Throughout this semester, we have learned each week about the countless ways that sports can inherently reflect different political, cultural, and social principles, as well as how sports and society mutually influence and shape each other. Within my digital research project, I analyzed the ways in which some primary source images of the 1930 World Cup, that took place in Uruguay, reflected how the values of a traditional Latin American culture were gradually straying away towards more modern ideologies. While researching for this project and reading about the cultural expectations of 20th century Uruguay, I immediately related the information to our discussion of Fútbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America. Within my own research, I was able to identify the societal expectations of gender, femininity, and athleticism within the context of the 1930 World Cup, and the traditional, ideological principles proved to be intrinsically similar in comparison to the cultural experiences of female football players. Additionally, both Fútbolera and the 1930 World Cup reflect a transitional period occurring transnationally throughout the 20th century, specifically in regards to the gradual modernization of social expectations. The photographs of the World Cup introduced the rising presence of female spectators and sport fans within athletic stadiums, which inherently opposes the cultural expectations of Latin American societies that traditionally restrict women within the mold of domestication and condemn any influence of masculinity. This is also representative of the collective societal reaction to Futboleras within Latin American nations, because the idea of female athletes dismissed the acceptable role and expectations of women. Both of these historical experiences reflect the reoccurring theme of our course curriculum, specifically regarding the societal influence of sports and how the traditional expectations of those sports represent the expectations of the state.

Continue reading FE-Final Exam

The readings I chose this week discussed the globally celebrated sport of Tennis, specifically focusing on the unique abilities, identities, and contributions of two tennis greats, Serena Williams and Bill Tilden. The first article, “The Meaning of Serena Williams” written by Claudia Rankine, is not simply a review of the countless trophies, awards, corporate partnerships, and athletic achievements that have become synonymous with the tennis star each time she steps on the court. While that is undoubtedly a major part of Serena’s celebrity identity and what she inherently embodies, winning at the highest level was not always apart of her journey or what people recognized about her talent. As a Black woman playing a sport that was historically identified with the white upper-class, Serena has been forced to constantly battle more than just her opponents for respect and accreditation. In order to understand why Serena’s excellence seems incomparable, it is first necessary to recognize that she has had to not only train excessively in order to become the greatest tennis player of all time, but she also has to work equally as hard to receive fair treatment from unjust officials, the media, and organizational leaders who still favor a tennis match that is dominated by skinny, blond, white women. Serena Williams was not raised in a six-figure income household that could pay for the best tennis instructor and physical therapist, nor was she born with a body-type or personality that is easily swallowed or accepted within the traditional standards of European civility. She is the opposite of everything that tennis has been defined as throughout history; ultimately, that is exactly what makes her success and her distinct excellence so unimaginable, powerful, and revolutionary. Serena William’s is the definition of black excellence, and her unapologetic nature is what will subsequently re-shape the ideals of tennis into a more inclusive, diverse, and highly competitive sport than it already is.

The second article, “Taking Punishment Gladly: Bill Tilden’s Performances of the Unruly Male Body” written by Nathan Titman, analyzes another historically prominent contributor to the game of Tennis, Bill Tilden. Tilden, a seemingly attractive, highly athletic white man, had dominated men’s tennis throughout the 1920’s and was not attacked with discriminatory messages within the media or by spectators due to his physical attributes. Instead, his internalized battle with homosexuality caused the star to oppress an innate side of himself in order to achieve his impressive athletic goals and to fit within the normative expectations of hyper-masculinity. Homophobia and the restrictive ideals of masculinity deeply influenced and structured both American society, but also competitive sports in general. Despite Tilden’s highly controversial identity being hidden away until the mid 1940’s, the author analyzes how the tennis icon’s playing style and on-court persona was indicative of his boundary-pushing existence, and the fluidity of his sexuality and gender. Although Bill Tilden undoubtedly felt the pressures of societal acceptance and held a fear of retaliation from countless different sources of power, causing him to fervently hide his true identity for decades, he was still able to achieve a ranking within the exclusive list of tennis superiority, and his iconic legacy remains undisputed among those who achieved greatness afterwards. No one could ever take away his achievements on the court, and to him, as well as for Serena Williams and countless other great athletes that faced adversity within their sport, their uniqueness and method of self-expression within a normative system is ultimately what will keep their legacy alive for generations to come.

This weeks readings were focused on defining the intrinsic, but complex relationship between politics and sport within different civilizations. The articles, “While the World Watched” and “A Dream Re-Routed” reflected an inherent and historical correlation between these two societal entities.

The first piece, written by journalist Wright Thompson, described the contextual circumstances, underlying political and humanitarian issues, and the identifiable cultural principles that majorly composed the experience and legacy of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, winning the World Cup has been considered universally to be a uniquely defining moment of historical achievement, global recognition, and unified patriotism for every participating nation. Its value has not lessened with time and within the modern era, each individual nation’s fervent desire to bring home a World Cup trophy reflects more than simply a transcontinental love for football. This athletic achievement inherently represents a unified, societal demand for globally recognized respect, and winning the World Cup will immediately cause a countries’ collective identity, political autonomy, and cultural distinctions to gain a level of undeniable credibility. This heightened level of patriotism can be easily identified within Argentinian culture in regards to their 1986 World Cup victory; but as the article details, the present-day idea of this “heroic” 1986 national team and their victorious legacy has been intentionally manipulated and emphasized in order to overshadow the prior Argentinian achievement of 1978 and the devastation it gradually became associated with. In order to accurately visualize the deeply felt trauma and cultural sensitivity that will permanently define this historical moment for many Argentineans, the author analyzes different personal experiences and memories of diverse citizens who were persecuted, censored, and subjected to unimaginable methods of torture by their own government during the late 20th century and the 1978 World Cup. These previously unknown, primary experiences that occurred within the same physical location and time period as a historically renowned event provide the audience with a better understanding of the connection between sports and politics. The World Cup is often associated with athleticism, teamwork, patriotism, and unity; but for the countless victims and survivors of the “Dirty War”, it is difficult to imagine the level of sorrow and resentment which is identified to that period of their nation’s history. It is probably more accurate to assume these survivors associate the World Cup with political exploitation, political distrust and division, and ideological discrimination instead of the other previously stated characteristics.

The second article, “A Dream Re-Routed” analyzes the experience of two teenage brothers named Lizandro and Diego Saravia, who both deeply loved the game of soccer and held a promising opportunity to play at the collegiate level in the United States (their immediate families’ home for over 8 years) before they were unexpectedly and unfortunately deported back to their native El Salvador. Both Lizandro and Diego were high school graduates and benevolent members within their local community, and their illegal emigration to the United States was a decision made by their guardians and happened when they were both too young to consent or decide their own path. Ultimately, the sole reason for the boys becoming identified by ICE, taken from their families without a chance to say goodbye, and then sent to a foreign place that was so unfamiliar and intimidating, was due to Lizandro’s truthful communication with the federal agency regarding his collegiate soccer scholarship. The authors, Priya Desai and Ben Teitelbaum, were able to present these personal experiences of the two young players in order to highlight the unjust and unfortunate connection between politics and sports that can re-shape someone’s life for the better or for the worst. Thankfully, both boys were given an opportunity to play soccer at a university in Nicaragua, but it was heartbreaking to identify the political influence of strict immigration protocols within the lives of two good-natured athletic players.

This weeks readings were focused on two sports that are historically associated with American professional leagues, Basketball and Baseball, and how these sports have become gradually decentralized, highly competitive, and socially integrative within Latin American cultures. The article, “Bolivian Ball” details the heightened presence of several African-American basketball players within the Bolivian Basketball Federation. The author, Eduardo Leal, summarizes the prior and present experiences of American athletes during their time in Bolivia, who often found themselves playing in this radically different cultural setting in response to a lack of interest from NBA teams, typically after concluding their collegiate career. Although the Bolivian league was only founded recently, their administrative willingness to value inclusivity, and to compensate athletes proficiently has identified their basketball league among American players as a second chance to become financially successful while playing the game you love. Similarly, the article, “Viva Mexico” describes the symbiotic relationship between Black or Caribbean players, and the Mexican Baseball League during the mid 20th century. Before Jackie Robinson’s historical breakthrough within the MLB in 1947, African-American and Caribbean athletes lacked many professional opportunities at home that were financially proficient, which encouraged them to accept positions on the Mexican baseball roster. Although baseball was historically central to American culture and the MLB attempted to monopolize baseball’s popularity, multiple Latin American countries, including Mexico, recognized the racial and cultural exclusivity of the MLB as its weakness against their success. Specifically, in the late 1940’s Mexican businessman Jorge Pasquel shaped the Mexican baseball league to become a major, globally recognized competitor, who challenged the MLB to try and remain the same powerhouse it once was without the integration of other races and nationalities. They couldn’t. While the Mexican baseball league gradually became identified as a threat to MLB’s monopoly at the time, the rise of Bolivian basketball has not yet intimidated the NBA towards systemic reconstruction, but that is most likely due to the NBA’s international and historical reputation for valuing inclusivity. Although both American baseball and basketball began with racially segregated barriers, the innate structure of baseball was curated to reflect American values, including white supremacy, which made any attempts for replication within Latin American countries almost impossible to perfect.

Futbolera Review

The distinctive influence of competitive football has proven to be a timelessly compelling, as well as socially integrative force across diverse populations and demographics. The accelerated development and universal popularity of both professional and amateur football are unrivaled. On an international scale, soccer has long distinguished itself as a preferential tool of congregation and celebration throughout communities of every race, socioeconomic status, age, nationality, or gender. The distinct characteristics of the sport have worked gradually to restructure its identity from simply being thought of as a social activity, centralized and embedded within a community and its culture, into a worldwide phenomenon and sacred tradition that is celebrated transnationally. Despite soccer being familiarly associated with the small, but powerful island of England, the research novel Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports In Latin America, provides an in-depth analysis of the historical prominence and complex relationship between playing football and adhering to the ideals of femininity across Latin America.

The authors, Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel, focus their writing on the shared experiences of Latinx women soccer players, also known as Futboleras, in order to shine a light on a disregarded, but widely relevant collective identity and topic within global sports history. As they admit explicitly within the book’s introduction, the authors have attempted to effectively analyze, compare, and contrast the unique pieces of evidence they have identified within their abundance of geographically diverse, but thematically linked resources. While Elsey and Nadel intend to shape a narrative that combines both sports and women’s history, due to their inclusion and analysis of personal case studies from many Latinx futboleras, the authors are equally as effective in defining the periodically relevant, cultural histories of different Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and others. Accordingly, the book Futbolera is not focused solely on detailing the continental rise of Latinx women soccer players, but it instead grapples with the uniquely layered relationship between gender and social stratification, physical education, cultural expectations, and the patriarchal policing of bodily function. By giving the audience an understanding of the distinct, societal structures and legal policies of different Latin American countries, which inherently influence the abilities of their female athletes and citizens, the authors are able to demonstrate the specific ways in which futboleras’ challenged gender hierarchies, and the countless discriminatory restrictions placed against them. Additionally, Elsey and Nadel seem to majorly highlight the 40-year prohibition of women’s soccer within Brazil, which resulted from the gradual, but socially unacceptable dispersion of women’s soccer within different racially and economically developed communities throughout Brazil. The authors are able to identify why this growing prominence of social inclusivity within women’s soccer ignited relentless backlash and then indefinite illegalization, despite relevant similarities and integrative pushes arising equally as much within Brazilian men’s football. Although this period of prohibition was central to Brazilian society during the 20th century, the authors implicitly argue that this oppressive, governmental policing of women’s bodies and athletics was inherently reflective of the patriarchal ideals that have flowed within the foundation of Latin American culture and society throughout history.

The evidence provided by Elsey and Nadel is deeply introspective and insightful, which would allow their cohesive narrative to still feel effective even if it was only focused on revealing the cultural distinctions between Latin American societies throughout the 20th century. Although the authors were able to achieve this intimidating feat, the book Futbolera receives value from its recognition of the countless, disregarded stories of Latina football players, while effectively describing these experiences within the historical context that is needed to accurately understand these achievements and challenges.  The two authors were successful in helping the readers to visualize the many achievements, failures, and challenges faced by female athletes. By implementing and analyzing primary case studies of real futboleras, which provide comparable and contrasting evidence of multiple different perspectives, Elsey and Nadel were able to effectively shape the distinct, historical context of various Latin American nations throughout the 19th and 20th century. Subsequently, the experiences of futboleras depended on the cultural principles of their nationality, and the hierarchical structure of gender within their community. Although the targeted audience of Futbolera is most likely for sports or women’s history scholars, the major themes and characteristics displayed throughout the book could be easily comprehended and enjoyed by a diverse population. The cultural values and identities that are addressed within Futbolera are deeply representative of social issues throughout the world, but as they are described through the unique lens of Elsey and Nadel, the reader is able to recognize the distinct presence of race, class, gender, government, and sport within Latin spaces.  

Emma Burdon

Appalachian State University

Week 9

This week’s readings were focused on the forgotten athletic achievements and innovative characteristics of many racially diverse sports teams within the 20th century, specifically analyzing collegiate soccer and professional baseball. The two articles, “A Black School is Not Supposed to Win” and “Cuban Babe (Ruth)”, detailed the revolutionary inclusion of POC and women within two American sports that were ideologically and culturally dominated by white supremacy. The first article resurfaces the unprecedented success of Howard Universities 1971 men’s soccer team, who became the first NCAA Division 1 champions to attend a historically and predominantly black academic institution. Although their performance against the long-time powerhouse of St. Louis University was exceptional and well-deserving of recognition, the racial and national characteristics of Howard’s soccer team became bothersome and suspicious to the NCAA. In turn, the 1971 squad was stripped of their title and this historic achievement became gradually lost within the masses. Rightfully so, the team’s head coach continued his public condemnation of the NCAA decision, and vocally identified the racial inflictions and discriminatory bias behind their actions. Although Howard’s 1971 team became a modern representation of racial subjugation within athletics, the author of this article dives deeper to effectively analyze the founding principles of American soccer and how the sport was historically structured to promote white superiority, as well as to reflect the xenophobic, racist exclusion of everyone else. To briefly summarize, the author states, “to play soccer was to be American, and to be American was to be white.” Additionally, this quote perfectly encapsulates the experience of Cuban women within Post World War II American baseball, who were recruited due to both their athletic abilities and culturally acceptable physical attributes. Baseball has historically been identified as “America’s sport”, and until the inclusion of Jackie Robinson within the MLB in 1947, baseball was similarly identified as, and dominated by, whites only. When the decision was made to involve women within professional baseball, a requirement for the league’s players were that they must at least look like they came from a white ancestry. This allowed for many light-skinned Cuban women to suddenly immigrate to America and become apart of a renowned athletic organization. Although their individual and cultural achievements within the league should not be dismissed, the new players were often marginalized and experienced discriminatory challenges from their own peers. Similar to the 1971 Howard team, both groups were forced to fit within the expectations and standards of a white authority and audience. Despite their ability to play within a sports league that failed to ever introduce their identities beforehand, the presence of true equality was minimal and ultimately suffered at the hands of a system which felt unprepared to recognize black and brown talent.

Week #6

Throughout the 20th century, the surprising but extensive rise and fall of professional American soccer can be widely characterized by ideological motivations, financial troubles, a heightened inclusion of immigrant players, and the contextual settings that influenced the sports ability to progress nationally and on the global stage. As it is often emphasized throughout this week’s readings, the history of both professional and amateur American soccer has fallen through the cracks and fails to be common knowledge for anyone except sports historians. Shockingly, 20th century American soccer players have achieved historic accomplishments that were only beaten by celebrated stars of the modern day, and American national teams are regarded with global respect due to their historic achievements on the international stage. As described in 1934: USA vs. Mexico and the “Little Truck”, when the United States triumphed against the highly-favored Mexican national team during the 1934 U.S. World Cup, it symbolized the American ability to persevere in moments of doubt and achieve greatness despite a team or players characteristics. This historic moment could be celebrated and recognized with extreme patriotism, and their team’s distinct achievement greatly reflects the American ideals that are inherent within sports and soccer specifically. The 1934 American national team was characterized by native citizens, immigrants, laborers, the bourgeoisie, communists, and capitalists; but despite their ideological differences, they were able to achieve greatness on the world stage. Unfortunately, this historic socially empowering moment is often not talked about in the modern day despite the depth of what it represents within our society. The political and ideological nature of American sports has often been publicly condemned throughout the 21st century, as we have seen with Colin Kaepernick and Lebron James in past class discussions, but the history and rise of American soccer is characterized by the inherent influences of social reform and ideological differences. In the article C’mon You Reds., the author discusses the 20th century rise of the Worker’s Soccer Association, which was an amateur, but highly successful soccer league characterized by laborers and communist ideologies. The author states, “This sport movement received publicity… A 1923 editorial argued that sport was not a social negative but inherent to capitalist exploitation. Further, athletics should not be ignored but rather employed as a tool to reach young workers.” (387) It is imperative that the American people begin to recognize the influence and historic achievements of soccer leagues within our society, but additionally we should begin to recognize the innate presence of social protest and reform within all sports. The diverse communities and demographics that have contributed to our success and dominance in athletics on a global stage have proven to be a vital element of our sports institutions. Although both historically and presently many have felt threatened by the inclusion of social and political discussions within sports, without the involvement of socioeconomic, racial, ideological, and other forms of diversity within our athletic programs, it would be impossible to ever achieve greatness.

This week’s readings were centered on the inherent social and cultural identities which majorly characterize the sports world, and how these elements have permanently interlocked entertainment and political activism. The articles analyze the experiences of two professional black athletes who were publicly ostracized, then later glorified, in response to their democratic expressions of protest and social activism. The two athletes, Boxer Muhammed Ali and NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, were the athletic stars of two different generations and they protested the cultural context of two different American settings. But their distinct methods of social activism, which came as a response to the systemic injustice and racial inequality that defined American society,  were both immediately met with harsh criticism by the media, public and political condemnation, monetary loss, and ultimately exile from their beloved sport. The similarity in their periods of exile can be easily juxtaposed, but the most powerful comparison between them lies in the widespread rationalization of their “radical” ideological beliefs that occurred later on in their careers.  Due to his refusal of being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, Muhammed Ali was regarded by most Americans, both black and white, as “unpatriotic” and a selfish traitor. Kaepernick received similar criticisms, but Ali’s experience was unique due to his actions invoking a federal legal conviction as well as being exiled from the religious and ideological community he proudly identified with. While Colin Kaepernick fortunately received support from a majority of the black community and a large cluster of his colleagues, his name and form of protest became a divisive political talking point and even resulted in his activism becoming the focus of constant scrutiny from the President of the United States, Donald Trump. These temporary, but intensive periods of vocal and printed criticism were regarded as a reflection of the common American opinion. Surprisingly, the socially deemed “radical” nature of the athletes’ ideological values gradually evolved into a politically “moderate” perspective on its own terms. This cultural shift did not occur due to a sudden change of heart; Muhammed Ali nor Colin Kaepernick ever gave into the pressure and developed beliefs that fit within the socially accepted narrative. Without sacrificing their own integrity, even when it seemed like the smartest thing to do, both athletes later on became defined as frontiersman of the sports world and leaders of their generation. Notably, many other prominent black athletes in history have spoken out against racial injustice within their own sport and society, but none of them vocalized beliefs as radical or were given the opportunity for their reputation to recover. Ali and Kaepernick could be viewed as “lucky” because the cultural context surrounding them evolved in their favor gradually overtime. The decreasing popularity of the Vietnam War in Ali’s case, and the growing political prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement for Kaepernick, allowed for these athletes to define their legacy without the potency of controversy.