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Rooting for the Home Team

Rooting for the Home Team: Sport, Community, and Identity

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Rooting for the Home Team
    Book Description:

    Rooting for the Home Team examines how various American communities create and maintain a sense of collective identity through sports. Looking at large cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Los Angeles as well as small rural towns, suburbs, and college towns, the contributors consider the idea that rooting for local athletes and home teams often symbolizes a community's preferred understanding of itself, and that doing so is an expression of connectedness, public pride and pleasure, and personal identity. Some of the wide-ranging essays point out that financial interests also play a significant role in encouraging fan bases, and modern media have made every seasonal sport into yearlong obsessions. Celebrities show up for big games, politicians throw out first pitches, and taxpayers pay plenty for new stadiums and arenas. The essays in Rooting for the Home Team cover a range of professional and amateur athletics, including teams in basketball, football, baseball, and even the phenomenon of no-glove softball. Contributors are Amy Bass, Susan Cahn, Mark Dyreson, Michael Ezra, Elliott J. Gorn, Christopher Lamberti, Allison Lauterbach, Catherine M. Lewis, Shelley Lucas, Daniel A. Nathan, Michael Oriard, Carlo Rotella, Jaime Schultz, Mike Tanier, David K. Wiggins, and David W. Zang.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09485-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Sport, Community, and Identity
    (pp. 1-16)

    Many years ago, I lived in Iowa City, Iowa, a vibrant university town with more than sixty thousand residents. The town is surrounded by seemingly unending miles of corn and soybean fields, and lots of hog farms. One of the things I liked best about living in Iowa City was being part of a graduate student cohort that regularly played pickup basketball games at the Field House and on various playgrounds. For a few years, we also played in a city recreation league. Our team was called the Sport Boys. One season we wore black tank tops with hot-pink lettering...

  5. 1. Basketball and Magic in “Middletown”: Locating Sport and Culture in American Social Science
    (pp. 17-35)

    In the 1920s a team of social scientists descended on a “typical” American city. They were determined to unravel the secrets of communal identity and discover the laws that governed culture change. Using methodologies originally practiced by anthropologists to catalog the lifeways of non-Western cultures in locales far from the urban-industrial core of the twentieth-century Occident, the scientific observers settled among the heartland townsfolk and got to work.¹ They set out to chronicle, in their words, “the life of the people in the city, selected as a unit complex of interwoven trends of behavior.”² Their study imitated the anthropological methods...

  6. 2. The Biggest “Classic” of Them All: The Howard University and Lincoln University Thanksgiving Day Football Games, 1919–1929
    (pp. 36-53)

    African Americans established a number of successful and important separate sports programs during the latter half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Banned from most predominantly white organized sport during this period because of racial discrimination, African Americans organized their own teams and leagues behind segregated walls at the amateur and professional levels, in small rural communities and large urban settings, and among both men and women of different social and economic backgrounds. Some of the most important of these separate sports programs were those established at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Since the latter...

  7. 3. Bobby Jones, Southern Identity, and the Preservation of Privilege
    (pp. 54-67)

    The Bobby Jones Apparel Company Web site promotes its brand of luxury clothing and accessories using the legend of one of golf’s most beloved players, explaining: “Bobby Jones epitomized what it meant to be a gentleman, and embodied class, grace under pressure, and style.”¹ The company’s advertising campaign took on special meaning during the 2010 Masters Tournament, as the sporting world witnessed the return of Tiger Woods, who was still reeling from scandals resulting from more than a dozen extramarital affairs. Woods’s conduct, replete with tawdry text messages and late-night television show parodies, threatened the game’s most cherished traditions at...

  8. 4. Football Town under Friday Night Lights: High School Football and American Dreams
    (pp. 68-79)

    In 2003, the prolific best-selling novelist John Grisham took a break from legal thrillers to publish Bleachers, a novel about high school football that is a virtual encyclopedia of clichés and stereotypes, including the competing ideas at its center. Has high school football in the southern town of Messina been a source of community identity and pride or a collective pathology? Was the legendary coach Eddie Rake a great man or a monster? Grisham ultimately answered these questions positively, yet until that concession to pop-fiction necessity a convincing sense that the sport and the coach were not one or the...

  9. 5. Girls’ Six-Player Basketball: “The Essence of Small-Town Life in Iowa”
    (pp. 80-92)

    Throughout the twentieth century, more than a million Iowa high school girls played the half-court, two-dribble version of basketball colloquially known as “six-on-six.” Originally conceived to accommodate girls and women’s perceived physical limitations, six-player basketball often lent itself to fast-paced, high-scoring, crowd-rallying competitions. By the 1970s and 1980s, high schools across the nation, as well as those in larger Iowa cities, adopted five-player or “boys’ rules.” Yet the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) continued to sponsor six-player basketball in the smaller, rural communities until 1993, at which time, 275 of the state’s 409 schools with girls’ basketball programs...

  10. 6. Chicago’s Game
    (pp. 93-107)

    Some of my earliest memories are of my father playing softball. He manned third base, the hot corner, for a local team in a sixteen-inch ball, no-gloves league. The son of Italian immigrants, my father grew up in a working-class suburb of Chicago in the 1960s. When I was a boy, my grandfather’s hands were hardened and calloused from working as a carpenter and maintenance man. My father, a college graduate, sold paper binding and laminate machines. His hands were gnarled from softball; a few of his fingers meandered off at awkward angles past their last joints.

    Along with hundreds...

  11. 7. The Baltimore Blues: The Colts and Civic Identity
    (pp. 108-124)

    When I was a teenager, my grandfather gave me a discarded Baltimore street sign. He was born, raised, and lived in Baltimore his entire life. Over the years he had several jobs, including working for the city as a purchasing agent; maybe a fellow city employee gave him the street sign. Scratched and chipped, it’s a 24"×18" piece of painted steel. The background is royal blue and the lettering and border are white; it reads “Colts Trail.” In between the two words is a simple, old-school white football helmet with a blue horseshoe on it. At the bottom of the...

  12. 8. The Voice of Los Angeles
    (pp. 125-138)

    “A good evening to you wherever you may be.” The familiar voice almost sings out of the radio, embracing listeners with the warmth of a soft Los Angeles evening. For more than sixty years, the same greeting has welcomed Dodgers fans to pull up a chair and listen to a baseball game. The man behind those words, Vin Scully, is more than just a well-loved sportscaster. He is the voice of L.A.

    Born in 1927, Vincent Edward Scully grew up in the Bronx listening to sportscasters on the radio, a career that was barely as old as he was. He...

  13. 9. We Believe: The Anatomy of Red Sox Nation
    (pp. 139-156)

    America does not have a national team. Though the Olympics often generate a national cheering section, in general, root-root-rooting for the home team is regionalized in the United States. Yet some teams are more nationally prominent than others. The Dallas Cowboys enjoyed a national reign that began in the 1960s. The Pittsburgh Pirates turned their 1979 World Series run into a phenomenon to the tune of Sister Sledge’s “We are Family.” And the New Orleans Saints’ post-Katrina success made everyone shout “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?” with some modicum of style.

    For Red...

  14. 10. American Brigadoon: Joe Paterno’s Happy Valley
    (pp. 157-169)

    It’s October, and as I’ve done on nearly every autumn Saturday for four decades, I’ve settled in front of a television. As a panoramic shot captures a gorgeous landscape of distant mountains and rolling foothills, ESPN’s announcers reveal that “we are live from Happy Valley.” Scanning the more than one hundred thousand spectators in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, a camera comes to rest on a manic student who is gesticulating wildly, as contemporary fans tend to do when they realize their three seconds of fame have arrived. This one is wearing a full-headed rubber mask that caricatures the bulbous nose...

  15. 11. Jayhawk Pride
    (pp. 170-181)

    When the University of Kansas (KU) men’s basketball team loses a game, it upsets me. I’m a big fan. It wasn’t always this way, though. I used to loathe KU basketball. This is the story of someone whose personal evolution as an academic and human being was mirrored by his changing feelings toward his alma mater’s most recognizable and cherished institution.

    After living my first twenty-two years in New York, I matriculated to KU, which is located in Lawrence. I assumed that Kansas was a backwater unaccustomed to New Yorkers, and that its university would be the same. Wary, but...

  16. 12. Finding My Place: A Sports Odyssey
    (pp. 182-194)

    When I was a young girl, I spent many hours by myself. At school I was socially adept enough to avoid complete outcast status—those unfortunates we called “queers.” A smart girl and good athlete, I managed to remain interesting to the popular girls, but never became part of their cliques. My tomboy persona simply didn’t fit in with the girl culture at my school and there were no alternative girl playmates in my neighborhood. In the absence of friends, I experienced intense bouts of loneliness and sadness. Yet even as my tomboyish love of sports contributed to my isolation,...

  17. 13. A Philadelphia Nocturne
    (pp. 195-204)

    By day, they are Philly sports fans: rabid hooligans, bellicose malcontents, central-casting slobbering-partisan stereotypes. They boo everyone from Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to Santa Claus, beat up visiting fans that wear the wrong colors, and provide the national media with a lazy, goto symbol of sports obsession turned violent. They are the barbarians who run onto the field to be tasered by security guards, who vomit like turkey vultures to dissuade arresting officers. They are an angry mob, torches and pitchforks always at the ready. Philly fans have a bad reputation, and some revel in living down to...

  18. 14. The Cult of Micky Ward in Massachusetts
    (pp. 205-218)

    The retired boxer Micky Ward and the movie star Mark Wahlberg, escorted by publicists from Paramount Pictures, were sitting at a round table in a conference room in the Four Seasons hotel in Boston. It was early December 2010; The Fighter, the movie about Ward starring and produced by Wahlberg, was about to open. The early reviews were good, and Oscar buzz was mounting, especially around Christian Bale, who played the part of Dickie Eklund, Ward’s half-brother. Dickie, a far more sophisticated boxer than Micky, had taught Micky most of what he knew about boxing, but Dickie had squandered his...

  19. Afterword
    (pp. 219-224)

    While I was working on this afterword, my mother gave me an article from a recent issue of Sports Illustrated. She ripped it out of a magazine that was in her doctor’s waiting room. Titled “In My Tribe,” it was written by Terry McDonell, the magazine’s managing editor. A series of well-chosen, well-told vignettes culled from Sports Illustrated writers (that is, McDonell’s tribemates) extolling sport’s virtues and “the transcendent moments that lift us,” the article is simultaneously sentimental, perceptive, and germane to this project.¹ Many of the best stories in the article are coming-of-age tales, some of which involve intergenerational...

  20. Contributors
    (pp. 225-228)
  21. Index
    (pp. 229-237)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 238-239)