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Reviewed by:
  • Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization
  • Lauren S. Morimoto and Maureen M. Smith
Gems, Gerald R., Linda J. Borish, and Gertrud Pfister. Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008. Pp. xi+372. Illustrations, notes, and index. $65.00.

With Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization, Gerald Gems, Linda Borish, and Gertrud Pfister attempt to provide "a comprehensive, new approach to examining underexplored issues and groups in American sport history" (p. v). By heeding Catriona Parratt's 1998 call to embrace the cultural "turn" toward agency, Gems, Borish, and Pfister seek to create a more inclusive and multi-perspective text(book) of American sport history in contrast to texts that have been by and about white men. In addition, they explore sport as an agent of change, particularly in the processes of "Americanization and resistance by some newcomers to America" (p. v). Because of the authors' past work on sport and gender, ethnicity, imperialism, class and race, and their commitment to creating a different sport history, this textbook was adopted for the first half of the course, Historical & Philosophical Foundations of Human Movement in the fall of 2009.

Despite the impressive scope across time and subject—and the multiplicity of subjects, themes and narratives—in the end, the textbook does not completely succeed in integrating this wider range. Though many previously ignored groups are at least present in the textbook, they remain marginalized. In attempting to include everything, the authors create a fragmented narrative. While this presentation of multiple narratives is somewhat successful in displacing white men from the center of American sport history, it fails to create a new center. For instance, the "People & Places" segments, highlighted textboxes devoted to key figures in sport history, elucidate the achievements of these figures yet ineffectively articulate their significance to sport history (e.g., p. 251, Sybil Bauer; p. 330, Mia Hamm). Consequently, the stories and images of working class and ethnic minority men and women still read as "add-ons" as opposed to central, constitutive aspects of history. This is not a call for rearticulating the "grand narrative" of sport history: rather it is a reminder that cutting and pasting ethnic minorities and women into existing "texts" do not constitute inclusion. While Gems, Borish, and Pfister insert formerly ignored groups and their experiences into the larger narrative, re-interpreting American sport history in light of those experiences would move the textbook from an encyclopedic rendering of people and places to a new version of American sport history.

In some cases, the organization of the text reinforces the fragmentation and marginalization. For example, page 287 includes the sub-heading, "Sport and the Civil Rights Movement." The introductory paragraph is followed by the sub-heading "Native Americans," which consists of one paragraph covering Native Americans' continued displacement onto reservations, their participation in rodeo, and Olympic athlete Billy Mills. The authors then move into a more substantial discussion of African Americans. Inserting a paragraph about Native Americans does not integrate them into the narrative: instead it highlights their marginalization. Given the presence of multiple ethnicities in the Civil Rights Movement (the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Movement, and the [End Page 462] contributions of Asian Americans to the Black Power Movement) during the 1960s, organizing this section around ethnicity more broadly or activism (rather than dividing the text by ethnic group) would place multiple ethnic minority groups at the center and emphasize their agency within and outside sport.

Along with the structure of the textbook, the range of historical data often obscures the "bigger picture" and pushes certain sports, events and individuals to the fringes. As a result, students found it difficult to distinguish larger themes or cull critical information. For example, "Native American Pastimes and Sports" (in the colonial era) includes the following sub-headings: archery, running, horse riding, lacrosse, shinny and double ball, and toli and other forms of stickball. Despite demonstrating the diversity within the category "Native American" and the impact of gender in sporting practices (certainly worthy topics) through these sports, the text ultimately reads as a laundry list of sports facts that are only marginally connected to American...


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pp. 462-463
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