Like music and film, sports is one of the very few national (and international) conversations that exist, but is the cultural platform of sports respected enough by American Universities? This question is one thatProfessor Theresa Runstedtler, author of Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner suggests that more can be done. In the following interview with The University of Texas, Runstedtler addresses the issue:
I think that many historians based in the United States still shy away from doing sports-related research. In U.S. academic circles, especially in the humanities, there is still a stigma attached to Sports Studies (although things are beginning to change). Many academics wrongly assume that sports do not have the same critical potential or explanatory power as literature, theater, music, and other modes of cultural production. However, building on the legacy of C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary (1963), which explores race, gender, class, colonialism, and nationalism through the lens of cricket, I wanted to take sport seriously as a window onto broader political, social, and cultural struggles. After all, I grew up playing competitive sports – everything from figure skating to soccer to volleyball to rugby – and I learned a lot about life, people, and the world through my experiences as an athlete.
Runstedtler also had a diverse background within sports that included being a professional dancer with the Toronto Raptors Dance Pak. Her background in sports influence her research topic.
Doing research on Jack Johnson – arguably the first black celebrity with global reach – was a natural transition for me as a PhD student in African American studies and History at Yale University. As much as Johnson was an athlete, he was also a performer and public figure who sparked heated debates about racism and imperialism on the world stage. I quickly became taken with his life story – especially his international travels – and I was surprised that not much had been written on his impact abroad. Although people usually think of Muhammad Ali as the first overtly political black boxer with international reach, Johnson was already critiquing white supremacy on the world stage in the early twentieth century.
Read longer interview here by UT’s John L. Warfield center for African and African-American Studies.
Runstedtler also indicated that “things are beginning to change” with respect to the study of sports at universities, and we hope that this continues at the institutional level that includes regular course offerings at all universities. On an individual level, it is more common for many professors from Universities to produce books which seems to be increasing in recent years. Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner is one of three must-read books to come out in 2012 that together weave the American story of race, sports, and media over the last 100 years. Be sure to click below and grab a copy.
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