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Reviewed by:
  • Rooting for the Home Team: Sport, Community, and Identity ed. by Daniel A. Nathan
  • Holly Swyers
Nathan, Daniel A., ed. Rooting for the Home Team: Sport, Community, and Identity. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013. Pp. x+ 248. Index and black-and-white photographs. $85.00 cb, $25.00 pb.

In introducing Rooting for the Home Team: Sport, Community, and Identity, editor Daniel A. Nathan notes, “This book is predicated on the idea that rooting for local athletes and home teams often symbolizes a community’s preferred understanding of itself” (p. 2). This prefatory remark nicely sets up fourteen essays, ranging in tone from objective history to personal memoir, focused on the American experience of sports. The collection has a relatively celebratory tone about the role of sports in society, touching lightly on race, class, and gender and foregoing sustained discussion of nationalism and colonialism. That said, Nathan and his contributors do not shy away from the ways in which sports can be exclusive and hierarchizing, and many of the essays touch on the privilege that is often attached to participation in a sports community.

Read individually, each essay has distinctive tone and focus, and a reader can easily cherry pick what to read by sport or style. However, taken as a whole, the book offers unexpected insight into how sports communities are used to shore up a mythologized American past. Almost without exception, the communities chosen for inclusion demonstrate a penchant toward nostalgia for what Michael Oriard’s piece on high school football describes as “the vestiges of a vanishing world” (p. 75). Most of the stories told in this book are about humble, hard-working, small-town-like self-conceptions, embodied in local sports and maintained against the encroachment of modernity. Mark Dyreson’s insightful critique of the Lynd’s 1929 treatment of Middletown basketball, the first essay in the collection, [End Page 358] warns us to expect such imagery: “Magic Middletown represents not only … a station in the American transition from tradition to modernity, but a locale in the imaginations of generations of American chroniclers of their own culture” (p. 30). This locale is one that Rooting for the Home Team unapologetically visits, although as Mike Tanier writes when he encounters it in Philadelphia, “Philadelphia lies to itself” (p. 198).

By bookending the collection with Dyreson’s aforementioned piece and Carlo Rotella’s “The Cult of Micky Ward in Massachusetts,” Nathan has provided a frame that encourages critical engagement with the question of what unites American sports communities. Rotella helpfully connects his treatment of the film The Fighter (2010) to the problem of American masculinity in a post-industrial landscape. The emphasis on the blue-collar/working-class masculinity and on white ethnic cultures that appears in many of the essays fit together in a story of sports as a refuge against a changing world. The theme of continuity recurs throughout, as in Elliott J. Gorn and Allison Lauterbach’s reflection on Vin Scully as “The Voice of Los Angeles” and David W. Zang’s suddenly historical idyll on Joe Paterno’s Penn State, “American Brigadoon.” Amy Bass’s discussion of Red Sox Nation, Daniel A. Nathan’s commentary on the Baltimore Colts, and Michel Ezra’s essay on Jayhawk basketball follow similar themes. American sports, these essays seem to say, are a key way that Americans connect their change-oriented culture to the world of their forebears. Indeed, this point is explicitly made by Christopher Lamberti about 16” softball in Chicago.

Not all the pieces in Rooting for the Home Team tap into the same vein of nostalgia. David K. Wiggins’ examination of Thanksgiving Day football games between Howard University and Lincoln University in the 1920s and Catherine M. Lewis’ discussion of golfer Bobby Jones’s legend as it intersected with Tiger Woods’s troubled career, address how sports narratives can operate to reinforce threatened class distinctions and can complicate discussions of race. Jaime Schultz and Shelley Lucas’ “Girls’ Six-Player Basketball,” while revealing a community that hearkens back to small-town Iowa, also explores an explicitly female-gendered sport, providing a mirror image of lost industrial masculinity as it has been...