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Reviewed by:
  • DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play ed. by Chris Elzey, David K. Wiggins
  • Brett L. Abrams
Elzey, Chris and David K. Wiggins, eds. DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015. Pp. 399. $24.95 pb.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston. These represent the cities Americans frequently think of when asked about sports. The editors of DC Sports provide a compelling case for adding the national capital to that list. Washington, D.C., hosted important bicycle races in the late 1800s, exciting college football games in the Roaring ’20s, and a powerhouse college basketball team during the 1980s. The city had one of the first multipurpose stadiums, which became common in the 1960s and 1970s. The region became one of the first to suffer the indignity of having a favorite team move to another city, another more commonplace event today.

While these represented notable events and trends in the sporting world, the seventeen highly readable chapters in the book also illustrate that sports in Washington reflect larger cultural trends. Washingtonians enjoyed the growth in the playing and watching of sports that occurred throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The city’s sports fans also perpetuated and fought against the racial discrimination that dominated during that same one hundred years.

Elzey and Wiggins incorporate authors from disciplines including sociology, kinesiology, communications, information science, and, of course, history and American studies. John Bloom examines the Washington area’s vibrant participation in amateur and professional cycling and later motorbike racing during the bicycle craze and why that differed for the city’s Caucasian and African American residents. The two bicycle arenas had short [End Page 229] lives, much like several of the other sad histories of the DC area’s sports venues detailed in Ryan A. Swanson’s chapter. The piece could have included the Uline Arena, and I’m left wondering if the D.C. United’s success changed the narrative of RFK Stadium at least a little bit.

Both David Wiggins and Chad Carlson spin fascinating stories about two sets of schools engaged in a short-term rivalry, college football for the former and high school basketball for the latter. Their chapters provide specifics about the games, as well as details about the cultural events and the larger meaning that these contests had for the fans. It would be interesting for Wiggins to compare his findings regarding Howard University football with the school’s role in basketball featured in Hot Potato. Marvin P. Dawkins and Jomills Henry Braddock II illuminate how the city’s discriminatory practices on public courses and the pressures of black golfers led to the creation of black golf clubs and the development of Langston Golf Course. The story of the late Mayor Marion Barry and late Jack Kent Cooke’s potential deal for a new Redskins’ stadium and its implications for Langston would be a fascinating addition to the chapter.

Martha H. Verbrugge’s piece on segregation and public recreation and Stephen H. Norwood’s work on the friendship between George Allen and Richard Nixon provide compelling looks at political interests battling changing cultural norms. This contextualization of sports within the cultural environment of the Washington region proves the great strength of this book. DC Sports would be a useful addition to undergraduate courses in sports history, sociology, and African American studies.

Brett L. Abrams
Independent Scholar


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pp. 229-230
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