- More Than Cricket and Football: International Sport and the Challenge of Celebrity ed. by Joel N. Rosen and Maureen M. Smith
The interwoven relationship between sports, politics, and personalities is at the foundation of many narratives that shape the history of amateur and professional sports. In this collection, editors Joel Nathan Rosen and Maureen M. Smith gather a selection of essays that share some lesser-known stories about the political and cultural influence of athletes worldwide. The variety of sports is extensive, including tennis, motorsports, swimming, and distance running, among others. Cricket and football (British football, rather than American) are not excluded either, and these sports offer important stories about the intersections of fandom, nationalism, and meaning making.
In the introduction, the editors argue that North Americans—particularly in the United States—tend to have an egocentric attitude about sports celebrity. The concern is not xenophobic but rather an idea that American sports are simply better than sports created and popularized in other parts of the world. In his essay focused on motorsport legend Valentino Rossi, Sean Bell makes a similar claim about British sports snobbery. While sports celebrity changes across time and cultures, the often overbearing pressure of celebrity remains constant. How athletes respond to ongoing attention and the accompanying criticism underlies many of the essays in this collection. As Benn L. Bongang notes, "Few talented athletes or celebrities in other fields are schooled in managing stardom, especially when it comes to engaging in issues they are not qualified to handle" (180).
Racism and cultural discrimination run through many of these narratives, and the varied personalities of celebrated athletes show different strategies for negotiating these circumstances. In his essay on Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, Joel S. Franks shows Kahanamoku's ability to thrive as a worldclass swimmer in the face of a "nation-state [End Page 132] that managed to simultaneously marginalize and embrace him" (100). He easily qualified for the 1912 U.S. Olympic team, although there was public debate about whether it was appropriate for him to compete as an "American" since he was a native-born Hawaiian and not from the mainland. Throughout his career, the affable athlete used his easygoing nature to dismiss his critics and his extraordinary athletic skill to prove them wrong.
Cameroonian footballer Samuel Eto'o Fils also relied on his athletic power but used a combative rhetorical style to respond to the racism he encountered. In fact, Eto'o has been generally confrontational with fellow players, coaches, fans, and the media. Benn L. Bongang explains how these confrontations have been not only about Eto'o, his pride, and his nationalism, but they have also been strikes against racism made by a global superstar. Like the essays about Kahanamoku and Eto'o, many of the authors consider how international celebrity frequently places athletes in a role as global citizens.
Dong Jinxia, Zhong Yijing, and Li Luyang detail Yao Ming's path to becoming a global citizen, aptly titling their essay "The Interaction of Personal, Local and Global Forces: Yao Ming's Rise and Sustained Influence in Chinese Sport." As he worked diligently to excel in the National Basketball Association, Yao was also growing a popular fan base in both the United States and China. Part of his success depended on his efforts to be socialized as a Westerner, employing what the authors describe as his "[u]nique blend of collective purpose and personal humility" (91). Yao's upbringing in a collectivist culture played a significant role in his success in the individualist culture of the United States.
These essays reveal that the ways that athletes adapt to global celebrity is influenced by their personal history, sense of local and national belonging, and personal qualities. Taking a British perspective on Italian motorsport superstar Valentino Rossi, Sean Bell writes that "Rossi's global persona exemplifies the contradiction between national and international sporting reputations" (28). Similarly, Viral Shah points out that, while racing legend Ayrton...