Is there evidence of successful communist sporting leagues or organizations which developed through sport to positively impact members and surrounding communities?

Communism in America is a tale filled with fear-mongering and government attempts to discourage its ideology. Historically, America has represented the antithesis of communism: a flourishing democracy, hailing a triumphant capitalistic economy with private ownership, whose citizens recognize the evils of the rule of the proletariat. However, Gabe Logan’s C’mon You Reds presents a new narrative of communism in America. Worker’s Soccer Leagues, or communist soccer leagues, organized soccer games for recreational play at low costs and in doing so made notable contributions to the surrounding community in the name of communism. This project aims to rediscover communism in America through sports and re-structure the narrative of American communism to reflect the positive contributions made. 

TIMELINE JS, – Changing the Narrative of American Communism

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My chosen topic was centered on the connections in Communism and American Sports. My research was process-oriented and could be summed up by the following question: Is there evidence of successful communist sporting leagues or organizations which developed through sport to positively impact members and surrounding communities? In the answer to that question, I relied heavily on one of our readings: C’mon You Reds: The U.S. Communist Party’s Workers’ Soccer Association by Gabe Logan. C’mon You Reds was relevant to our discussion on the establishment of organized soccer leagues in America. The reading brought to my attention the involvement of the United State’s Communist Party in facilitating workers soccer leagues. Furthermore, it brought to my attention the shortcomings of our educational system in the success of communism. Typically, communism in America is a tale filled with fear-mongering and government attempts to discourage its ideology. Historically, America has represented the antithesis of communism: a flourishing democracy, hailing a triumphant capitalistic economy with private ownership, whose citizens recognize the evils of the rule of the proletariat. However, Gabe Logan’s C’mon You Reds presents a new narrative of communism in America. Worker’s Soccer Leagues, or communist soccer leagues, organized soccer games for recreational play at low costs and in doing so made notable contributions to the surrounding community in the name of communism. My project aimed to rediscover communism in America through sports and re-structure the narrative of American communism to reflect the positive contributions made.

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Don’t Dismiss the Washington Football Report as Just Another Problem With the Franchise, by Clair McNear, ends asking readers one important question: “Is there any franchise where revelations of a toxic, abusive, or sexist culture would surprise you?” To answer her, I respond no. If we were to expand her question to all sports- “Is there any sport or organization where revelations of a toxic, abusive, or sexist culture would surprise you?” I again would answer no. I am not surprised by the sexist culture at the Washington Redskins Franchise, I am not surprised by the abuse in USA Women’s Gymnastics, I am not surprised at how many toxic men were outed by the #MeToo movement. I’m not surprised anymore when it comes to harassment, sexual assault, rape, etc. As women, we are used to these words, these circumstances, this treatment. I don’ t remember who it was but one of my classmates asked our guest speaker Katie Taylor who was speaking on her article, “Here’s the Football Heroine,” if she had come across reports of women or girls being abused or taken advantage of when playing games against male teams. Taylor hadn’t, but I thought the question was of considerable importance. It made me wonder, in sports history, is there anyone studying the abuses of women in the sporting world? We’ve discussed gender pay and general recognition inequality in sports. We’ve read Futbolera which focuses on women and how their bodies were controlled by men leaving sport as an avenue to push boundaries. But we haven’t so far encountered a specific focus of Sports History that focuses on the physical or mental abuse women have encountered in sport. Perhaps this is because finding evidence in history can be daunting, for who would record evidence of sexual assault- but maybe mental or physical abuse/toxic culture would be more likely to be documented in the way officials or coaches micro-managed female athletes from their food to their clothes to their ability to live a ‘normal’ life. After writing and taking a moment to collect my thoughts, it makes sense that there might be an area of sociological or psychological academia already committed to this avenue of research but maybe sports history could blend its way into that academic field to make it more specialized. I think it’s an important topic which should be covered by the sports history field.

The readings this week presented multiple stories that highlighted the relationship of sports and politics. The world of sports can feel separate or distinct from political realms. Theoretically, there is no politics in sports. Soccer, football, Nascar, so on and so forth are all ‘games,’ meant to be played for ‘fun,’ as leisure activities that do not require extreme intelligence or analysis. In many instances of political unrest, sports have provided an escape for fans, players, coaches accounted in beloved sports stories and shared through the years. For many, when politics or associated tragedies have touched every aspect of one’s life, the sporting realm has remained a neutral space of ease and entertainment. However, as evidenced by this week’s readings, there are equal anecdotal experiences where politics have been deeply embedded in sports. The reading A Dream Re-Routed, for example, details the direct consequences of the changing deportation priorities under the Trump administration even while the main focus of the story, Lizandro Saravia, “refuses to connect the dots” between politics and his current circumstances. While the World Watched focuses on the experiences of Norberto Liwski during the 1978 World Cup while he was being tortured by the reigning military regime for attempting to aid those without healthcare and holding leftist beliefs which differed from the regime. The article outlines stories similar to Liwski, each explaining how soccer and the World Cup have come to represent the worst moments of their lives. “The King, the Young Prince, and the Last Confederate Soldier: NASCAR on the Cusp,” from The Sporting World of the Modern South outlines the cultural representations and political ideologies that dominate the sport: the old South, the last confederate soldier, and the southern code of honor. It also details the lack of representation for many minorities which make up the American populus: women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinx-Americans. Nascar’s ties to Confederate ideologies and the old South make the sport undoubtedly tied to political movements that have caused terror and tragedy in the lives of many Americans. Even more recently, the sport has seen unrest in the wake of the political movement Black Lives Matter as fans wrestle with the sports discriminatory and racist past. One notable difference in the readings is the organized use of the sports to aid or further political movements as written about in While the World Watched. The other two readings made less of a connection compared to the aforementioned. Overall, I thought the greatest takeaway from this week’s readings came in the conclusion that sports played on a national level always have a tie to politics. Even when we may use them as an escape or entertainment, there is a connection at the level of organization, player personal experience, and in monetary funding. This has been a common theme or lesson in most of the readings or material we’ve interacted with in this course, but A Dream Re-Routed, While the World Watched, and “The King, the Young Prince, and the Last Confederate Soldier: NASCAR on the Cusp,” have really driven that fact home.

The readings this week centered around sports and cultures. Furthermore, the readings Borderball with Club Tijuana and Defenders of National Honor deal with the difficulties and spectaculars that occur when national identity, national culture, and sports culture blend. Defenders of National Honor, for example, details the emergence of Cuba from Spanish rule. “Playing baseball separated being Cuban from being Spanish.” As Gerald R. Gems writes, “[S]port became a political tool of accommodation or resistance to the dominant power or a means to greater nationalistic identity.” Some decades later, due to US occupation of the island following the Spanish-American war, football became the sport of focus as it spread amongst the upper-middle class. The Defenders’ article really focuses on this moment, as sports-clubs began to dual US military teams and academia can pin-point the moment football began to take root in Cuba. Of particular interest to me was the attention given by three institutions, the University of Havana, the Vedado Tennis Club, and the Havana YMCA, which author Wood credit with helping “spread and formalize” American football in the culture. Similarly, author Alicia Rodriguez of Borderball gives credit to Club Tijuana for its dominance of fanship in the California region in their strategy of recruiting players with dual citizenship in Mexico/America so they can keep their roster open to more international players while setting themselves up to pull American fans with American players. Here I found a link between the two articles, as both show that sports and organization heavily relied on Club organization and maintenance for success. The Defenders’ continues to detail the dominance Cuba had in Football, establishing a national and international reputation of success on the football field. However, as the article notes, this ended in 1956 with the revolution. After the fall of Batista’s regime, “the liquidation of Havana’s social athletic clubs ended their influence on the island’s sport culture.” Following, the identity built and fostered by Cuban dominance in the sport began to fade. Likewise, Borderball notes Club Tijuana’s lack of play-off finishes in recent years. All in all, I concluded that sports can bridge divides, merge cultures, enflate national feeling and help nations feel strong when they’ve just got on their feet. But I’ve also learned that sports can only do this when they have the structure and support and government security to do so.

The newly released monograph Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America focuses on women’s roles in sport in order to understand “the ideologies of gender, class, race, and sexuality” throughout Latin American history. While authors Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel discuss female participation in a variety of sports (basketball, track, volleyball, tennis, etc.), their examination of the most popular game in Latin America, soccer, allows Elsey and Nadel to map the comprehensive attitude and treatment toward women in organized play. Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico are main focal points in the monograph’s study, however, conversation extends to Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador as well. Futbolera, highlights existing, or in some cases lacking, evidence in order to record the available data of Latin American women in sports and situate their role in national identity, political, ethnic, and social class formation. Elsey and Nadel’s monograph is a comprehensive history of women’s sport in Latin America. 

Futbolera is organized both chronologically and geographically, beginning with the necessary history of state organization in Argentina and Chile countries (among other Latin American countries) in order to give readers an understanding of how organized play began in Latin America. Moving from the 1880’s origins of the Southern cone sport history, Elsey and Nadel document emerging movements and laws on female sport participation in their examination of Brazilian soccer culture beginning in the 1920’s. They continue with this focus on Brazilian Women’s soccer regulation and acceptance to the year 2000. When the authors shift focus to Mexico and Central America, governments play a much larger role in dominating women’s sport regulation, especially in soccer. Mexican political shifts, specifically aimed to control female play and organization to produce the state preferred citizen. This final focus of the book is spent detailing the success and failure of the Mexican Federation of Women’s Soccer, as it received unprecedented support and attention at the 1971 Amatuer World Championship, but was cut off at the knees in the following years as it was absorbed by the Mexican Football Association.  

As the authors note, their study of women in sports involves women in underground communities outside of the political domain. Their data cannot rely, therefore, on the same evidence typically used in historical research. Rather, Elsey and Nadel utilize media documentations or press reports, government documents from physical education departments, club documents, photographs, fan websites, and oral histories. The search for evidence in female sport’s history is “akin to searching for needles in a haystack” as put by Nadel and Elsey. Nonetheless, Elsey and Nadel provide useful documentation to support their arguments extently. In discussions of male or dominating opinion to gauge overwhelming regard for females in the sport, Elsey and Nadel draw conclusions from press articles, statements made by coaching and club officials, and other documented efforts written mostly (if not exclusively)  by men to shame or distance themselves from women’s sports. This remains the ritual to support arguments or conclusions drawn from Elsey and Nadel’s research throughout the entirety of the monograph.

The first chapter, Physical Education and Women’s Sports in Argentina and Chile, is particularly relevant to physical education teachers of the modern era, or educators in general who find sports history interesting. Overwhelmingly, physical education began as an extension of the state agency’s aim to create more desirable citizens in these nations and, in turn, most Latin American nations adopted organized sports of developed european countries that they both admired or had influencing ideals from. Here the authors note the first verifiable difference in organized game play of males and females, as girls were expected to participate in sports which enhanced their beauty and appeal to males. Additionally, female physical education teachers frequently found themselves at odds with their male colleagues or the male dominated institutions which ran educational and sport programs. Most educators, including myself, might be unaware of the role the education department played in organized sport and the beginning discrmination towards female participation. Elsey and Nadel’s connection reminds all the importance of recognizing moments in history where unequal values were not only in place, but actively advocated for. Elsey and Nadel end their monograph with an epilogue detailing continued struggles and signs of change in the modern female sport experience. 

The only issues found in this work lay in the sheer amount of content covered, geographically and thematically. For a reader new to the subject of sports history, the volume of information available on one page of the monograph can be overwhelming, especially as the authors change timeline, nation, or focus seemingly in the span of a sentence. Based on the currently limited, although growing, plethora of sports history academia one might be able to argue the decision to cover so much ground in one book was to provide as much scholarship to the academic focus as possible. Increased marketability could factor in as well, being that Futbolera serves as to give insight to both the history of women’s soccer and the general experience of women in Latin America.  Nonetheless, it can be hard to keep ideas connected, more difficult still when the reader lacks scholarly knowledge of Latin American history, sports history, or gender history. Therefore, this book is recommended to readers with at least a good grasp of the history of both Latin America and organized sport. To a consumer who’s somewhat familiar with the information presented in Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel’s monograph, Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America provides an all encompassing timeline by geographical location to the historical and social experiences of Latin American women in the sporting world. 

Shiloh Lovette

Appalachian State University

It’s safe to say, based on class discussion and analyzed articles, that sports can have a monumental impact on a country’s reputation or identity- both domestically and on the international stage. As discussed in class, countries can be entirely identified by their sports: Brazil with soccer, the US with football, Russia with gymnastics, etc. These identifications are subject to change, as is any reputation gained if not maintained. In these instances, it can be surprising or intriguing to see a country rise to superpower status in a realm of sports it was once docile. Likewise, it’s surprising or intriguing to watch a country fall from grace in a sport it once dominated. It seems the latter is applicable to the story of the United States and soccer- and to add even more intrigue, the success of US soccer leagues has been forgotten altogether in modern US Sport culture. In some instances, the documentation of such histories has fallen on single individuals alone, such Pastor Daniel Paul Morrison whose interest in his ancestry can be pinpointed as the sole reason for the recorded history of the Bethlehem Steel’s soccer league. 

Prior to reading A Stumbling Start for U.S. Pro Soccer, I wouldn’t have believed anyone (besides an academic like Dr. Sibaja) who claimed the first two professional soccer leagues formed outside of the British Isles existed in the United States. In fact, based on my own understanding of American fan-ship and consumption in regard to soccer, I’d oppositely believe American soccer had a relatively short and recent history on the North American continent (excluding Mexico- but I’d grant this connection to it’s Spanish ancestry and my own association of soccer with Hispanic and Latinx culture). To find out from 1934: USA vs. Mexico and the “Little Truck” that the US not only played Mexico in a World Cup as early as 1934 but that we beat them was a shock to my aforementioned assumptions. As was the fact that an Appalachian soccer player still holds the record for most goals scored in a college season as discussed in class and previous weeks readings. I still have questions about the fall of soccer from the American preference for sports. I’m interested in academic speculation around the issue. As documented in C’mon You Reds, the failure of many U.S. soccer leagues came from monetary issues. Likewise, A Stumbling Start for U.S. Pro Soccer documents the fall of the first American soccer leagues due to a lack of understanding of the games consuming fan-base. I was interested to find out most teams were associated with Baseball tycoons- I would think personally soccer would have closer ties with American Football leagues as they play on the same kinds of fields, but I’m uneducated on the beginning organization and history of American Football compared to Baseball and Soccer. I also have remaining questions about the decline of the American Communist Soccer League- which was surprisingly tied to American businesses. This history documented in C’mon You Reds seems to shed new light on the rise of communist ideals and support in American history; the international relations of communist and socialist parties and their stances on Hitler’s regimes also surprised me… Here I see an amazing resource in the classroom for discussing communism and socialism in American in comparison to communism in Europe/Germany. I was also surprised by the amount of philanthropy undertaken by the Worker’s Soccer Association. I would love to work that into a lesson in regards to Communism v. Democracy v. Socialistic ideals and implementations. Overall, this week provided an immense amount of information surrounding the unknown history of soccer and its impact in American history. I hope we read more articles which go into the details of why the sport seems to have been ‘forgotten’ in American sports history.

The readings this week centered on questions our class itself seems to constantly return to: what has political activism looked like in sports historically and why does the media/general public limit athletes in their political activism? Stephen Townsend, Gary Osmon, and Murray Phillips partly answer the first question in their case study of Muhammad Ali. Unlike sports activists which cover our newspapers in modern moments, the actions and beliefs Muhammad Ali held which sprouted controversy were multi-faceted. Whereas Colin Kaepernick found divisive fame around the conversation of one issue, Ali’s divisive fame included topics like race, religion, and anti-war sentiments. I was unaware of the complexity of Muhammad Ali’s story prior to this article, although I knew he remains a black power icon and, moreover, an icon to all for remaining true to his personal beliefs during the height of his fame. The idea of a black, Muslim, anti-war athlete finding success in the 1960s seems… impossible, given the climate of race-relations at the time. Yes, the Civil Rights movement was passed in 1964, but we know as historians that it can take years (or in this case decades) for culture and climate to match up with law. As made obvious by the actions of Kaepernick and greater societal conversation, structural and systemic institutions remain in misalignment with the law either. Muhammad Ali’s story is one of eventual success, as pointed out by Townsend, Osmon, and Phillips, who find extreme interest in examining this success through the eyes of the journalists and press who covered Muhammad Ali. Unlike our ever-expanding landscape of media outlets, the press was the main medium for consumption of news at the height of Ali’s fame. The aforementioned authors highlight Muhammad Ali’s eventual acceptance by even journalists who claimed to hate him the most, such as Authur Daley. However, my understanding of this acceptance is that it came as the greater public’s perception of race and war sentiments began changing- and while they didn’t shift enough to meet Muhammad Ali’s stances, Townsend, Osmon, and Phillips point out that at the same time, Ali found success and gained respect in the boxing world and lost his radical edge to his views. I believe Muhammad Ali’s eventual acceptance reflects a slight shift in cultural values, paired with a willingness to hear his words because of his athletic success and less aggressive stance, rather than a true acceptance of his beliefs. Using the article Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick and other background knowledge to compare the two athletes, one similarity between the two is their eventual acceptance by the media. Kaepernick has been mostly accepted by big media outlets, such as The Ringer,The New York TimesCNNThe Guardian, etc. Even major brands such as Nike, as pointed out by the article Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick, provide evidence for an acceptance of his beliefs and actions. Despite this acceptance, Kaepernick remains a divisive figure. This leads me to the conclusion that the greater public hasn’t shifted its cultural views on police brutality- his original reason for protesting.  Perhaps the media is ready to use Kaepernick’s face and support him because they truly believe in his cause, or they’re scared to be the last ones to condemn police brutality, or as pointed out by Michael Baumann, it’s a business strategy (Nike). 

Differences between the two athletes include Kaepernick’s similarity to Smith and Carlos. All three athletes were pushed from their sports and place in the public eye at the very moment their radical actions became public attention. The aforementioned athletes’ identity as a human being lost its significance, especially once the media turns their actions into a conversation on the controversy of the act rather than the intention of the action. Ali, alternatively, remained in the public sphere even when banned from the boxing ring. Everything discussed to thus far serves to answer the question of what political activism has looked like in sports historically. But why does the media/general public limit athletes in their political activism? Take Lebron James for example, who was told by Fox News Host Laura Ingraham to “shut up and dribble” when he spoke out in agreeance with Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Based on our readings and class discussions, I argue athletes (and more so BIPOC athletes) are seen as commodities first and foremost- whose status and popularity can bring their organizations and sponsors infinite monetary gain. Mahammad Ali in the public sphere was seen as a boxer first, Kaepernick a quarterback first, Lebron James a basketball player first. It’s true that athletes of higher power status, icons, have greater protection and bargaining power with the public and it would be easier to recover from speaking out and receiving backlash; but regardless all athletes are seen as commodities- bodies with great athleticism meant to entertain, compete, inspire, and make money. So then, if athletes are seen as useful or valuable things which can be used for profit, what happens when they speak out on injustice? Injustice perpetrated by the very state which funds and consumes their careers? Injustice a majority of their base or their sponsors’ base refuses to acknowledge? The obvious solution for those who disagree with their narrative, the solution for their sponsors, the solution for their institutions: silence. As a society, especially in the United States, we need to see athletes as human beings first- particularly in regard to BIPOC athletes who have experienced structural and systemic racism or whose communities have been victims of disenfranchisement by the state for centuries. 

As a historian, I love a good story. As a future educator, I love discussions of how to better introduce topics and ideas to students. Both authors, Louis Moore and Josh Howard, have great narratives about coming to their own realizations on what it looks like to have a career in sports history and how to reach the greater communities with the knowledge they’ve gained. In these realizations, Moore and Howard both highlight the constructive impact sports history can have on students and communities’ overall understanding of history, both nationally and locally. 

In Clifton Forge and Back Again, Howard presses the idea that sports history has direct ties to local history in many communities. Many topics which are often taught in a classroom setting can be used to pull learners closer to the subject at hand by getting them interested with local history or subjects that interest them. Howard uses multiple examples, including the State of Utah’s Soccer team, the minor league baseball team the Mobile May Bears, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In each of these examples Howard notes the shortcomings of sports leadership that fail to use their own local history to draw fans and build knowledge of the community they come from. Similarly, in Louis Moore’s article, When I Fell in Love with Sports History, Moore recognizes the value of teaching students about topics, such as race, using sport history. This part of the article specifically reminded me of our Tuesday class discussion.

Another note of connection between the two articles was their push and praise for digital history. Louis Moore discusses the ability of sports history to spread knowledge of the black experience in America, specifically mentioning his use of Twitter as an “extended classroom.” Moore notes the impact of his story map to document black athlete discrimination, which has received much praise and over 166,000 twitter impressions. Likewise, Josh Howard touches on the use of sports history blogs to spread information to the public; an avenue he felt most allowed his own personal experience in the history realm to thrive. The discussion of digital history in both cases serve as a reminder of how important the internet or digitized information can be to universal learning of all ages.

Hello! My name is Shiloh Lovette and I’m a junior in the History Education department here at App State. I’m from Wallburg, North Carolina (it seems like a lot of us are from small towns); you’re more likely to know where High Point is, so I also claim that city. My area of focus in History is at the Secondary level- so ultimately I’m excited to find ways to work the information from this class into my high school curriculum in order to better aid my students and hopefully peak their interest! There are so many lenses through which to look at history, sports will be fun. I have pretty lacking knowledge in the history of South America and look forward to learning about it. I don’t have a favorite sport or a favorite team but there’s a special place in my heart for sports stories of triumph.