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Reconstructing Fame

Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations

Publication Year: 2008

With contributions by Prosper Godonoo, Urla Hill, C. Richard King, David J. Leonard, Jack Lule, Murry Nelson, David C. Ogden, Robert W. Reising, and Joel Nathan Rosen Reconstructing Fame: Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations includes essays on Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Curt Flood, Paul Robeson, Jim Thorpe, Bill Russell, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos. The essayists in this volume write about twentieth-century athletes whose careers were affected by racism and whose post-career reputations have improved as society's understanding of race changed. Contributors attempt to clarify the stories of these sports stars and their places as twentieth-century icons by analyzing the various myths that surround them. When media, fans, sports leagues, and the athletes themselves commemorate sports legends, shifts in popular perceptions often serve to obscure an athlete's role in history. Such revisions can lack coherence and trivialize the efforts of some legendary competitors and those associated with them. Adding racial tensions to this process further complicates the task of preserving the valuable achievements of key players.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

In his underappreciated ethnography, Cooperstown to Dyersville, Charles Fruehling Springwood maps the shape and significance of collective memory at the close of the twentieth century.1 Contrasting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and its official account of the sport’s past with the transformation of the location where Field of Dreams2 was filmed into a popular and ephemeral tourist attraction charged with individual recollections of the family and personal connections to the game, he examines a pervasive nostalgia projected through baseball and remembrances of it. ...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

As is so often the case, those of us who write tend to gravitate toward projects that are spurred on by the fact that so few things out there tell the story precisely the way we would like to tell it. Such is the case with this initial salvo of our proposed multivolume series on sport and reputation. What had begun as a succinct yet admittedly terse examination of a trend toward lionizing baseball’s Jackie Robinson ...

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Introduction: Examining Reputations within a Cultural Context

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pp. xv-xxiv

Dating back to earliest developments in both oral and written traditions, the concept of the reputation has served as a useful tool in terms of defining the natures and conditions of a given order by serving as a core around which history is created. Consciously or otherwise, societies and cultures have long used reputations to construct their own cherished myths and legends. As sociologist Gary Alan Fine, ...


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Constructing Banality: The Trivialization of the Jackie Robinson Legacy

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pp. 3-15

In the days leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the colorline in baseball in 1947, veteran Major League Baseball star (and conceivably borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate) Frank Thomas was asked if he ever pondered Jackie Robinson’s role in setting the stage for modern American sport. To the bewilderment (read: disgust) of many, Thomas responded almost stoically, ...

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Roberto Clemente: From Ignominy to Icon

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pp. 16-28

Roberto Clemente was both an enigma and a contradiction. Accused of being a hypochondriac, he played through considerable pain. Labeled a showboat, Clemente displayed defensive excellence and eccentricities, including his Mays-like basket catches, a style of play that evolved from his practice habits as a child. Dubbed a malcontent, Clemente became the on- and off-field leader of a team destined to be world champions. ...


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Curt Flood: “Death Is a Slave’s Freedom”: His Fight against Baseball, History, and White Supremacy

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pp. 31-47

With one letter to then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Curt Flood forever changed his life and eventually the way that Major League Baseball conducted business: After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States. ...

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Paul Robeson: Honor and the Politics of Dignity

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pp. 48-91

Scholar, activist, and performer par excellence—Paul Robeson was the first twentieth-century African American to be both a popular cultural icon and a hero. A Renaissance man in every sense but long before it would ever be applied to an African American, Robeson became a commodified symbol of blackness that whites felt comfortable consuming while also proving himself to be a fitting and emblematic voice for a community longing for the sort of leader who would not give in to either white authority or oppression. ...

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Remaking an Overlooked Icon: The Reconstruction of Jim Thorpe

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pp. 67-83

Born in the turbulent 1960s, both Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders took advantage of pre-professional baseball and football success as well as dispositions that attracted and valued media hype to become national celebrities—almost cult figures—on whom the sports spotlight could never shine brightly and frequently enough. Pocketing millions because of their athletic talents and no less for their endorsements and public appearances, this dynamic duo set a standard for public adulation that will be difficult, indeed, to match. ...


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Bill Russell: From Revulsion to Resurrection

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pp. 87-101

In the 1960s, Bill Russell was considered by most to be the most dominant player in basketball. His Boston Celtics were the undisputed champions of the sport and exemplified the competitive zeal so storied in American lore. Yet Russell was largely disliked by many fans and often excoriated in the media. His seemingly somber demeanor, his outspokenness, particularly on issues of race and racial equality, and his intimidating presence won him very few friends, though he quickly won the respect of his peers. ...

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Racing after Smith and Carlos: Revisiting Those Fists Some Forty Years Hence

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pp. 102-126

While holding a discussion on the power of photography with a high school journalism class during the 2000–01 academic year, I pulled out the 1996 Olympic issue of American Photographer, which featured a color photo of San José State College sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s so-called black power protest on the winners’ podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.2 ...

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Afterword: The Globalization of Vilification; The Localization of Redemption

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pp. 127-132

In 476 B.C., in Olympian Ode 1, Pindar chronicled the disgrace of Tantalus. “If indeed the watchers of Olympus ever honored a mortal man, that man was Tantalus,” Pindar wrote. But Tantalus, despite his great powers, prowess, and prosperity, lusted for more. He stole nectar and ambrosia from the gods and gave them to his drinking companions. Because of his greed, he earned overpowering ruin and a helpless life of never-ending labor. ...


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pp. 133-134


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pp. 135-140

E-ISBN-13: 9781617030444
E-ISBN-10: 1617030449
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604730913
Print-ISBN-10: 1604730919

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2008