- American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols and Ideas ed. by Nelson, Murray R
The internet poses a challenge to the topical reference book. Advisory boards for reference books need a strategy that makes their series pertinent today and interesting and valuable over the next decade. American Sports proves that this can be accomplished. With its detailed expert analysis and insight on a wide-range of sports topics these four volumes present their material in a more succinct manner than many web searches would produce.
The series contains nearly 500 entries about people, buildings, events, organizations, ideas, movements, popular culture and other topics with significance to the sporting world of the twentieth century. The entries present the sports history of the United States but were also chosen because they serve as a contemporary look at the place sports hold in today’s national culture. The description for each entry averages two pages. A listing of the best books and articles for further information follows. Many entries also contain cross references to other entries and a sidebar, offering readers more in-depth information on a topic or idea related to the entry.
People comprise the majority of the entries in the volumes. Descriptions include birth information, the person’s accomplishments in the sport, and their work and personal activities that made them well-known, notable or both outside the sporting world. Well-written and straight-forward entries range from Terry Bradshaw to Shaun White. Others, like pieces on Barry Bonds and Ted Williams, encompass five pages and feature many details about on and off-field events. A few, such as the features on Venus and Serena Williams, use subheadings to guide readers through the sisters’ adventures in tennis, business, and philanthropy.
Teams and organizations constitute another large number of entries. There are mandatory inclusions, such as the colossal franchises in three sports: the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and the Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers. Others prove too culturally significant to omit, such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Rens, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Chicago Cubs. The entries begin with the origins of the team, the exploits on the field or court, and feature sidebars, such as retired uniform numbers. Interestingly, the National Hockey League is virtually absent with the league not even meriting consideration. Organizations featured in the volumes range from most sporting leagues, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and corporations, like Adidas and Nike, Inc. The Amateur Athletic Union is a curious omission, given its historical role representing the United States in international sporting federations and its current role in the development of youth in basketball.
Events feature both annual competitions and those moments during major championships whose uniqueness enabled them to become renown in sports history. Among the championship events are the Little League World Series, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, and the Gay Games. The exceptional moments in sports include The Long Count, Nipplegate, and Shot Heard ‘Round the World. While these will not provide new [End Page 524] information to the sports historians they will be helpful to those students previously uninterested in sports. The ability to reach this kind of student is why I am disappointed with the limited discussion of racism in the spring training entry.
The wide variety of popular culture comes under the rubric, objects and artifacts. These entries demonstrate the scope of sports in U.S. culture, including video games, novels, plays, and movies. They range from 1960s television dramas, such as I Spy and the much more recent program, Friday Night Lights, to games like Madden NFL and books, such as Paper Lion (1968) and Moneyball (2011). Several of the entities will be outlasted by the products and activities that also appear in this section. These include Gatorade, hot dogs, and marching band.
The two smallest areas covered in the volumes are places and ideas and movements. Many of the places are college football stadiums, but others include the “eighth wonder of...