Department of Sociology and Political Science, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
Michael E. Lomax (red)
Sports and the Racial Divide: African American and Latino Experience in an Era of Change
220 sidor, inb.
Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi 2011
Sports and the Racial Divide: African American and Latino Experience in an Era of Change, is a collection of essays that deal with the experience of a social transformation that has had major impacts on American sports – the emergence of a race consciousness. For the last thirty years or so, people of color are now holding leading positions on and off the pitch. They are owners of clubs and sitting in the chair at the board of directors. There are now more black quarterbacks leading teams. Blacks are now predominantly being recruited by universities and drafted by the top teams. These are the underlying factors, which propels the writers ofSports and the Racial Divide. But this transformation touches upon a sensitive topic, which is still very much alive in American society and history – the meaning of color and race and the ethnic populations’ constitutional right to be accepted and respected for what they are. Sport is one of the most transparent areas in society, which often provides the quickest insights for students and observers of societal changes and its moral implications. And this is precisely what Michael E. Lomax has done as editor, as his work casts light on racial issue through the athlete’s eyes. Lomax, who is associate professor at University of Iowa, has put together an impressive team of contributors, ten altogether, who explore various aspects of how African American and Latino athletes are in the process of rewriting the future of the largest sports in the U.S., and, moreover, how all of the above has challenged the supremacy once held by whites in sports. Thus, Sports and the Racial Divide is an important contribution to the field of African American and Latino sport studies.
The introduction, written by Lomax himself, opens with a historical review of what kind of scholarly work have been completed race issues within African American and Latino sport studies, stressing where the “gaps” and “holes” in the research literature are to be found. Lomax clarifies that just after World War II, African American athletes were faced with the fact that the U.S. still was a racially segregated society. African American and Latino athletes did not enjoy the same rights and privileges, and had to boycott and protest their way in order to be equally accepted with their white teammates. Or, in other words, African American and Latino athletes rarely made the headlines in the newspapers’ sport sections, but rather appeared to be some kind of mythical non-subjects in the public’s perception. The succeeding essays dig deeper into these matters. They try to show that athletes were concerned and conscious about their marginalized position; Maureen Smith’s essay is an historical analysis of how the American Football League, a rival league to the powerful National Football League, had to deal with the emergence of race consciousness; as a consequence, a group of African American athletes boycotted the annual All-Star game in January 1965.
Michael Ezra’s essay illustrates the 60s fight for racial justice, as he take on one of the most important sports icon in recent history, the boxer Muhammad Ali. Ezra’s work is an interesting investigation of how various African American actors battled for control over Ali’s career and its effects on cultural symbolism. Lomax and Ron Briley continue to focus on various aspects of black liberation. Lomax analyses Harry Edwards’ attempt to boycott the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, through formation of the Olympic Committee for Human Rights. Briley has a fascinating account of the Black Panther movement and how black athletes were influenced by an expanding revolutionary consciousness.
The first hundred pages are predominantly focusing on the experience of being an African American athlete in the 1960s, by giving much attention to the “black liberation” of the period. Kurt Edward Kemper’s essay, on the other hand, deals with a gender perspective and is historically situated in the 70s; he explores how the UCLA Bruins all-black cheerleaders struggled for recognition and equality within the larger context of the Black Power Movement. This gender perspective is continued further by Sarah Field’s essay. Her work analyses the implication of the anti-discrimination law called “Title IX”, and her surprising conclusion that the law had marginal effects for female African American athletes. After this, attention is directed toward the complex relationship between sports and Latino culture. Here, Richard Santillan provides a detailed historical account on the presence and functions of sports in the American Midwest, especially baseball’s meaning as community builder and unifier for Mexicans. Samuel O. Regaldo gives the reader an overview of what is now so common in baseball – famous Latino players. All of this is explored by analyzing the life of the Latino baseball player Roberto Clemente. To finish it all off, Jorge Iber’s essay discusses the experience of Mexican American football coaches in Texas.
Finishing it all off, as regards my remarks as reader, a pro and con list can be made. The strength of the essays lies in the fact that they are well-written, structured with clear beginnings and ends, and good framing, which in sum links them all together. The essays represent solid academic craftsmanship. As far as I’m concerned, Lomax’ team is performing up to expected academic standards. This is solid work. On the other hand, I have some objections, especially regarding Billy Hawkins’ argument in the conclusion, that the essays provide new insight on nationalism and the power of whiteness and resistance to whiteness. This is an argument that I have difficulties in fully accepting. Much of my hesitation rests on the fact that many of the essays deal with an historical era, which is well-documented, the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Almost half the essays deal with this period, and, in so doing, Lomax’s team is in danger of reproducing academic as well as common knowledge from that period, rather than focusing on the current state of affairs, a choice that, had it been made, would have propelled contemporary African American and Latino sports studies light years ahead.
© Halvdan Haugsbakken 2011.