Looking Back and Looking Forward: Four Years of Sport in American History

By Lindsay Parks Pieper

I was a junior faculty member at Lynchburg College when I saw Andrew McGregor’s Facebook post about the launch of Sport in American History. His message described a new opportunity for graduate students and junior scholars to discuss sport history in a new, digital format. The idea interested me, but I did not respond. I write slowly and formally, not great qualities for a blogger. The public nature of blogging, and the seemingly required reflexivity for it, also gave me pause.

So Andrew’s message went ignored.

Then Andy Linden, a newly-signed-up SAH editor, asked me to write a post. Because Andy and I attended the Ohio State together as graduate students, I obliged. My first SAH piece explored the history of gay male athletes in professional sport. It elicited some discussion on Twitter, mostly about who I had failed to include in my post. This showed me how I could use the interactive nature of blogging–not always possible in conventional print journal formats–to enhance my scholarship. In continuing to write for SAH, I’ve grown to appreciate the opportunity to reflect on current events in sport through a critical lens. For me personally, the blog has allowed me to discuss gender-based policies in sport as they go into effect.

Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of this blog’s official launch. Each year, one of the editors writes an anniversary post to reflect on the past twelve months and analyze the current status of SAH. For the blog’s first birthday, Andrew assessed the interconnections of sport, public engagement, and digital history. He found that SAH bridges many academic fields in the quest to make the study of sport publically accessible. For the second year’s reflection, Andy explored the symbiotic nature of the blog and the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH), the leading sport history organization in North America. He pointed out the value of SAH in sport historians’ fight for relevance in both history and sport management departments. Last year, Josh Howard highlighted the ways in which the tone and urgency of SAH political pieces changed in the aftermath of President Trump’s election. Contributors increasingly connected sport to politics, discussing things like the rise of white nationalism and complexities of terrorism. Howard succinctly summed up a point expressed in all three anniversary pieces: “We like to think this little blog represents a small corner of history doing work in the world.”

This year, I’d like to offer commentary on those doing this work: our contributors. SAH has been fortunate to have many people write for this site. Over the past four years, journalists, archivists, graduate students, undergraduate students, high school teachers, university and college professors, sports fans, and public historians have offered thoughts on a variety of sport-related topics. Their writings provide an array of perspectives and their backgrounds demonstrate the strong interdisciplinary underpinning of the blog.

Andrew first solicited contributors via the NASSH Grad Student Facebook page. He promoted the blog as a “place for junior faculty and graduate students to share their work, respond to current events, discuss important works or trends in our field, talk about teaching with sport, and just overall developing an active and engage scholarly community centered on the history of sport.” As Andy pointed out in his second year reflection, he immediately jumped on board. Together, Andrew and Andy recruited graduate students and junior faculty members they knew personally (me included).

Most of the first posts thus came from doctoral students with a connection to either one of the editors or to NASSH. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, several of the early pieces discussed the research process, offered advice on teaching, helped writers pilot new projects, or showcased elements from dissertations.

Professors joined quickly. While I was technically the first non-graduate student to write for the blog, I had only just recently finished my PhD. Professor and Associate Dean Jorge Iber was the first established sport historian to write for SAH. His debut post explored the role of Latino athletes in Texas football. Assistant Professor Ari de Wilde joined next. He traced the history of sport studies as an academic discipline, then discussed how sport historians can position themselves for jobs in kinesiology departments.

By the end of the first year, Andrew’s hope for an interdisciplinary digital space dedicated to sport history had materialized. In the first year alone, 28 individuals wrote 85 articles. Of these first contributors, 18 were graduate students, 8 professors, and 2 public historians. The interdisciplinary nature of SAH was clearly present from the onset.

Ac Dis 1

Year 1

 

SAH continued to expand in its second year. Nineteen new graduate students penned pieces, along with 14 professors, 1 journalist, and 1 undergraduate student. Their backgrounds were again diverse.

Ac Dis 2

Year 2

The opportunity to review books garnered new contributor interest. In the second year, SAH made agreements with University of Illinois Press, McFarland & Co., University of Nebraska Press, Rowman & Littlefield, Syracuse University Press, Temple University Press to review their manuscripts. The following year we added University of Arkansas Press, Human Kinetics, Mercer University Press, Rutgers University PRess, and University of Texas Press. Review posts oftentimes served as the gateway for new writers. To date, contributors have reviewed over 150 books pertaining to sport.

 

The third year saw the most significant growth in the number of new contributors. Of the 42 additions, 26 were professors, 10 grad students, and the remaining either independent scholars or journalists. The introduction of roundtables, conversational pieces that asked experts a series of questions related to a specific moment or occurrence, brought new people to the blog. For example, in the first SAH roundtable, Cat Ariail, Wesley R. Bishop, and Andrew reflected upon the media coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Roundtables not only served as a means to solicit different opinions on one topic, but they also increased readership, elicited conversation, and signed up new contributors.

Editors expanded the call for contributors in the fourth year with various “top ten” lists.

Following ESPN’s The Undefeated’s 50 Greatest Black Athletes, Andrew put out a call for sport historians to engage with and expand the compilation. Twelve individuals responded with their own lists; the resultant post broadened the conversation–specifically by adding more female athletes–and generated discussion.

Tweet 1

The success of the top 10 historically significant black athletes post encouraged Andy and I to make a similar call to rank the most historically significant women athletes. Our request was a followup to ESPN’s SportCentury list, which included only 8 women (and 3 horses) in the ranking of the top 100 North American athletes. We collected over 73 entries from 15 different people, several of whom were first time contributors to the blog. Although the 73 entries barely scratched the surface of important women in sport history, the series did showcase significant (and oftentimes overlooked) contributions women have made in the sporting past. Tellingly, this has been one of the most read pieces on the blog this past year.

Tweet 2

While SAH’s public accessibility, interdisciplinary bent, and increase in the number of contributors are all important developments, not all elements of the blog’s growth have been quite as positive.

One complaint about traditional scholarship formats is the lack of gender diversity. For example, Andy and I analyzed the Journal of Sport History from 1974 to 2016 and found that men comprised 75.6% of authors of all journal articles. Unfortunately, the gender breakdown of SAH contributors mirrors that trend. Over 100 different male authors have contributed to the blog over the past four years, in contrast to only 27 women.

Gender Breakdown SAH

Likewise, a majority of the posts focuses on men’s sports. In Andy and my analysis of SAH posts written in the first year-and-a-half of the blog’s existence, 57.2% covered men’s sport and only 7.6% covered women’s sport (35.2% covered sport in general). Writings also tended to discuss the most popular team sports in the United States: baseball, basketball, hockey, and football (55.2% of all posts).

We can and must do better. There are many women writing about sport online. For example, Jessica W. Luther offers a critical analysis of current sporting events. Her writings on sexual assault are noteworthy. Likewise, the Women Talk Sports raises awareness of women in sport by showcasing online writings related to women’s activities and events. There are also other scholarly blogs that work to broaden the conversation beyond the most popular men’s sports. SAH would do well to follow their lead.

Online spaces offer scholars from all backgrounds and in all stages an opportunity to write and reach difference audiences. Unfortunately, as this post shows, digital spaces do not always disrupt the gender disparate trends of conventional scholarship. Moving forward, the Sport in American History blog should work to achieve greater gender diversity–in both authorship and topics.

Lindsay Parks Pieper is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Lynchburg College and the Book Review Editor of Sport in American History. Her book, Sex Testing: Gender Policing in Women’s Sport, chronicles the history of gender verification policies at the Olympics. She can be reached at pieper.l@lynchburg.edu and can be followed on Twitter @LindsayPieper.

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