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Reviewed by:
  • LA Sports: Play, Games, and Community in the City of Angels ed. by Wayne Wilson, and David K. Wiggins
  • Bennie Niles IV
Wilson, Wayne, and David K. Wiggins, eds. LA Sports: Play, Games, and Community in the City of Angels. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2018. Pp. 289. B/w photos, notes, list of contributors, index. $26.95, pb.

Few urban regions in the United States have contributed more to the development of American sporting culture than Los Angeles. The "City of Angels" is not only the sole American city to host two Summer Olympic Games (1932 and 1984), but it is also home to professional sport franchises in all of the American national pastimes: football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Furthermore, Los Angeles is distinct from other major U.S. cities because of its rich "lifestyle" sporting scene, with athletes competing in beach volleyball, triathlon, snowboarding, biking (mountain and BMX), skateboarding, and surfing, among [End Page 187] others. In LA Sports: Play, Games, and Community in the City of Angels, Wayne Wilson and David K. Wiggins compile a collection of fifteen essays that explore historically pivotal sport events in Los Angeles from figure skating, car racing, football, basketball, and surfing. They also include essays that highlight how sports, for minoritized groups, simultaneously function as a means for community formation and a platform to illuminate racial and ethnic discrimination.

From its spatial analysis of LA sporting venues (Greg Andranovich and Matthew J. Burbank) to its discussion of sports films in Hollywood (Daniel A. Nathan), the most salient strength of this volume is its interdisciplinary breadth. Another strength is its blending of quotidian sporting culture with the extraordinary. In one essay, Jennifer Doyle recounts her experiences playing in, and organizing, community pick-up soccer games in Los Angeles. In two others, Sean Dinces, Matthew Llewellyn, John Gleaves, and Toby Rider write about the city's role in shaping the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games, global megaevents. Dinces writes specifically about the 1932 Olympics to argue that urban elites in Los Angeles leveraged the "branding" of the games to "distract local and national attention from socioeconomic fissures in the host city" (130). Llewellyn, Gleaves, and Rider focus on the 1984 games to demonstrate how Los Angeles "redesigned and revitalized" the Olympics during a time when the games appeared to lose appeal in metropolitan cities around the globe (201).

Gregory Kaliss and Luis Alvarez interrogate the intersection of race and sport in Los Angeles by analyzing sporting culture in the African American and the Mexican and Mexican American communities, respectively. Kaliss focuses his discussion on the Robinson brothers: Matthew "Mack" Robinson, an Olympic silver medalist at the 1936 games, and Jack "Jackie" Robinson, the first black player to compete in Major League Baseball in 1947. Kaliss traces these athletes' stories back to their Southern California roots to reveal the growing opportunities for black athletes in Pasadena during the pre–World War II years and to demonstrate how white civic culture sought to undermine their athletic accomplishments. In his essay, Luis Alvarez examines the history of sport in "Mexican LA" to demonstrate how sport empowered Mexicans in Los Angeles and served as a tool for community building (38). In the 1980s, commentators pointed to the city's celebration of Mexican-born Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela to challenge claims of Mexican disenfranchisement. However, Alvarez examines amateur baseball before the Dodgers, high-school football in East LA, and the popularity of Mexico's national team throughout the city to show that Mexicans used sports to unite and resist systemic racism. As Mark Dyreson writes, "Los Angeles emerges in Kaliss's and Alvarez's accounts as less than the racial paradise that it often posed as" (10).

Although it is often celebrated for its sunshine, palm trees, and movie stars, Los Angeles also boasts a rich sporting history. Through compiling the essays for this volume, Wayne Wilson and David K. Wiggins offer an insightful cross-section of the city's sporting culture. From biographical essays to analyses of specific sporting events, there is something in this collection for every sports enthusiast, sports scholar, and sports historian. [End Page 188]

Bennie Niles IV
Northwestern University


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