- An Introduction to "50 Years:The North American Society for Sport History (NASSH)"
As with most facets of life, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the annual North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) convention. The abrupt onset of the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 meeting, the first time NASSH did not convene since its inaugural conference in 1973. The continued severity of COVID-19 required NASSH to meet online in 2021, with members signing on to a virtual platform to share their work and engage with colleagues and friends. Yet, despite the challenges of online meetings and digital presentations, for many the essence of NASSH remained unchanged. President David K. Wiggins captured this in his closing commentary at the 2021 meeting: "I have been reminded on an almost daily basis, perhaps even more intensely and poignantly during the seemingly never ending pandemic and on-going struggles around the world . . . that NASSH truly is an organization with a heart."1 Although the organization has undergone significant transformations throughout its fifty-year history, the warmth, generosity, and collegiality of its membership—NASSH's heart—has remained unchanged.
The original 1973 NASSH Constitution notes, "The purpose of the Society shall be to promote, stimulate and encourage study and research and the writing of the history of sport."2 A look at the numerous articles, books, conference presentations, blog posts, and podcasts authored by NASSH members verifies the continuation of this mission. The supportive nature of the organization has similarly been a hallmark since its formation. Writing in 1989, Terry Todd and John Hoberman commented that "[t]he people in NASSH have always been the sort with whom we have felt at home. . . . One of the things we like so much about . . . NASSH is the friendliness of the members—their genuine warmth and [End Page 249] collegiality."3 In this special issue, Ronald A. Smith explains that NASSH is his favorite organization because "it has always been a confirming group," and Steven A. Riess recalls that, in the members, he "found a nurturing community that valued what I was doing." Former NASSH president Maureen M. Smith likewise reflected that, for her, "NASSH offers an academic space that is challenging, comforting, and critical."4 As the authors in this special issue illustrate, NASSH has remained supportive of scholars while fulfilling its mission.
As we commemorate the past and think toward the future, we need to consider NASSH's history as well as opportunities for its growth. Since its first meeting in 1973 at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, our organization has undergone significant changes. The membership has increased numerically and geographically, from a dedicated contingent of North Americans to a collegial group of scholars from around the world. Those involved in the organization have also expanded in terms of academic disciplines. Whereas physical educators with an interest in history, along with historians with an interest in sport, largely comprised the first meeting, NASSH today hosts scholars from an array of disciplines, including American studies, communications, history, kinesiology, philosophy, sociology, and sport management, to name a few. The organization has also endured tribulations over the years, perhaps the most significant being the shift to an online format in 2021 so the annual convention could still take place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with such internal transformations, the organization has also fostered changes more broadly over the past fifty years. NASSH members helped crystallize sport history as a valuable academic subdiscipline. In encouraging robust, well-researched studies of the past through a sporting lens, NASSH and its corresponding Journal of Sport History (JSH) shaped sport history into a viable scholarly pursuit.5 NASSH has also occasionally added its clout to pressing political issues. The organization moved the 1994 convention out of Colorado due to the state's anti-LGBTQ legislation, passed a resolution in 2017 condemning the use of Native American mascots, and issued a statement in 2020 to support Black Lives Matter. As the Los Angeles Times aptly surmised in 1995, "They take their games seriously at the North American Society for Sport History."6
However, like many historical claims, this rosy picture is both...