Sports History Files: A new blog for American games

Earlier this month a group of academics (a number of them Ph.D. candidates) launched a blog devoted to American sports history that they’ve titled, appropriately enough, “Sport in American History.”

The blog also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

The posts thus far have included examinations of Donald Sterling, the college athletic unionization movement, gay men in pro sports, and, most recently, gridiron football and the women’s movement in the 1970s.

The last post includes some good original interviewing by Andrew Linden, a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State, including photos of female football players from the era.

SportsandFreedomLinden is a co-editor of the site, along with Andrew McGregor, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in history at Purdue.

Part of my interest in all this is that much of what I write here is devoted to sports history. That’s because I’m a history nerd myself, albeit with a mere B.A. degree obtained many years ago. I’ve thought at times of adding to that at least by exploring the possibility of a master’s program.

My interest here is in blending the academic study of sports history with a journalistic approach that I honed for many years in the newspaper world, and now in a multimedia setting.

What I’ve seen thus far from the Sport in American History blog and heard on Bruce Berglund’s excellent New Books in Sports podcast are explorations by academics that general readers, as well as casual sports fans, will find enjoyable and accessible.

The first truly academic sports book I can recall reading that had a significant influence on me was a book about college athletics, “Sports and Freedom.” It was written by Ronald Smith, a longtime history professor at Penn State. He encouraged one of his students there, Ying Wushanley, to examine the governance wars of women’s college athletics. That study became the subject of a doctoral dissertation and book, “Playing Nice and Losing,” that I’ve cited here and here on this blog also guided me for my 2012 e-book, “Beyond Title IX.”

I’m not sure where the seed was planted for me to delve into the academic side of the study of sports, but as I was covering college and women’s athletics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during most of the 1990s, I wanted to go a bit deeper on the history than I could find at my fingertips, and that I would probably ever be asked to write for the newspaper.

During the twilight of bookstores and just as the age of the Google search was dawning, I found these books, and others, penned by professors, scholars and assorted other obsessives utterly appealing, nurturing a need that exceeded a desire for information or mere entertainment. The true inspiration for this blog was Michael Novak’s prodigious “The Joy of Sports,” and at some point I will expound on that more.

But for now, I’m glad there’s another contribution to the sports history blogosphere. It is badly needed.

Linden reports that he’s headed to this weekend’s annual conference of the North American Society for Sport History in Colorado Springs, and I’ll be eager to read what transpired there.

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