With the help of several top scholars from the sport history community, Daniel A. Nathan has tackled a large subject: the role of sport in building community and identity. He correctly admits that no single volume can encompass all that can be written on the subject, but the fourteen essays in this compilation make a good start.
The authors of the essays have collectively written or edited forty-four books of their own, along with numerous articles in the academic and popular press, but also include two newcomers to the field. Their contributions range from traditional academic efforts such as Mark Dyreson’s analysis of the groundbreaking sociological work Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929) by Robert and Helen Lynd, which placed basketball at the cultural center of Muncie, Indiana, to more deeply personal treatments such as the chapter by Susan Cahn, who writes about the community she found playing pickup basketball at a Buffalo, New York, recreation center.
Among the topics explored are: 1920s Thanksgiving Day football games between Howard and Lincoln universities, golfer Bobby Jones and southern identity, the media’s creation of so-called football towns, Iowa girl’s six-on-six basketball, Chicago sixteen-inch softball leagues, Baltimore’s identification with the Colts before the team’s relocation, the importance of announcer Vin Scully for Dodger fans, Red Sox Nation, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s Happy Valley before the scandals, Kansas basketball, the hidden life of Philadelphia fans, and the cult-like presentation of boxer Mickey Ward in Massachusetts.
As with any compilation, some efforts succeed better than others. [End Page 154] Especially effective are the essays on Scully, whose importance to baseball extends well beyond the Dodgers, and the exploration of how former six-on-six basketball players have formed a Facebook community dedicated to remembrance and nostalgia for the lost game. The attempt to contrast the image of Bobby Jones with that of post-scandal Tiger Woods is not as successful; the idea fades before it can be fully explored. Likewise, the attempt to flesh out the picture of the notorious fans in Philadelphia also fails to produce much that is particularly enlightening. As a whole, however, all essays do manage to succeed in their aim of describing the role of sports in building community and identity.
The main critique of the work is not for what it contains but for what it lacks. From a scholarly point of view, the essay on Red Sox Nation only lightly touches on the efforts by the team’s management to aggressively market the idea of a community formed around the team. Greater consideration of building community and identity as a marketing strategy would have nicely expanded the scope of the works’ explorations. In addition, the essays uniformly hold that the communities and identities built around sports are positive. There is no consideration of the bizarre, immoral, and often illegal behavior spawned by too closely tying identity to a community based on sport.
From a personal point of view, the absence of any consideration of Husker Nation is a significant slight. This is where the general reader will most likely leave the work unsatisfied—when their particular “nation” is left on the sidelines. So too might fans of NASCAR, hockey, and other sports that did not make the cut for inclusion find this volume incomplete.
Nathan chose his contributors well, and the essays are uniformly engaging and interesting. He provides interesting analysis in his introduction and afterword, which bring together, with some success, the disparate subjects. Rooting for the Home Team will add rhetorical evidence to the widely held narrative that community and identity can be built and maintained by sports teams. This volume, therefore, is a good start, one that others might add to by considering other [End Page 155] communities and identities, as well as exploring whether communities and identities dependent on sport always have positive outcomes.
RUSS CRAWFORD teaches history...