- New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City ed. by Stephen H. Norwood
For any other city, refined high society would not successfully amalgamate with the more egalitarian sports culture. However, New York City is, of course, an exceptional place where opportunity comes to all. Headquartering seven major professional sports, New York ranks among the top most important cities for sports in the United States. Accordingly, the history of sports culture in this city is as diverse as the population of her expansive cosmopolitan area. Befitting its nickname, the Empire City, New York can claim many firsts, both in incomparable opportunities for rookies and in sport history. In New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City, Stephen H. Norwood compiles a collection of essays that explore the more historically pivotal sport events in New York from baseball, football, basketball, boxing, and racing (both horse and human). Additionally, this anthology includes analysis into the effects of time and space within a crowded metropolitan area, explaining how architecture and environment are instrumental in the success or failure of certain teams. Also, the text explores how social issues of class, ethnicity, gender, and racial integration into select sports left fans and teammates justifying that acceptance of diverse athletes equated with ideals about Americanization.
Much focus is directed toward baseball, which secured New York’s place in history with a decade of “seventeen of twenty-two possible appearances in the World Series” between 1947 and 1957 (23). Yet the glamour of New York could not be better symbolized by anyone but the New York Jets football star Joe Namath. Eunice G. Pollack explains how Namath’s off-field exploits led him to become the highest-paid football star, signed in 1965 for $427,000 (107). His taste for Johnnie Walker Red, women, and mink coats increased ticket sales by three times in one season, indicating that athletes rarely became superstars on skill alone.
Whereas, in baseball, players rose up from neighborhoods throughout the boroughs, the city also drew in talent due to select venues like Madison Square Garden, which became a “mecca” for basketball, hosting the NCAA tournament seven times from 1943 to 1950, ending only with revelation of a major point-shaving scandal primarily involving local schools (151). Similarly, the Garden would prove a key location for change in women’s basketball. As Dennis Gildea briefly discusses, the shift came in 1975, when “more than 7,000 people left the arena before the second game of a double-header” men’s game to watch the first women’s game played before a crowd of nearly 12,000 people. This interest, by 1997, led to the formation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (164).
In a city with such ethnic diversity and extreme class difference, New York became an example for other cities, albeit not without progress. The question of separating politics and sport, like taking a knee during the national anthem, is not a new occurrence. Women first running the New York City Marathon were welcomed, yet when producers offered a ten-minute head start to them in 1972, they protested. Maureen M. Smith explains how this act reflected the way sports are part of social change (173). Class stratification, too, was [End Page 126] centered in the Big Apple. “New York City was the birthplace of public golf in the United States . . . attracting enthusiasts from a startling array of classes and communities” (245). From revealing the falsehood that Jewish athletes are inferior to incorporating Sicilian immigrants into American sports to breaking racial barriers, the way sports in New York advanced socially contentious issues, issues that still resonate in professional sports today, finds historical foundation in this text.
As Norwood states, “[M]ore memorable events in sports have occurred in New York than in any other city” (4), evident in the selections in this anthology but also, perhaps too many for full inclusion in the...