This fall, I’ll be inaugurating a new course at Michigan: Comparative Literature 100: Global Sports Cultures. The aims of the course include introducing students to a necessarily narrow slice of global sports culture, familiarizing them with concepts useful in thinking critically about sports, and developing what you might call their “literary skills” as critical readers and clear, coherent, thoughtful and honest writers.
We’ll take C. L. R. James’ rhetorical question from Beyond a Boundary—“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”—as our guiding challenge. And, to meet that challenge, we’ll refer to Ben Carrington and David Andrews more fleshed out description of the tasks of students of sport:
“to think about sport as an escape from everyday life whilst understanding that no cultural activity is completely autonomous from societal constraints, to examine sport as a form of cultural struggle, resistance, and politics whilst recognizing that it is also compromised by forms of commodification, commercialization, and bureaucratic control, and to consider sport as an embodied art form that is formed in relation to both intrinsic and extrinsic goals and rewards that sometimes over-determine the stated aims of participants” (“Introduction: Sports as Escape, Struggle, and Art” from Blackwell Companions in Cultural Studies Volume 37: Companion to Sport [John Wiley and Sons, 2013])
I’ve learned so much in doing the research to prepare the course syllabus, including how much I don’t know about global sports culture and how many brilliant writers, journalists, scholars, athletes, and film and video directors there are out there who know a great deal and generously share their knowledge in interesting ways. I’m very excited to teach the course and so thought I’d share the basic reading schedule for the course, the fourteen weeks of which I’ve grouped, by lecture topic, into four broad units. Read more
I wrote most of this a few years ago. It seems much more important now (because of events I describe in my postscripts below), but I’m glad he could read it and appreciate it while he was still alive.
What is my father’s voice? What does it sound and feel like? What does it say? What difference does it make? I’ve written about how radio broadcasts would help me mute the sound of his voice as he and my mother argued and how, at a metaphorical level, my father’s desires and voice loomed as large in my childhood as Wilt Chamberlain loomed in the Philadelphia Warriors offense. But in fishing out the memories of those feelings, I’ve also snagged some other memories, other stories, and other feelings. They don’t all literally involve his voice, but the most important one does. Read more
I just finished a lunch at the Oberlin Inn with Dr. George Korkos of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his grandson Nick, a freshman on the Oberlin College football team. I had a BLT and some coffee. They both had French onion soup and a sandwich. The first big snowfall of the year swirled wildly outside. It is not a distinguished restaurant. In fact, to be honest, it’s about the last place in town that I’d choose to eat.
We met at noon. Tired from a week that included three round-trip commutes from Oberlin to my job in Ann Arbor, I had only just woken up an hour before to see the text from my friend, Oberlin football coach Jeff Ramsey, that Dr. Korkos wanted to meet me at noon. I treasure my morning routine and was somewhat put out that this lunch was on my schedule. But Jeff had gone out of his way to arrange this and so, much as I wanted to just stay warm in my pajamas and robe, enjoying my coffee and breakfast with my wife, I hustled to get dressed and shuffle out into the snow and wind.
You see, Dr. George Korkos, together with his friend Wesley Pavalon, raised the funds through an IPO to found the expansion Milwaukee Bucks in 1968. The Bucks – I have told the story more than once – figured enormously in my early childhood, stimulating and populating my imagination as I learned the game in my driveway, playing alone, against my siblings and father, or neighborhood friends. Read more
A friend put this image on my Facebook wall the other day. I’m pretty sure she was being ironic. Maybe she remembered that I’d written before what I imagined would one day be the opening salvo in my basketball autobiography “My Life as a Point Guard” — an introductory rumination called “Between Jesus and Wilt Chamberlain.” This image comes from what seems to be a Catholic church affiliated website selling “inspirational gifts, books, and church supplies.” This particular item, called “Jesus Sports Statue Basketball,” is recommended as “a wonderful way to encourage your young athlete on the court and in their faith as well.” It “serves as a contemporary reminder that Jesus is with your child in basketball and in all that they do.” Read more
Tony, my oldest sibling, is nine years older than I. As a boy, I idolized him completely. It wasn’t one thing in particular about him that I idolized, it was just his way of being in the world: energetic, confident, attractive, imaginative, and spectacular in both success and failure. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about Tony’s life when I was young, a lot about his struggles that I didn’t really discover, let alone understand, until much later. Read more
Which came first, the comforting feel of the ball in my hands or my ability to keep it in my hands? I don’t know. But I know I don’t remember ever feeling bad with a basketball in my hand. To this day, there is some mysterious connection that occurs when I pick up the ball, a current that begins to flow. It is the life in basketball. Read more
“There needs to be discussion among people who think of themselves as white. They need to unpack that language, that history, that social position and see what it really offers them, and what it takes away from them. As James Baldwin said, ‘As long as you think that you are white, there is no hope for you.’” – Steve Locke, “Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race”
A little over a year ago, I rediscovered my basketball joy on the outdoor courts at Heman Park in University City, Missouri (a suburb adjacent to the city of St. Louis). Over the course of the past year, I played pick-up at Heman as often as my hectic work commute, injuries to my ankle and hand, and weather would permit. When only weather stood in the way, I played ball on the courts in the park’s indoor gymnasium. Even when I couldn’t play at all because of injury, I’d go just to be around the game, and the guys who were playing it. Read more