a people’s history of sports

I just finished reading Dave Zirin’s A People’s History of American Sports: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, the People, and Play, a book that argues against the idea that sports are only a game. In his words,

If we challenge sports to be as good as they can be – a force to break down walls that divide us, a motor for inclusion – they can propel us toward a better world, a world worth playing in – and worth fighting for.

I’ve read and written about Zirin in the past, and enjoy his work on Edge of Sports and in SLAM. While I don’t always agree with his takes, and while I am sure many people would dismiss his above assertion about sports to be hogwash, there is no denying that there have always been massive links between sports and politics. A main theme of the book, for example, is the link between athletic performance and a push for integration, inclusion and equal right in society at large.

This book reminded me of the importance of examining our past as a means of understanding how we got where we are and where we are to go in the future. In terms of sports, many people are not aware of the hardship that came along with taking public stands that resulted in many things that we take for granted in sports and in the world around us. It made me a little ill to read again of Michael Jordan’s famous “republicans wear shoes too” response to questions of who he would vote for in an upcoming election – the athlete who transformed sports into big huge business demonstrates here how the past had been forgotten, failing to appreciate that men like Jackie Robinson and Curtis Flood had to suffer so that Air Jordan could take flight, and in the process allowing his voice to be silenced in the name of advancing the wheel of commerce.

For sports fans out there, this is a great book. The writing isn’t always great, and the threads that run through the books are held together in a loosely narrate manner [250 years is a lot to cover in 275 pages], but I think it’s an important read. Check it out if you get an opportunity.

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    • poserorprophet
    • March 11th, 2009

    I don’t know if I would blame Jordan for turning Sports into big business. It seems to me that he was, at least initially, a rather useful tool for corporations who were seeking that objective. However, what Jordan did do (once he ‘went rogue’ on the corporations who built him up) was become the first person to actually turn himself into a brand. Thus, with Jordan we see a very significant shift from branding people to people as brands. This, then, begins the process that leads us to today, where we are all self-branding individuals seeking to increase our own brand status (whether as ‘the intellectual’ or ‘the radical’ or ‘the jock’ or whatever), and it also helps to explain why things like Facebook are so popular. Facebook is one of the best tools for self-branding as it allows us to present ourselves in a very strictly controlled (and artificial!) way.

    Anyway, just thinking out loud here. Let me know what you’ve decided about those books, and where you want me to email them.

    • poserorprophet
    • March 11th, 2009

    Dang, pardon the double (and now triple) post. I was trying to correct a typo in my last sentence, but I guess I didn’t catch it in time.

  1. Dan,

    Fair point about Mike. In fact, it was his agent, David Falk, and the people at Nike who came up with the whole Air Jordan idea, and the iconic logo that goes with it. I guess the point is that, in his lofty position, he did not use his influence in the way that athletes before him did; you’re right, he was all about expanding his brand and making money. Now every athlete that comes along wants to replicate what he did, to be ‘like mike’ as they say.

    Very interesting take on facebook as well. As a signed up member, I know that it allows me to portray my life in a very shined up way. I guess blogs can be like that too, in some ways – or anything that can be edited and controlled like that.

    I’ll let you know about the books.

    • poserorprophet
    • March 11th, 2009

    Yes, Air Jordan was developed by Nike, but Jordan later took it over in ways that made Nike very unhappy.

    Also, I agree with what you say about how blogs can also be tools of self-branding. I’ve actually blogged about that (here, for example: http://poserorprophet.wordpress.com/2008/07/02/an-interlude-on-memes/).

  1. December 29th, 2009

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