you cast at all three.

After your honesty session, it is time to make a list of programs. The best advice for applying is to stratify your applications. Let’s be honest, not all graduate schools are created equal. Divide your prospective programs into three categories: safety schools, good schools, and dream schools. I applied to eleven programs, but that was probably overboard. Applying to several (between two and four) “safety schools” gives you a safety net. Like casting to the easy hole, you are confident you will get accepted. But the funding, prestige, or placement rate may leave something to be desired.

The “good school” category should make up the bulk of your applications (two to six). These programs fit the strengths of your application. In selecting these schools, the funding package, advisor, campus location, and placement record should excite you. However, you shouldn’t expect to land a spot in all of these schools. Like casting your fly, presentation matters. Every part of your application needs to be on point. Start by considering the fit with your potential advisor. If you are interested in 20th-century sports, popular culture, and religion, don’t apply to study under a professor that has published exclusively on 18th-century politics and policy. That just doesn’t line up. In flipping through applications, a professor is as much accepting you as they are accepting your project for the next 3 to 6 years. Email potential advisors after looking at their faculty profile page to see if you make a good match. As for your GRE, here is the best advice on how to view your score is “a high score won’t get you into a school, but a low score will get you cut from others.” You get accepted on the strength of your application and match with your potential advisor. If you have a near perfect score, it will get you through the first cut. But no program will be wowed by your ability to take a standardized test. Every applicant is qualified, you have to make your application the most enticing.

The final strata of programs are little more than a hope and a prayer, but the payoff is well worth the risk. All of the same tips still apply. Don’t just apply to any Ivy League school because that seems like the biggest fish you could land. Depending on your specialty, your dream advisor could work at a school that lacks the mystical appeal of a coast or athletic conference. In placing a school in this category, ask yourself if you would drop everything, move anywhere, and take any or no funding package. A school that checks all three boxes is a dream school. Give the schools in this category a few passes (two or three applications), but don’t pin your future on them.

A fish gulping down your fly is the rush every angler chases. Whether the fish gently swallows your fly or leaps out of the water to get it, the struggle that follows is a battle of wills. With a fly rod, you don’t just reel a fish in with all your might. Instead, you pull in the line by hand. Pull too fast and the fish breaks your line. Give too much slack and the fish spits out your fly. The difference between landing a fish and having a hook in your cheek (it happens and it hurts) is minuscule. Seeing that fish finally in your net never gets old. After a day on the water, there are multiple definitions of a good day. Some days, sheer numbers give you bragging rights around the campfire. Catching ten or fifteen fish is a good day, but you don’t need to talk about the size of each fish. Other days, one fish is all you need. Reeling in a twenty-four inch brown trout furnishes you with plenty of river-cred, but you don’t mention that you only caught one fish. Either way, the key is to make sure that you get home with something in your creel.

Waiting is the first word that comes to mind in the period after mailing in grad school applications. Three or four months of silence will try your patience. However, getting that email, seeing the change of status on a website, or opening that letter is a moment you will never forget. Like seeing that fish take your fly, it makes your stomach turn, hair stand up, and breathing stop. Once you get letters of acceptance a strange courting dance begins. They deem you worthy, but you need to make sure you take the best offer for you.

The three factors big to consider are funding, placement rate, and geography – in no particular order. For funding, there is more to it than the Benjamins. Find out the expectations for funding. Will you be a teaching assistant or research assistant? Does the offer include health insurance? How many years are guaranteed? Big money with no health insurance or no guarantees beyond one year makes the number on your monthly paycheck secondary. The programs placement rate is a question that you need to ask on a campus visit or in an email. While writing weekly book reviews, being purified by the fires of comprehensive exams, and writing your dissertation are all good and fun, you need a job at the end of the rainbow. Where graduates are getting placed also matters. Check each programs website to see the list of recent graduates and the types of schools their recent Ph.D.’s received. Finally, where the school is located matters. A twenty thousand dollar per year stipend goes a long way in Waco, Texas or Columbia, Missouri, but not as much in Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago. Depending on the length of your program, living in a place you enjoy is more important than you may initially think. Graduate school is not a hellish existence, but it pushes your boundaries and not just academically. Because of this, you don’t need the extra stress of hating where you live. In the end, no matter the quality of the offer or the enthusiasm a program shows in recruiting you, all that matters is that you have one on the hook.

Every fall since I mailed in my applications, anxiety still sets in. I recall checking my email constantly, running to the mailbox, and losing sleep at night. In these dark days remember that every graduate student and professor went through the same process. They were nervous. They got rejected. They all survived. But like fly fishing, all you can do is throw out your fly. Sometimes you make the perfect cast and nothing happens. Other times you clumsily get your fly out and land a monster. As much time as you put into the preparation and even when you place the fly in just the right spot, you can’t make the fish bite. And that is the honest truth about applying to graduate school.

Have any questions about applying to graduate programs or want examples of application materials email me at If you have any advice for hopeful applicants please share them in the comments. And no, your horror stories are not welcome.

Pedagogically Speaking: Teaching Sport History

I began writing this blog post about my recent trip to the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria for my dissertation. As the post took form, Aaron Devor’s highly anticipated book The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future was released. Reading the book, reflecting upon my research process(es), and continually asking myself “what am I doing here, and why?” prompted me to think about this blog post in a new way. I continually strive to make my research and teaching come together in ways that are productive for and give back to both. Following Freire (2000) & Sandoval (2000) I understand teaching to be a political act which expands our definitions of both political action and education. This post, then, is an exploration of my own developing pedagogical philosophy which weaves my experiences teaching one particular course, responses from students, and theoretical perspectives into a critical dialogue on teaching and living history(ies).

I posed a three minute free write question to my Women, Sport & Culture class: What is history?

Facts to memorize.

Events that happened in the past.

Not relevant.


That they didn’t immediately see what history has to do with a course on contemporary issues in sport was not surprising. Their disinterest and dismissal of history itself, on the other hand, I had not anticipated.

It is easy to overgeneralize a student body like the one at the University of Iowa (predominantly white, predominantly middle class) as apathetic and impossible to please. But doing so sells them short and narrowly interprets the purpose of higher education. There is great promise and great responsibility in teaching young white, middle class students raised in a “standardized testing at all costs” atmosphere. There is also great frustration. My centering issues of power, privilege, and social justice, even (and especially) in my physical activity courses, often confuses them.

Wait, what is this course actually about?

Will this be on the exam?

What does this have to do with _____?

Bridging issues of historical context, historical research, and social justice within the classroom is no small task. I start by encouraging my students to think of course content not as facts to memorize or events from the past but as issues which touch their lives. As bell hooks (1994) reminds us, we must remember that all students have particular histories and that we must connect their personal histories with course content. For some students, this is a radical shift. In class discussions and assignments, we spent a lot of time and mental energy thinking and reflecting on our own lives.

I’m from a small town in Iowa, only 500 people.

My high school was mostly Latino.

My brother is gay.

Sharing these personal histories brought the space (physical, mental, and emotional) of the classroom alive and demonstrated to the students that their particular histories are situated within larger contexts. We then used this framework to explore course content and to examine the ways in which seemingly disparate topics and ideas are interconnected.

To make these connections between their personal histories and the histories of sport explicit, we used primary documents to question the seemingly fixed boundaries between past, present, and future. Students sorted through physical and digital materials from the Iowa Women’s Archive to examine scholarship and sport at the University of Iowa at the turn of the 20th century. They wrote reflections about their experiences with these primary documents in mind.

My high school has a girls’ soccer team because of Title IX.

Playing on the boys’ teams, we got the best equipment.

During games, I was taunted for both my race and my gender.

So far, this blog post reads as a rosy depiction of one course, as if students were making connections and discovering the knowledge that they already have every day. Teaching was (and continues to be) a monumental task. The hardest challenge we faced was confronting the myth that racism, sexism, and heterosexism are relics of the past. Most of them understand racism, sexism, and heterosexism as actions and beliefs of bigoted individuals within a colorblind society. We had many conversations about structural racism, sexism, and heterosexism, with me encouraging them to look at the world differently than they have been taught to. That is hard work; often, those conversations ended with them not being able to change their mindset.

As the course went on, we framed these discussions within an understanding of history and social justice as uneven and partial projects. Instead of interpreting history as searching for the truth of past events, we discussed exploring historical processes as particularlized ways of seeing the past, present, and future. For many of them, looking at primary documents about incidents on campus 50 years ago side-by-side with a copy of that day’s student newspaper the Daily Iowan helped make visible the ideological and discursive frames that shape our culture today. It was in learning how to do historical research that they were able to bring their personal experiences and our contemporary topics into context and to question the linear trajectories of US cultural progressivism.

Women have been and continue to be discriminated against in sport.

Sexualized coverage of female athletes taps into long histories of objectification.

The physical standards of femininity for black female athletes were determined by society.


Works Cited:

Freire, O. 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary Ed). New York: Bloomsbury Press

hooks, b. 1994. Teaching to transgress. New York: Routledge

Sandoval, C. 2000. Methodology of the oppressed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press


Cathryn Lucas-Carr is a graduate teaching instructor at the University of Iowa and can be reached at Despite the variety of assignments, some students still found the class “boring” & “a waste of time” … they are impossible to please after all.