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Reviewed by:
  • Sports in Chicago
  • Robert Pruter
Gorn, Elliott J., ed. Sports in Chicago. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Pp. x+322. Illustrations, bibliographies, index, and author backgrounds. $75.00 hb, $24.95 pb.

Sports in Chicago is a collection of fourteen essays covering various areas of sports and recreations in the Chicago area from the late nineteenth century to the present day. There is no intention at being all inclusive. Rather, the logic of the collection is to touch on a number of topics that can reveal the wide variety of sports in the city from the highest professional level to the lowest amateur level, and see how the city's power groups and various ethnic and religious groups—notably Jews, Catholics, African Americans, and Eastern Europeans—all made use of sports. This 2008 collection was published in conjunction with the Chicago Historical Society (now Chicago History Museum) exhibit on sports held from March of 2003 to January of 2004. The book's editor, Elliott J. Gorn, also served as the principal academic consultant for the exhibit, which was reviewed in the fall 2004 issue of this journal.

Sports in Chicago rightly opens with an overview article by Gerald Gems, "Sport and Identity in Chicago," an excellent essay that provides the reader with a full sense of all those involved in sports and recreations in the city. The importance of sport to the identity of Chicago is most manifest in the success and failure of its professional teams, so it is disappointing that the editor did not insist that Gems bring his essay up to date to include the 2005 White Sox world championship.

Sport history typically provides a lens by which historians can examine how the various ethnicities have used sport to enter the American mainstream or to make their group seem to be a part of the mainstream, or in the case of some sports to reinforce their separate ethnic identity. Sports in Chicago features a few essays that look at what one of the most ethnic cities in America has done in sport, notably that of Linda Borish, whose article on the Chicago Hebrew Institute provides a paradigmatic case study of how an immigrant group used sports as a means of Americanization and of becoming a part of Chicago's social fabric. Peter T. Alter's essay, "Serbs, Sports, and Whiteness," is a valuable demonstration of how Serbs "asserted the right to be thought of as full-fledged Americans—and to be seen as white—not by denying their cultural heritage, but by ennobling it through public displays." I am not sure the use of whiteness theory has any value here—as defining Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans as not white or not so white has become a trope to identify any group that is not as ethnically mainstream as a WASP. Gabe Logan's essay on early soccer in Chicago has uncovered a rich history of the sport, dating back to the mid 1880s when the sport was wholly the preserve of English immigrant groups, which shows how sport served to sustain an immigrant group's old world identity in their new country.

One of the most valuable and intriguing articles in this collection is that of Timothy B. Neary, who discusses the work of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in providing sports activities to the city's African-American members of the Catholic Church. The CYO provided many more sports than covered in this essay, but Neary shows extraordinary [End Page 168] African-American involvement in basketball and track and field as one might expect but also, more surprisingly, involvement in swimming.

The relationship of Sports in Chicago to the Chicago History Museum exhibit is more manifest in the two essays on stadium building. Robin Bachan's "Baseball Palace of the World: Commercial Recreation and the Building of Comiskey Park" details the baseball and city politics that went into the construction of the Chicago White Sox's baseball home in 1910 and explains the valuable economic and cultural role that Comiskey Park played in its local community and the city at large. The role continued for the next century and Costas Spirou and Larry...


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