The North American Society for Sports History (NASSH) is holding their annual conference this Memorial Day weekend at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. More than 100 papers will be presented over the three-days of the conference and a good number are of interest to the fan of college football.
Two relatively recent incidents are subject of papers this year. One examines at the decision by ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit to leave Ohio due to harassment by Buckeye fans for comments made in the wake of Jim Tressel's departure. Another paper provides one of the first scholarly examinations of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
There are a number of papers on the integration of American sports with ones examining this historic period of transition at Georgia Tech, at colleges along the northeastern seaboard (particularly the ACC) and in Alabama high school football (which I co-authored). In terms of College Football history proper there are papers on Walter Camp and Amos Alonzo Stagg, one on the history of LSU's Tiger Stadium and two Auburn scholars offer an examination of the media coverage of the 1926 Rose Bowl that put Alabama in the national spotlight for the first time.
The NCAA's handling of testing athletes for sickle-cell trait comes under scrutiny as well as the organization's handling of scandals in light of legal and political pressure. There are also papers looking at college basketball scandals at Vanderbilt and New Mexico.
The late Hunter S. Thompson is a hot topic at the convention with no less than three papers examining his sports journalism and the continued impact of that work. Other submissions examine the importance of ESPN's Grantland, and one even asks if the 1980s were truly the "golden age" of sports movies?
I should note that these are not "published" papers that have been approved by an academic journal and vetted. These are usually summaries of topics presented at the conference in order to get feedback from other experts. Often these are developed into more rigorous articles but many are just presentations on interesting topics. The following are abstracts of the some of papers being presented, all of which can be found here in PDF form.
"Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave": The Columbus Mob Drives College Football Analyst Kirk Herbstreit from Ohio
James Odenkirk, Arizona State University
This paper will present another chapter in the profane and abusive behavior of football fans at the collegiate level. This case study focuses on the fate of Kirk Herbstreit, college football analyst for ESPN and ABC. He is also one of four analysts on ESPN College Game Day. The genesis for this study begins with the issues that led to the resignation of Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel in March 2011. The highly successful Tressel was guilty of malfeasance as a result of OSU team members violating NCAA regulations. The penalty meted out by the NCAA included forfeiture of all games for 2011 and forfeiture of a bowl opportunity in 2012-13. In addition, the team is ineligible for a Big Ten Championship.
Herbstreit, an alumnus and former quarterback for the Buckeyes, spoke out attacking his alma mater for the tawdry way the university handled these violations. A great majority of OSU alums and Ohio citizens supported Herbstreit's accusations or did not voice an opinion. A vocal minority literally took the Buckeye alumnus "to the cross." The harassment became so ugly that Herbstreit took his family and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. His high-minded and objective analysis of collegiate football did not register with local zealots who adhere to the saying "winning is everything." Herbstreit did not agree.
An effort will be made to untangle facts from fiction and determine if big-time collegiate football has again become the catalyst for destroying the right to free speech on America.An effort will be made to untangle facts from fiction and determine if big-time collegiate football has again become the catalyst for destroying the right to free speech on America.
Ronald A. Smith, Penn State University
This paper will set the stage with a historical and inside view of the Jerry Sandusky scandal including Joe Paterno's, President Graham Spanier's, and others' place in it. It is part of an ongoing study on 140 years of athletic control at Penn State and will explain how the control of athletics for a half century with coaches and the athletic administration under an academic dean, and situated with other faculty members, was changed when Paterno became athletic director. Did Paterno's demand that athletics be removed from an academic dean and then placed in a business unit isolate athletics and contribute to the setting in which the Sandusky scandal might have taken place?
College Football Integration
Charles H. Martin, University of Texas at El Paso
This paper will examine the racial policies and issues concerning the football program at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) from its beginnings in 1892 through 2012 season. The paper will consist of three sections. The first part will look at the first six decades of the Yellow Jacket program during which time the university refused to allow its football team to compete against any opponents whose squads contained African American members. The second and longest section will look at the process by which Georgia Tech began to compete against integrated teams and then to recruit black players for its own team. The final section will look at the post-integration years and how racial issues declined in saliency but did not totally disappear.
By World War I, Georgia Tech had developed a highly successful football program, claiming the mythical national championship in 1917. In order to establish a national reputation Tech regularly scheduled high-profile intersectional contests against northern teams. Eventually the school's refusal to compete against integrated teams began to interfere with this pursuit of prestige and profits. As a result, political leaders and university administrators relaxed this color line and allowed the Yellow Jackets to compete against black players beginning in 1953. From the early 1950s through the late 1970s the Georgia Tech football team regularly scheduled games against integrated teams despite a brief interruption because of the state's "massive resistance" to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In the late 1960s the football program recruited its first black athletes.
Such actions by Tech and other southern white universities were hailed as examples of racial progress in a new and improved New South. An examination of the career of Eddie McAshan at Georgia Tech, the featured segment of this paper, reveals that this process of integration did not proceed as smoothly as historical memory today suggests. McAshan was the first star black quarterback at a historically white major university in the Deep South. His suspension from the final game of the 1972 regular season (his senior year) and the subsequent Liberty Bowl game for deliberately missing practice resulted in charges of racial mistreatment of African American players against the football program and demonstrated the enormous pressures on prominent black athletes at this time of racial change.
The McAshan controversy disrupted the emerging narrative of racial toleration and racial progress through athletic integration but did not significantly affect Georgia Tech's continued recruitment of African American athletes. Since the 1970s, African Americans have played prominent roles in Georgia Tech athletics. The 1990 football team, which one poll proclaimed to be the national champion, featured numerous black players including the starting quarterback and received much acclaim from GT and southern football fans. However, racial issues have not totally disappeared. Changes to academic requirements at the university have experienced some racial overtones, and a few white sports fans still demonstrate uneasiness or even hostility to the prominence of African Americans in football (and basketball) at Georgia Tech. In short, racial concerns have declined substantially since the mid-1960s at Georgia Tech, but they have not totally disappeared from southern and American college sports.
Andy Doyle, Winthrop University and C. J. Schexnayder, Independent Scholar
An April 1968 federal court decision ordered the desegregation of Alabama's separate white and black high school athletic associations, and it also ordered that the state's school systems schedule interracial football and basketball games during the upcoming season. In a state notorious as one of the last bastions of white supremacy, such a move might be expected to elicit protests or even large-scale violence. However, high school athletic desegregation proceeded reasonably smoothly, beginning with the football season of 1968. A number of black athletes became stars at heretofore all-white high schools, and all- or mostly white teams played teams from all-black schools without incident. Racially integrated state championship tournaments and all-star games took place in 1969.
The rhetoric of Governor George Wallace notwithstanding, whites in the state had lost their taste for bitter-end defiance of federal power and the violent suppression of mass civil disobedience by African Americans. Schools, public facilities, and private businesses were gradually becoming desegregated, and white Alabamians were learning to make accommodations to a new racial order. While whites found new methods of racial control that were not based on the anachronistic Jim Crow system, and class lines remained as strong as ever, both whites and blacks quickly learned to love racially integrated high school athletic competition with the same passion that they had invested in its segregated predecessor.
This paper is part of a larger project on the desegregation of the football and basketball programs at the University of Alabama, and it will argue that the desegregation of high school sports was a necessary precondition for the desegregation of athletics at the university. Head football coach and athletic director Paul Bryant was loath to move more rapidly than the state's white population as a whole on the race issue, and the orderly desegregation of high school athletics made it clear that the university could recruit African American athletes without fear of political repercussions. The football and basketball programs at the university began actively recruiting African American athletes within months of the desegregation of high school sports, and the two events are clearly connected.
Ed note: I am a co-author of this paper.
Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech
Sports historian Charles H. Martin has written extensively about the historical patterns of race in intercollegiate athletics among (and breakthroughs on) historically white campuses in the U.S. South, particularly in basketball and football programs, and especially in the Deep South-that is, the sports, schools, and region most resistant to desegregation. Yet much remains to be explored about the role of athletics in the process of integration. My work depends on archival work, news stories, institutional histories, and interviews.
The presentation I propose focuses on a sample of colleges and universities from Delaware and Maryland in the Border South and from Virginia and North Carolina in the Upper South. The University of Maryland, the first institution in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to play (in 1963) a black member of either a varsity basketball or football squad, supplies an entry point for an examination of other schools in those states, as well as sports with lesser visibility and at private as opposed to state-supported institutions.
Coming several years before those developments at the University of Maryland were pioneer black athletes at the University of Delaware, at a private college in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and at North Carolina State. After a state court in Delaware determined in 1950 that equal opportunity could be obtained only by ordering the University of Delaware to admit qualified in-state black undergraduates, one of the successful litigants, Roy Holland Jr., not only enrolled but also competed on the wrestling team. Bridgewater College, a church-related institution in Virginia, began admitting black students right after Brown v. Board of Education.
From early on, black students represented their school in sports; Al Whitelow (1956-1960) played football his first two years at Bridgewater and ran track all four years. After the state of North Carolina lost a higher education case in federal court, the first black undergraduates enrolled at North Carolina State College (later University) in 1956. From the beginning, one black student, Irwin Holmes, played on the school's tennis team (and in his senior year co-captained it). Another black student, Walter Holmes, played in the marching band during football contests, bringing to intra-regional contests the tensions that Charles Martin has associated with intersectional play well into the 1960s; in 1957 he performed along with his band mates when NCSC played a football game on the campus of Clemson College (later University) in neighboring South Carolina, a Deep South state. NC State's first black football and basketball players came a decade later.
In Virginia, no public historically-white institution of higher education fielded a black student in any intercollegiate sport before 1965, when Arthur "Buttons" Speakes first played basketball for Old Dominion College. Reflecting the timeline that Charles Martin's work might predict, Virginia Tech recruited its first black athlete, scholarship student Jerry Gaines, for track and field in 1967, followed by Charlie Lipscomb in basketball in 1968 and John Dobbins in football in 1969. The University of Virginia followed, as did the ACC's Deep South schools.
College Football History
Erin McCarthy, Columbia College Chicago
Historically, the legacy of Amos Alonzo Stagg, "the Grand Old Man of Football," has overshadowed the extraordinary record he left at Yale College in the 1880s as a premiere college pitcher, and as a student officer for Dwight Hall, the campus Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). In fact, the most critical years of Stagg's life were spent at Yale, where as an undergraduate and graduate seminary student he was exposed to a variety of new ideas and experiences in the spiritual as well as the physical worlds. Through his involvement in both the sacred and the secular realms, Stagg realized what his life's work would be. Without a family profession or business to pursue, he entered Yale in 1888 as a highly recruited baseball player and aspiring minister. Over the next fourteen years, he was able to satisfy both his theological ambitions and his love of athletics in a morally justifiable way through his studies and YMCA work at Yale and at the "School for Christian Workers" in Springfield, Massachusetts. Summers he traveled to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York where he led prayer groups and coached and played baseball.
The individuals Stagg met during these years had a profound influence upon him as he prepared to begin his full-time professional career at the age of 30. At Yale, Josiah Strong, Dwight Moody and Henry Drummond gave him the moral justification for varsity athletics, and Walter Camp gave him the "czar principle." At Springfield, Luther Halsey Gulick gave him the chance to develop and manage his first football team and the opportunity to prove that he could compete with tradition and experience. But Gulick had made it clear that Springfield would not follow the varsity athletics model of sport for the elite, and, ultimately, Stagg could not reconcile his ambitions with the mission of Gulick's training program-he wanted to coach football, not teach future Christian athletic educators. In the end, it was his bond to William Rainey Harper that led him to decide it was time to put his athletic aspirations ahead of his religious calling and head West to preach the gospel of football at the University of Chicago, using sport, not religion, to lead men.
Roger R. Tamte, Independent Scholar
Current biographical sketches of Walter Camp contain an important error traceable to a biography published shortly after his death, which asserts that the American football scrimmage, "the greatest single difference between Rugby football and American football ... was Walter Camp's invention." The American football scrimmage was not the invention of Camp or any other individual. Camp himself explained that the American football scrimmage developed gradually on the playing field, a spontaneous effort as American collegians combined to evade unwelcome rugby playing procedures. Newspaper articles of the 1870s support Camp's explanation. The widespread error as to Camp's role in the football scrimmage is one reason for a new biographical examination of Camp, but the many positive contributions Camp made to the game offer an even better reason. His contemporaries widely acclaimed him as the "father of American football." The aim of this talk is to support and elaborate that designation with primary-source evidence documenting the following points:
- Camp conceived and got enacted over significant resistance the "downs for distance" rule, as fundamental and defining to American football as is the scrimmage, and as essential to the game's appeal.
- During the game's early development Camp was the one constant in a world of changing student populations; he took initiative in the writing and distribution of rules and in development of oversight organizations.
- Camp did the game's first intensive coaching and was prominent in building and maintaining the Yale football program that dominated early American football.
- With pioneering texts in 1880, 1886 and 1891 (text section, booklet and book, respectively), Camp introduced the game to the public and provided coaching and player instruction. He was the game's first publicist and first historian. He originated the All-America team.
- He wrote letters, articles and additional books to defend football against attacks by faculty and others.
- Camp was a peacemaker who helped students, alumni and colleges hold together during the early decades of development; throughout that development process he continued year after year to be accepted and respected at rule-making and planning conventions.
No other single individual made such foundational contributions to football. Today's sports and history communities need to be informed of Camp's influence on what many consider America's most popular team sport.
John Carvalho and Michael Milford, Auburn University
On January 1, 1926, the Alabama Crimson Tide upset the University of Washington, 20-19, in the Rose Bowl. Sportswriters had predicted an easy victory for the powerful Washington team, minimizing the chances of victory for any school, particularly one from the Deep South. The game has been assigned a high degree of significance, both athletically and culturally. It is credited with enhancing the nationwide stature of the South within the culture of intercollegiate athletics, while also symbolizing the emergence of the South from the ruins of war. But how did the newspapers of the era contribute to the cultural understanding of the event? Did they assign a high degree of importance to the event, or is this a phenomenon has evolved in the years since?
This paper will employ both quantitative and qualitative methods in exploring how newspapers interpreted the 1926 Rose Bowl on a local, regional, and national basis. The sample will comprise newspapers from the state, the region, and the nation (including Alabama and Washington) for the week before and the week after the game. That the event occurred during the so-called "Jazz Age," when newspaper readers sought and consumed such articles, responding to media-generated interest in sporting events, adds to the cultural importance.
The quantitative method of framing will be used in a content analysis, to compare the frames employed by sportswriters in their coverage. Was the game described in cultural/regional terms? Or was it covered as an athletic contest between two teams, regardless of regional affiliation? Did columnists and guest writers, when used, emphasize the regional frame over the sports frame? Then the authors will analyze in particular the coverage of the University of Alabama team, using Kenneth Burke's concepts of identification and Terministic Screens. These two qualitative methods will provide a deeper understanding of how media outlets used the team's performance to fashion a strong common identity for the rebuilding South. This paper will add significantly to the understanding of an important moment in sports history. The two methods combined will provide depth and breadth in exploring the role of sports media in defining the significance of cultural events.
Chad Seifried, Louisiana State University
Tiger Stadium at the Louisiana State University (LSU) is a historically significant structure that has experienced major renovation activities and expansion efforts since it opened in 1924. As the 10th largest college football venue (i.e., capacity 92,542), Tiger Stadium represents an investment strategy into intercollegiate athletics that initially followed the model provided by other great universities of the 1920s. For example, like the University of California at Berkeley, Ohio State, Stanford, and Washington, among many others, LSU created Tiger Stadium to capitalize on that activity as a viable tool to recruit alumni giving, produce revenue, and improve the brand of the institution.
Like its peers, Tiger Stadium has also experienced change (i.e., through renovation) over time from evolving organizational and institutional goals that attempted to capitalize on the college football phenomenon. With recent announcement to grow Tiger Stadium to nearly 100,000 by 2014 through an $85 million investment, a historical review of the grand venue appears appropriate. Therefore, the purpose of this presentation on the history of Tiger Stadium aimed to provide information about the original design and subsequent renovation processes (i.e., restoration, rehabilitation, preservation, and reconstruction) the facility endured to help describe how it was altered to meet institutional goals and how it plans to facilitate future compliance with state historical preservation standards and additional renovation goals.
Similar to other work completed on the Rose Bowl and California Memorial Stadium through Historic Structure Reports (HSR), this work completed a thorough history of the site/venue through an on-site field examination and research completed at university's Hill Memorial Library archives to facilitate a historical description of the venue and discuss what can and will be done to the facility in the future. In the end, information from this work made a credible building assessment possible and uniquely demonstrates how the structure changed over time to represent specific eras of American history.From this investigation, it will be shown that Tiger Stadium grew to be an anchor point for all citizens of the State of Louisiana and the fan nation of LSU.
Furthermore, by studying the design features of the building, this work will show it importantly hosted spectacular college football events and other aspects of university life supporting its various institutional stakeholder groups. For instance, Tiger Stadium served as a residence hall, held athletic offices, supported classrooms, and accommodated other areas of university and military life. Next, this work will show the completed building of 1924 and subsequent changes to Tiger Stadium represent an investment into high-quality workmanship, the use of innovative materials, and an important bridge to help people make it through difficult economic times. Finally, this work will provide not only a descriptive history of the buildings evolution but highlight critical figures involved with the construction and identify the various financing methods used to create each "Saturday Night in Baton Rouge."
The NCAA as (Screening) Savior?: Sporting Spaces, Biopolitics and Testing Athletes for Sickle Cell Trait
Mary G. McDonald, Miami University
In 2010, the NCAA began implementing a requirement that all Division I athletes be tested for sickle cell trait. At the 2012 NCAA convention, Division II athletic programs approved a similar measure while the Division III President's Council will vote upon the measure again at the 2013 convention. The need for testing was justified by NCAA administrators and supportive member institutions as necessary to ensure the health and safety of student athletes given that the inherited condition can interfere with blood flow and oxygen uptake under extreme conditions such as during intense exercise. Once identified through the screening program, trainers and coaches will presumably monitor those athletes with sickle cell trait during physically demanding sporting activity to ensure their wellbeing.
However, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) has critiqued the decision to screen college athletes as overly broad and unnecessary. ASH instead prefers application of a preventative model similar to that developed by the U.S. Army, which shifts the focus to structural changes needed to protect the safety and wellbeing of all athletes regardless of sickle cell trait status. This protocol emphasizes that sporting environment allow for heat acclimatization, hydration and proper periods of rest during practices and games.
Because sickle cell disease or anemia was once commonly characterized as a "black disease," this paper engages the history of biomedicine as a site for the production of racial and gender difference to help illuminate what is at stake in this recent controversy. That is, this paper makes explicit the commodified, racialized, and gender biopolitics surrounding sickle cell anemia both historically and within recent NCAA testing discourses. In doing so this analysis also interrogates the precarious use of genetic screening within sport spaces while helping to trouble commonsense notions of (dis)ability, health and risk.
Law and Shame: The Legal Implications of Athletic Scandals
Sarah K. Fields, Ohio State University
This paper discusses how the actions of courts and legislatures have impacted the historical conduct of intercollegiate athletics. Have courts and legislatures contributed to scandals or helped prevent scandals in the past? Have laws or court decisions influenced the administration of college athletics by impacting governing boards, presidents, faculty, alumni, students, conferences, or the NCAA? Is there any indication that the president-dominated NCAA for the past two decades has reformed intercollegiate athletics to lessen the likelihood of scandals or have presidents been deterred by laws and court decisions? What are the legal impediments to presidents reforming athletics? Are athletic reforms likely to occur from laws and legal decisions? What laws or court decisions might help lessen athletic scandals? Would a decision eliminating amateurism be helpful or harmful?
Vanderbilt Vice: The 1985 Vanderbilt University Steroid Controversy
Dominic G. Morais, The University of Texas at Austin
On October 6, 1985, twenty-three-year old world-class track athlete Augustinius (Stijn) Jaspers was found dead in his Clemson University dorm. While searching for clues, authorities found an unlabeled bottle of an anti-inflammatory called phenylbutazone, or "bute." This small pill bottle sparked an investigation that uncovered an extensive drug-trafficking pipeline that supplied approximately one hundred thousand doses of "bute" and various kinds of steroids to athletes at Vanderbilt, Clemson and Colgate Universities between June 1982 and January 1985. Authorities eventually learned that E.J. "Doc" Kreis, the Vanderbilt strength and conditioning coach, and M. "Woody" Wilson, a Nashville pharmacist, were heads of the ring. Kreis was indicted on eight counts and Wilson on ninety-one. The charges consisted of conspiracy and illegal possession of steroids, and illegal dispensing of steroids. Each carried a maximum sentence of eleven years and twenty-nine days in prison, and a one thousand dollar fine.
Despite the uproar and potential maximum sentences, Kreis and Wilson served only one year of unsupervised probation. In Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping, historian John Hoberman contends that the issue of doping should not be defined only as an individual transgression. Rather, it should be studied "as a collective project resulting inevitably from an insistence on ever higher levels of performance." Thus, the purpose of this paper is to treat the Vanderbilt University steroid controversy as a case study. Through a variety of historical sources, the responses of those involved - the suppliers, the athletes, the Vanderbilt administration, the court, and the outside community - elucidate difficulties and idiosyncrasies of adequately managing the doping issue. These include the motivations of the suppliers, and the ambivalent attitude of society toward doping. The paper also demonstrates the historical significance of this particular issue to the NCAA as well as to the strength and conditioning field.
The University of New Mexico Basketball Scandal of 1979: Gambling Coaches, Boosters, and $100 Handshakes
Al Figone, Humboldt State University
Payoffs to college athletes have been an integral part of college athletics since their inception. The major source of this money has been from external groups including alumni, boosters, and gamblers. Recruiting athletes, subsidizing their living expenses, pay for coaches, facility construction and upgrades, and other athletic-related expenses are the primary function of boosters.
Unlike alumni organizations that are formally attached to an institution, boosters have been loosely or not connected to a college to which they donated money. The New Mexico Scandal, known as "Lobogate," involved 92 NCAA violations and the state's newspapers and radio subscribers to UPI voted the scandal as the top news story of 1979. Among the violations were the alleged gambling of head coach Norm Ellenberger and assistant John Wisenant on football and possibly basketball games. Ellenberger's seven-year tenure as UNM's basketball coach was abruptly ended in 1979 when the New Mexico Organized Task Force accidentally overheard a conversation between Ellenberger and a bookie discussing an upcoming slate of games on which to bet.
Also, in the course of investigating a widespread gambling ring in Albuquerque, the task force discovered that a Sandia Laboratories employee was the local gambling syndicate's record keeper using a computer on the premises of the super-secret company that manufactured nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense. Subsequent FBI investigations of New Mexico's basketball program uncovered a program that had captured the attention of the state's citizens and symbolized a university that invested more money in athletics than academics and was one of the most corrupt in the history of college sports.
"The High-Water Mark-That Place Where the Wave Finally Broke and Rolled Back": Examining Hunter S. Thompson as a Sport Historian
Seth A. Kessler, The University of Texas at Austin
Hunter S. Thompson, a self-proclaimed "outlaw," defined an outlaw as "someone who lived outside the law, beyond the law and not necessarily against it." This outlaw temperament allowed him to cast off the shackles of traditional journalism, and, primarily through sport, become one of the more popular and polarizing cultural figures of the last 50 years. It is still commonplace to see college students reading tattered, dog-eared Thompson paperbacks; another generation of young minds is being challenged to embrace the ‘weird' and question normalcy. This effort accepts this challenge, embracing Thompson (i.e., the weird) and investigating his methodological and literary contributions to sport history.
This paper examines whether Thompson was an outlaw sport historian, ‘superfictionalist,' or an exemplar of rugged individualism pursuing the American dream. Serving as the first paper of the proposed Thompson session, this paper, using both primary and secondary sources, introduces Thompson and presents pertinent biographical information chronicling his Louisville upbringing, military experience, early years in journalism, transition to counter culture icon through Gonzo journalism (including sport journalism), and suicide. This timeline also integrates important historical events to illustrate the social, cultural, and political backdrop fueling Thompson's style and work. Next, the paper outlines reasons why Thompson could and could not be considered a sport historian, and considers whether applying Thompson's unconventional methods, as opposed to strict objectivity, can be applied to other disciplines, such as sport history. Then the paper addresses his position in the counter culture via sport journalism (which was traditionally reserved for the mainstream) and how gonzo sport journalism exposed the mainstream to subculture/counter culture ideals.
This paper concludes with a brief discussion regarding the relationship among authorship, context, and message, and the necessity to understand these as a function of sport history. While Thompson's authorial authority is not disputed, the discourse surrounding his works can potentially pervert or misrepresent his message. However, his message, and work in general, cannot be divorced from its context. This section reinforces the belief that context matters, and is entrenched in authors, their critics, and ultimately their messages. Thompson's work is the ideal example to illustrate these imperative relationships, and examining these relationships can help advance sport history. Thompson once wrote referring to a Hell's Angel: "It was obvious that he was a man who marched through life to the rhythms of some drum I would never hear"4-eerily apropos for Thompson himself, this paper endeavors to discover whether this man and his rhythms should be included in sport history scholarship.
Gonzo Journalism as the Methodological Precursor to Autoethnography and its Impact on Sport History
Jarrod Jonsrud, Penn State University
As we close in on a decade since the death of Hunter S. Thompson, the absurdity and vulgarity of his personal and professional tactics diminishes and the glow of his genius brightens. Like many other counter-cultural figures that came before him, Thompson's sometimes offensive style and approach to his work often overshadowed his ingenuity and creativity. Thompson chose non-conformity, and because of this choice his work was often misunderstood or completely dismissed altogether. As time passes, the sharp edges that remain in our memories of Thompson's abrasiveness have been worn smooth, and it is time for a critical reappraisal of his work.
This paper examines Thompson's methodological approach to journalism, which was coined in 1970 as "Gonzo Journalism," through the postmodern lens of autoethnography. I will argue that Thompson's Gonzo journalism provided the structural precursor for the contemporary methodology now known as autoethnography. Described as "writing one's self into the story,"autoethnography takes seriously the socio-cultural aspects that influence qualitative research and researcher alike. Likewise, Thompson realized the importance of accounting for the reporter's role in the stories he wrote; he understood that whether he tried to be or not, by virtue of being there he was part of the story.
A radical shift from traditional journalistic style that strives for objectivity, Gonzo journalism seemed to Thompson to offer a more honest version of the story. Following a look at emblematic examples of Thompson's gonzo journalistic approach, such as Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967), "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," and "American letters, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72," showing the similarities with autoethnography, I will then discuss some possible connections between a deliberately subjective method and the practice of doing sport history. What are the potential drawbacks with using an account of a sporting event done in gonzo fashion as a primary resource? When done reflectively and purposefully, does the subjective experience of the researcher belong in an account of sport history?
In the foreword of Murray Phillips' Deconstructing Sport History: A Postmodern Analysis, it says that "history is as much about the historian and the present and its own future as it is about the past itself." Should sport history go gonzo? Does the historian's experience provide anything useful to the retelling of past events? As a counter-cultural hero, Hunter S. Thompson introduced a compelling new way to report on and write the news. Thompson's unique perspective offended many people, but his innovations should be taken seriously as a valuable addition to the methodology that will provide a more honest and complete account of past events, and help us understand the significance of sport history research.
"Prepare For the Weirdness. Get Ready for Cannibalism": Hunter S. Thompson at ESPN
Tolga Ozyurtcu, The University of Texas at Austin
On November 6, 2000, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) launched the "Page 2" section of the ESPN.com website. Dedicated to the intersections of sports and popular culture, Page 2 would complement the traditional sport journalism, headlines, and box scores featured on the main ESPN site. Equal parts sports tabloid and literary journal, the early Page 2 featured a potpourri of voices and subjects; on the day of the site's launch, readers could find Major League Baseball trade rumors, an 800-word review of a football coffee table book, and a list of "Favorite Dunkers," compiled by University of Tennessee basketball player Michelle Smith (who had recently become the third woman to slam dunk in competition).
Visitors to the site would also find the first installment of a column, entitled "Hey Rube," by Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson had been recruited to the Page 2 project by ESPN's John A. Walsh, as part of a strategic effort to legitimize the new site by hiring well-known sportswriters, like Ralph Wiley and David Halberstam, who joined Thompson as early contributors to the site. Consistent with his entire oeuvre, Thompson's Page 2 work seemed only to be bound by his mood at the time of writing. Sports, politics, and mass culture would receive equal (and often simultaneous) attention in his digital work; his range of subjects often held together only by the passion and vitriol essential to his signature, "Gonzo" style. Running regularly over the next several years, the Page 2 column would be Thompson's final journalistic outlet, with his final Page 2 work being published only 5 days before his suicide on February 20, 2005.
This presentation examines Thompson's "Hey Rube" column as sport journalism and as cultural artifact in two related parts. In the first part, the content and context of Thompson's work serves as a lens to analyze the discourses linking American sport, politics, and popular culture at the turn of 21st century. Eschewing a single, cohesive interpretation of Thompson's late work, the presentation focuses instead on the multiplicity of readings and meanings produced by Thompson's digital foray. This discursive method not only allows for a more nuanced analysis of Thompson's writing at a specific moment in history, but also allows for "readings" of Thompson's ESPN years as a historical subject. Furthermore, this approach reflects Thompson's comfort in allowing for ambiguity, unease, and anxiety in his journalism, especially toward the end of his life.
This first section will pay particular attention to Thompson's post-9/11 work, wherein his prescient commentaries on the coming war on terror could be bookended--in classic Thompsonian style--with a critique of a college basketball team and the lamentation of a lost sports wager. In the second part, the presentation considers the digital form of Thompson's Page 2 work and the implications of this form for the field of sport history. Specifically, this section will address the use of digital columns and blogs as an historical source, temporal challenges in using such sources, and the shift toward a digital archive.
Susan Birrell, University of Iowa
The 15 years between the release of Rocky (1976) and A League of their Own (1992) comprise what might be thought of as the classic era of American sport films. In that short time period, a disproportionate number of films that head the various lists of "best sport films of all time" were made. These include Raging Bull (1980), Chariots of Fire (1981), The Natural (1984), Hoosiers (1986), Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), and Field of Dreams(1989). Two comedies, Slap Shot (1977) and Caddy Shack (1980), accompany these more serious sport films within this time frame.
In this paper I interrogate the viability of proclaiming this period as the "golden age" of sport films in order to explore the contexts in the sporting world and the film industry that might account for this unusually rich period of (mostly) American sport films. Since the premise of my argument depends in part on establishing both the enduring popularity and the cultural significance of these films, I begin by exploring the list-making of self-proclaimed experts, such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and The American Film Institute, by comparing the content of these lists and by interrogating the cultural practices of list making. Next I work to establish some measure of the popularity of the films through box office earnings and Golden Globe Award nominations and wins, and to assess a general sense of their critical merits with reference to three high profile award institutions, the Academy Awards, BAFTA, and the Cannes Film Festival.
To assess their claim on the American heart, I explore the themes that unite or differentiate these films. For example, with the exception of A League of their Own, the films represented on this 10 list all fall within rather comfortable categories of masculinist celebrations of sport heroes, and with the exception of Raging Bull and Eight Men Out, all inspire by constructing sport as an arena for exceptional achievement or redemption. Focusing particularly on the dramatic rather than the comedic films, I consider the extent to which the meanings structured into each film strike particular chords with audiences at the time. I explore that question with reference to specific historical contexts in the sporting world and particular trends in the film industry.
Travis Vogan, University of Iowa
In 2010 ESPN teamed with the PEN American Center to establish the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. The award suggests ESPN supports the craft of sports writing in general, and, more specifically, encourages the production of sports writing that aspires to "literary" standards. Moreover, it indicates that ESPN-an organization traditionally known for its television coverage-has the authority to decide precisely what constitutes "literary" sports writing and to judge which works should be included in this rarefied category. One year after the PEN/ESPN Award's establishment, ESPN created Grantland.com-a boutique division of ESPN.com edited by popular columnist Bill Simmons that specializes in long-form journalism. Straddling the genres of sports writing and cultural criticism, the website claims to provide a sophisticated alternative to typical sports writing. To establish this cache and credibility the website hired the well-known writers Dave Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chuck Klosterman to serve on its editorial board. Moreover, the site took its name after Grantland Rice-"The Dean of American Sports Writers" whose flowery prose composes a starting point from which histories and anthologies of American sports writing are commonly constructed.
Beyond its title, Grantland.com's banner initially featured a quote from Rice's sentimental 1908 poem "Alumnus Football." Grantland.com unambiguously situates itself as a continuation of the celebrated tradition of sports writing that Grantland Rice symbolizes. Building upon the literary prestige its editorial board and title built, Grantland.com frequently comments on the American sports writing tradition. For instance, in 2011 it began "The Sports Book Hall of Fame," a series wherein staff writers discuss their favorite sports books and explain their value. Also in 2011, it launched the "Director's Cut" series, which repackages famous works of sports writing along with introductions that contextualize the featured pieces and argue for their merit. The works Grantland.com includes in "The Sports Book Hall of Fame" and "Director's Cut," however, are not particularly surprising. Most have already been anthologized and appeared in widely circulated "best ever" lists. The primary purpose informing these lists' construction, then, is to situate Grantland.com-and, by extension, ESPN-as an institution that possesses the cultural power to decide what counts as America's finest sports writing.
This presentation will consider how Grantland.com positions ESPN as an organization that grows out of, expands upon, and organizes a tradition of "literary" sports writing. In doing so, it will investigate and critique how ESPN-the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports"- engages, claims, and reconfigures the American sports writing canon in order to build cultural authority that increases its market share and expands its demographic reach.