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FW: Westmoreland on Miller, _The Sporting World of the Modern South_

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  • Amos J Wright
    ... From: H-Net Review Project Distribution List [mailto:H-REVIEW@H-NET.MSU.EDU] On Behalf Of H-Net Reviews Sent: Friday, April 13, 2007 9:53 AM To:
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      Subject: Westmoreland on Miller, _The Sporting World_

      Published by H-South@... (January, 2007)

      Patrick B. Miller, ed. _The Sporting World of the Modern South_. Urbana
      and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. x + 400 pp.
      Illustrations, notes, index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-252-02718-5;
      $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-252-07036-5.

      Reviewed for H-South by Charles Westmoreland Jr., Department of History,
      University of Mississippi.

      Sport and the Modern South: From Roses in Alabama to Hockey Pucks in

      Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region,
      the displaced New Orleans Saints began the 2005 NFL season with what
      some sportswriters called a "miracle" victory over the heavily favored
      Carolina Panthers. John Carney kicked a 47-yard field goal with three
      seconds left to win the game for the Saints and bring momentary relief
      for an ailing city and region. In an article for ESPN.com, scholar
      Richard Lapchick called the Saints' 23-20 triumph a testament to the
      "healing power of sports." Lapchick's piece described the real and
      symbolic importance of the Saints to the city of New Orleans and the
      entire Gulf Coast community. As Lapchick explained, an e-mail from a
      former graduate student who worked for the Saints organization summed up
      the team's significance:

      "I believe that the New Orleans Saints can and should be an extremely
      instrumental part in rebuilding the spirit of this city and its people.
      I believe that the Saints and the Fleur-de-lis symbol can become
      something that these lost, displaced, desperate people of New Orleans
      can rally behind to realize that New Orleans does in fact have a future
      and that we will find a way to recover and rebuild this community. Can
      you think of a more immediate thing that people from all walks of life
      can identify with?"[1]

      September 25, 2006 witnessed the return of the Saints to the New Orleans
      Superdome and the Crescent City. After a year on the road, the Saints
      gave their fans a night to remember by beating the Atlanta Falcons in
      front of a national audience on _Monday Night Football_. The year-long
      saga of the New Orleans Saints offers proof that sports do indeed matter
      in our society. Though the extent to which sports can bring healing and
      togetherness is debatable, there is no question that who wins and loses
      and, in the case of the Saints, who simply steps on the field of play,
      mean a great deal in modern American life.

      Within the past decade, historians of the American South have begun to
      examine the meanings and significance of sport. _The Sporting World of
      the Modern South_ is the first collection of scholarly articles on the
      ties between sport and southern culture, society, and politics. Twelve
      of the thirteen essays have appeared previously in academic journals.
      These essays, along with the introduction by editor Patrick Miller, ask
      several key questions. First, what is the relationship between sport and
      the modernization of the South? Second, to what extent have southerners
      drawn upon traditional southern notions of honor, manhood, and white
      supremacy to find meaning in sport? Third, how has sport challenged the
      region's social hierarchies of race and gender? Lastly, what role has
      sport played in southern myth-making and the shaping of modern southern
      identity? _The Sporting World of the Modern South_ will undoubtedly be a
      valuable collection for not only students of sport in the South, but for
      those attempting to understand the broader southern experience following
      the Civil War.

      In part 1, "The Transformation of Southern Sport: Gender, Class, and
      Some Meanings of Modernity," Miller, Robert Gudmestad, Pamela Dean, and
      Andrew Doyle argue that the New South of industrialization and urban
      growth made possible the development of organized sport. By the 1920s,
      white southerners had embraced the modern world of organized athletics,
      yet they rarely portrayed their participation in sports as a fully
      modern endeavor. Instead, white southerners emphasized honor, glory,
      manhood, and gentility traits most commonly associated with an earlier
      period of southern history as they played Yankee-invented games that
      were perfectly in tune with the new, industrial world of efficiency,
      rationalization, and bureaucratization. The emergence of modern sport in
      the late nineteenth century simultaneously promoted "the New South and
      the culture of the Confederacy" (p. 70). In his study of college
      football and southern progressivism, for example, Doyle shows how white
      Alabamians and other white southerners saw the 1925 Alabama Crimson Tide
      football team as the embodiment of both New South progress and
      traditional southern male honor. On its way to victory in the 1926 Rose
      Bowl championship, the Crimson Tide became the _de facto_ team of the
      South. An _Atlanta Journal_ headline proclaimed that, with the Crimson
      Tide's Rose Bowl defeat of the University of Washington, "Dixie Acclaims
      Her Heroes" (p. 108). Doyle illustrates that the Alabama players had
      become Confederate heroes reincarnate. This time, however, the sons of
      Dixie walked off the field as winners in a game known nationally for its
      technical and scientific aspects.

      In a similar vein, Dean's study of women's athletics at southern
      colleges points to the blend of tradition and modernity in southern
      sporting culture. Playing basketball encouraged women to be self-reliant
      and competitive, values most southerners did not associate with the
      "ladies" of the region. Basketball and other forms of physical
      competition never revolutionized gender roles, though. "The concealing
      screens of fences (to shield the female athletes from 'public gaze'),
      modest bloomers, and sisterly song" insured that the "New Woman"
      remained mindful of the social expectations placed on southern women (p.
      95). As the first part of this collection demonstrates, southern sport
      owed its development to vast economic and social change, though the
      cultural meanings attached to these games had roots in the southern

      Part 2 addresses the question of race. The essays in "Race Relations and
      Southern Sports: Athletics 'Behind the Veil' and the Process of
      Desegregation" tell a story of conflict, not just between blacks and
      whites, but also within black and white communities themselves. Sports
      had the potential to subvert the region's racial caste system. Miller
      illustrates how black colleges and universities during the interwar
      period turned to sport as a way of both challenging white stereotypes
      and asserting black manhood and independence. Though some black
      educators were skeptical about the growing emphasis on sports, many
      blacks concurred with a 1924 Howard University newspaper editorial that
      suggested that athletic success could "destroy prejudices; to learn and
      to be taught; to facilitate a universal brotherhood" (p. 129). Articles
      by Charles Martin, Jack Davis, and Russell Henderson trace not only the
      efforts of southern blacks to strike down Jim Crow in sports, but also
      the divisions and tensions among white southerners over desegregation.
      The integration of sports in the South and across the United States,
      albeit no panacea for racial problems, broke down some important social
      barriers and helped make a once-closed society more open and inclusive.

      The final section, "Myths, Symbols, and Stereotypes in Southern Sport:
      The Shaping of a Regional Identity," analyzes the mythmaking side of the
      recent South. Both southerners and non-southerners have found great
      symbolic value in such sports figures as University of Alabama football
      coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. Bryant and
      his teams, much like their 1925 predecessors, won the hearts of fans
      across Alabama and the South during the 1960s and 1970s because they
      embodied success and respectability, something white southerners
      struggled to find during the tumultuous days of the civil rights
      movement. At the same time that the Crimson Tide squads were seen as
      symbols of progress, the coaching style and tactics of Bryant seemed to
      recall an earlier era when middle-aged white men earned respect and led
      disciplined, unquestioning young men to victory both on and off the
      field. On the race track, Earnhardt and other stock car competitors
      gained fame and notoriety for their daring exploits and disregard for
      human safety. The southern origins of NASCAR proved to be useful in the
      expansion of the sport during the 1990s. The image of the
      moonshine-running speedster may have had little actual relevance for the
      non-stop advertising and public relations machine known as NASCAR.
      Nonetheless, the rural, southern backgrounds of many stock car drivers
      offered up images of a simpler world to fans, many of whom were upwardly
      mobile and capable of affording tickets to the high-priced races.
      Earnhardt, a master of recent sports marketing, still remained the "last
      Confederate soldier" in the eyes of his closest fans (p. 317). Ted
      Ownby's article "Manhood, Memory, and White Men's Sports in the Modern
      South," on the other hand, cautions scholars not to indiscriminately
      link southern athletes to traditional notions of southern masculinity.
      The technical, scientific, and rationalized world of modern sport has
      kept football players, race car drivers, and even hunters from carrying
      on the traditions of the raw, hedonistic "helluvafella" described by W.
      J. Cash in _The Mind of the South_ (1941) (p. 338-339).

      To assess the strengths and weaknesses of this volume is to also
      evaluate the early state of the historiography on southern sport. The
      collection provides smart, interesting essays that represent the first
      salvos in the debates over sport and southern history. The ties between
      sport and modernization are made clear throughout the various essays.
      Any discussion of modern southern identity needs to address how sport
      shapes and reflects southernness in an age of skyscrapers and suburbs.
      The central development in the twentieth-century South, the civil rights
      movement receives extensive treatment and proves that race is a top
      priority for scholars of southern sport. Historians have also given much
      consideration to the role of gender in shaping southern sport. Class,
      the third wing of the social history trinity, has played a lesser role
      in the historiography of southern sport, though several essays speak to
      that theme. While not explicitly stated in Miller's introduction, the
      collection as a whole points out the growing influence of the university
      in modern southern life, a topic yet to be fully explored by historians
      of the South. Those studying the role of universities in
      twentieth-century southern politics, society, and culture would do well
      to consult _The Sporting World of the Modern South_.

      The question of resistance to the modern sporting culture needs some
      clarification and additional research. In his article on college sports
      in the New South, Miller contends that, by the first two decades of the
      twentieth century, southern opposition to sport gave way to popular
      acceptance of such modern games as football. Prior to this time, many
      southerners, particularly evangelicals, saw sport as a negative
      influence on society. University leaders such as W. A. Candler at Emory
      led the evangelical charge against the violent sport of football and the
      raucous atmosphere that seemed to naturally accompany the game.
      Football, Candler insisted, was "needless" and shamelessly promoted
      "gambling and other immoralities," thus distracting people from more
      important matters of spirit and mind. In spite of this resistance,
      however, "sport won out" by the 1920s (pp. 41-42). While there is no
      question that football had become a popular pastime by the twenties,
      especially among the burgeoning southern middle class, to what extent
      did evangelicals embrace sport and to what extent did they simply
      tolerate it? Did they truly make their peace with sport by the 1920s?
      Or, did evangelicals continue to be thorns in the side of the southern
      sporting establishment? Additionally, when did evangelicals finally
      incorporate sport as part of evangelical Christian culture? When, for
      instance, did southern churches begin to establish sports teams or use
      the rhetoric of sport in sermons and their broader evangelical message?
      Though these questions do not dispute the fact that southerners had
      flocked to sports, namely football, by the 1920s, the precise
      relationship between evangelicals and sport since that decade calls for
      further research.

      As an overview of such a young field of scholarship, the collection does
      not, understandably, cover several important topics and themes. One
      topic in need of study is the growth of professional sports in the South
      over the past five decades. Big-time professional sports came late to
      the South, yet when they came, they arrived en masse. Next to the
      desegregation of sport and the increasing participation of women in
      athletics, perhaps the most important development in post-World War II
      southern sport has been the expansion of major-league franchises into
      the former Confederacy. Since 1960, the four major sporting leagues have
      established nearly thirty teams in the South. In Charlotte, the Hornets
      basketball franchise came and went in little more than a decade, only to
      see a new NBA team in the Queen City by 2004. The NFL made its way to
      Atlanta, Tampa, Nashville, and Jacksonville, among other southern
      cities. Nearly half of all Super Bowls have been played in southern
      cities, with New Orleans leading the way with nine. Even hockey has set
      up residences in Nashville, Atlanta, Raleigh, Tampa, Dallas, and that
      most frigid of climes, Miami. What explains this era of expansion? What
      impact did the civil rights movement and the changing postwar economy
      have on this expansion? How has this trend affected southern culture and
      society? What has it meant to southern cities' economies? Has the influx
      of professional sports affected southerners' sports loyalties? Also, how
      has the influx of minor-league baseball, minor-league hockey, arena
      football, and other kinds of professional sports teams affected smaller
      cities? Last, but certainly not least in the discussion of big-time
      sports, what does Atlanta's Olympic coup in the 1990s say about the
      recent South?

      At the opposite end of the spectrum, youth-league and high-school sports
      have also become a more prevalent part of southern society in the
      post-World War II period. Future studies of southern sport should
      consider how sport has affected the socialization and development of
      children and youth, as well as athletics' role in the cultural life of
      local communities. With regards to race, scholars of the post-civil
      rights South need to examine how sport shaped race relations after the
      dramatic 1950s and 1960s. To what extent did sport help bridge racial
      barriers? Were new barriers erected? How do black sports figures from
      the South compare to some of the prominent white heroes like Bryant and
      Earnhardt? What do such individuals as Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan,
      Herschel Walker, and other black athletes reveal about southern
      mythmaking and identity in the post-civil rights era? The role of women
      in southern sports also needs more study. Did Title IX, for instance,
      have a greater impact on the conservative South than in other parts of
      the country? What does it say about post-1960s southern life when one of
      the most recognizable figures in southern sport is a fiery, demanding
      leader like University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat
      Summitt? In addition to expanding the relationship between gender and
      sport, what role, if any, does class play in the sporting culture of the
      region? Has the acceptance of sport simply meant the triumph of
      middle-class values? Or, have working-class and poor southerners crafted
      their own sporting culture?

      As with any scholarly field in its infancy, there will always be plenty
      of room for new topics, questions, and approaches. Admittedly, many of
      the aforementioned issues are still in the process of development, thus
      making the historian's task of discerning change and continuity, as well
      as long-term significance, a potentially messy one. Nevertheless, the
      field of southern sport history is an open and exciting one. _The
      Sporting World of the Modern South_ serves as more than a starting point
      for scholars. Thanks to its breadth, insightful analysis, and, quite
      simply, the fascinating nature of the topic itself, this collection is
      indispensable for those inquiring into the complex relationship between
      southerners and the games they play.


      [1]. Richard Lapchick, "The Healing Power of Sports," ESPN.com
      (September 14, 2005);

      Copyright 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
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