By Andrew McGregor
Historians will remember 2016. While many won’t forget the sadness it brought us, stemming from a seemingly never-ending onslaught of celebrity deaths, 2016 also brought us great joy, especially for long-suffering sports fans. Although we lost Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, and Pat Summitt, the City of Cleveland as well as the Chicago Cubs ended their championship drought. This past year also saw the reemergence of the activist athlete, the election of a new president with WWE and USFL ties, and the Rio Olympics dominated by American women. In this post I want to recap the great work done on the blog — we published 183 post in 2016 — and highlight posts you may have missed and themes that emerged organically in our work. At the end of this post, I’ll list our Top 10 most-read post published during the year and overall during our 2.5 years of blogging.
We kicked off the year in January with a pair of posts about the college football playoff and national champion the University of Alabama. Mercedes Townsend called out Gilbert Arenas for his misogyny on Instagram, Cathryn Lucas explored notions of passing in sport, and Kate Aguilar reviewed Creed, the latest Rocky movie. Nick Sacco ended the month mourning the loss of the St. Louis Rams and digging deep into the politics of franchise relocation.
The NFL dominated the blog throughout February. We had five posts on the Super Bowl alone, which John Price argued is America’s Holiday. Race overshadowed the game with lots of discussion of the contrasting match up between Cam Newton and Peyton Manning. Kate Aguilar and Jorge Moraga emphasized how the game reminded us that discussions of race still matter, and that it’s not just a black and white issue. Other posts discussed the NFL Combine, activism of female athletes, and a review of the new Jesse Owens movie.
In March, we shied away from current events and featured several fascinating pieces of ongoing research. Samantha White offered a peek inside the literary world of black children in her post on Ebony Jr. magazine. Leslie Heaphy similarly uncovered an area that many of us have overlooked in her research on black women in baseball. Colleen English followed up her popular post on roller derby from 2014 with a discussion of the athleticism of female roller derby players. Andrew Linden rescued a fascinating story about former NFL players turned artists from the cutting room floor, providing us with a unique look into the post-sports lives of professional athletes. As the madness of March heated up, Chuck Westmoreland teased us haters, reminding of us a time when both Duke and North Carolina missed the NCAA tournament.
As the UConn women cruised to another NCAA title in early April, Cat Ariail reminded us of how awesome Cheryl Miller was in 1983. Cathryn Lucas once again challenged us to think beyond the classroom and use public engagement as means to help us share our historical and cultural knowledge to contribute to the social justice movement. Lindsay Parks Pieper reflected on how her personal views have shifted relative to the Duke Lacrosse case while reviewing the new ESPN 30 for 30 Fantastic Lies.
During both March and April we reflected on the potential of Public Sport History. The discussion included a collaboration with the Sport Heritage Review, and reflections on an NCPH working group about sports museums. Jorge Moraga continued the exploration in August, sharing his analysis of race discourse at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In May we celebrated our second anniversary. Dain TePoel shared his research on the Great Peace March of 1986 as a form of endurance activism. Thinking about the importance of space and sport facilities to community, Frank Guridy eulogized the recently demolished Los Angeles Sports Arena. Benjamin Dettmer followed up his March post with a second look into the “Petty Squabbles And Political Infighting Cost A Generation The Chance To Experience A Summer Olympics In America.” I wrote about Bud Wilkinson’s coach’s show, the first TV show of its kind. Patrick Salkeld offered his analysis of soccer culture in America, focusing on fan behavior. As the NBA season wound down, Cat Ariail explored the influence of Steph Curry and how his style reflects gendered understandings of the game.
Many of us had a wonderful time at NASSH and its pre-conference workshop. We offered recaps of both events. As the summer sports seasons got underway, Rwany Sibaja wrote on the Copa America and it’s 100th anniversary. We devoted six posts to the new ESPN 30 for 30 O.J. Made in America (Part one, two, three, four, five, and overview), and considered Simpson’s place in the history of race and sport throughout the summer. Brandon Byrd looked at O.J.’s attempt to become an ex-colored man, and Thomas Oates created an O.J. Syllabus. Kate Aguilar built off the O.J. reviews to explore the power of the racial gaze using an incident involving Etan Thomas.
Throughout the Spring and Summer, Matt Hodler and I reflected on our own pedagogical experiments. Matt began sharing his template for engaging and empowering student-centered classroom, where the students shaped the curriculum. After the semester, he recapped how the classes turned out and what he learned. I similarly described my “choose your own adventure” method for designing an online version of my “The Black Athlete” course.
In July, Louis Moore explored Jesse Owen’s complicated relationship with activist athletes in the 1960s and Leslie Heaphy wrote on female team owners in the Negro Leagues. Noah Cohen offered an important commentary on the Crying Jordan Meme and embracing the fun and ridiculous. To celebrate Independence Day, Daryl Leeworthy pondered why few sport historians study early-America, wondering if our fascination with “modern” sport is misguided. During Wimbledon’s famous fortnight of tennis, Robert Lake shared his analysis of the All-England Club’s carefully cultivated and projected image of Englishness.
We caught Olympic fever in August. Benjamin Dettmer prepared us for the opening ceremony with his retrospective. Alex Parrish wrote about the narratives of the U.S. men’s basketball team, Cat Ariail previewed the sprints competition writing about Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price and her quest for 3-peat in the 100m, and Lindsay Parks Pieper equipped us with tools to understand how and why women’s gymnastics media coverage focuses on the “cuteness,” appearance, and femininity of athletes. Brandon Byrd told us the story of Sylvio Cator, Haiti’s Olympian from the 1920s. Following the Rio Games we reflected in two roundtable posts.
With the beginning of football season in September, came perhaps the biggest development of 2016, the reemergence of the activist athlete. After Hunter Hampton kicked off our football coverage, we frequently posted about the various protests, from Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, 1960s NFL protesters, Octavius Catto, notions of unity and protests in the NBA, the Dakota Access Pipeline, to sport scholars as supporting actors for activist athletes, we spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between sports, activism, and social justice. These discussion came while Donald Trump befuddled many political pundits and scholars with his surprising electoral victory. Kyle Kusz shared his notes on the Trump campaign and its use of sports figures, such as Tom Brady.
Throughout the Summer and Fall, Russ Crawford and Massimo Foglio pieced together an in-depth look at American football in Europe. Their research covered Italy, the UK, and France, as well as important coaches and events. Combined their research has documented transnational connections of American football, and shown the historical influence of American sport abroad.
We began publishing more roundtables in the fall, featuring a mix of our regular contributors and established scholars. Several of the roundtables coincided with the beginning of a new season or a major sporting event. The Rio Olympics roundtables were our first, followed by season previews for the NFL, WNBA, and NBA.
The Chicago Cubs vanquished the curse of the billygoat in October, providing fodder for another roundtable and the opportunity to reflect on overlooked people and places in Chicago. As the Cubs kept winning, Emalee Nelson gave us a snapshot into the lives and careers of seven Cuban female professional baseball players. Kat Boniface discussed the funeral and memorialization of Secretariat.
Two weeks after the World Series, soccer captured the headlines. U.S. Soccer fired Jürgen Klinsmann as the head coach of its men’s national team. Our soccer scholars assessed the decision and the state of soccer in the U.S. in a roundtable. Patrick Salkeld later pondered the timing of the decision in relation to other recent issues involving corruption, gender equity, and infighting among U.S. soccer fans. He also wrote about the MLS’ response to the Pulse Night Club shooting and the experience of openly gay players in the league.
The past few weeks we’ve continued to have diverse and engaging posts on the blog. Cat Ariail wrote about the experiences of black women representing the U.S. in international competition. Emalee Nelson shared her new research on surfing. I wrote about my latest mapping project, urging other sport scholars to dive into the spatial humanities. Roberto José Andrade Franco discussed Teddy Roosevelt and how race impacted his obsession with boxing. Russ Crawford argued that Kevin Costner is the king of the sports movie and Josh Howard rightfully called out college football coaches for condescendingly calling their athletes “kids.”
Besides all of these great pieces of research, commentary, and reflection, we published dozens of book reviews. Tolga Ozyurtcu reviewed Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, which won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Cathryn Lucas offered her assessment of Rita Liberti and Maureen Smith’s NASSH Book Award winner, (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph. Likewise, Lindsay Parks Pieper reviewed the NASSH Anthology Award winner, DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play, edited by Chris Elzey and David Wiggins. We also initiated our Sport History Rewind Series, which revisits and reevaluate important texts to determine the degree to which their analyses, arguments, research, and influence resonate in the field today.
Looking back at the posts and topics we covered in 2016 reveals a few major themes. First, our posts repeatedly focus on matters of race and gender. Second, activism and social justice occupy our minds. We remain intrigued by the activist athlete and curious about ways to engage in our own forms of activism as scholars. This comes through not only in our research and commentary, but also in our discussions of public engagement and pedagogy. Indeed, this blog sits at the intersection of these areas for many of our contributors. We’re interested in exploring the cultural importance of sport in the past and present to help us publicly address and educate our readers on issues of racism and sexism. I hope that the we have done that in 2016. If you think there is something we missed, I welcome you to add your perspective to the blog in 2017.
I’m proud of the work we have shared in this space and the community it has fostered. I want to thank everyone for reading and contributing to this blog. Keep an eye out for our promised Muhammad Ali series early in 2017 as well as more great posts exploring America’s sporting past and offering critical commentary on issues in the present.
Top 10 Most-Read Posts Published in 2016:
- America’s (Soccer) Cup: 100 Years of Copa América, by Rwany Sibaja
- Peyton Manning: The NFL’s Great White Hope, by Andrew McGregor
- The Revolt of the Black Athlete and the White Ally: A Tale of Two Footballers, by Kate Aguilar
- Steph Curry…The “Male Machine Gun Molly”?: Gender and Styles of Play in Modern Basketball, by Cat Ariail
- The Man in the Mirror: Black Culture, White Privilege, and Supermen in the Age of Cam Newton, by Kate Aguilar
- “This is not the End”: Nick Saban, Alabama’s Dynasty, and the Pursuit of Bear Bryant, by Edward Gray
- “The Fifth Quarter”: A Review of O.J. Made in America, Part Five, by Andrew McGregor
- Jesse Owens Ran the Wrong Race: Athletes, Activism, and the 1960s, by Louis Moore
- Supporters’ Clubs of USMNT, MLS, and USL: Vulgarity, Hooliganism, and Discrimination, by Patrick Salkeld
- Saying Goodbye: The Politics of Franchise Relocation in the “New NFL” Era, by Nick Sacco
Top 10 All-Time Most-Read Posts:
- A Confederate on Campus: Nathan Bedford Forrest as MTSU’s Mascot, by Josh Howard
- American Football in Cuba: A Brief Introduction, by Michael T. Wood
- Virgin Evangelical Athletes and the Campaign to Make Abstinence Sexy, Scott D. Strednak Singer
- Star-Spangled Fingernails: Florence Griffith-Joyner and the Mediation of Black Femininity, by Lindsay Parks Pieper
- The Illinois Slush Fund Scandal of 1966-67, by Murry Nelson
- The Roller Derby Origin Story, by Colleen English
- Columbia Football is Winning! Former Lion Captain is Saving Lives, by Jon Hart
- The Fight-Minnesota Pounds Ohio State-Literally, January, 1972, by Murry Nelson
- Disappointment in Pittsburgh: How the Pirates Ditched Pittsburgh’s Negro Leagues Past, by Josh Howard
- Exercise and American Culture, by Hunter Hampton
Andrew McGregor is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Purdue University, where he teaches courses in history and African American studies. He is also the founder and co-editor of this blog. His current research explores the intersections of college football, race, masculinity, and politics in postwar America through the lens of Bud Wilkinson and the University of Oklahoma football dynasty. You can reach him via email at email@example.com or on Twitter: @admcgregor85