Thursday, November 16, 2006

Race and sports

Two of the most popular sports movies--Brian's Song and Remember The Titans--were, at their core, about race. Other entries in the genre: David Margolick's Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink, a book which came out last year, and Jeremy Schaap's forthcoming (February 2007) Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics. Meanwhile, Robert Redford is working on a movie about Jackie Robinson.

Race is woven around sports, and these truth-seekers have tried, or are trying, to make sense of it. Understanding, analyzing, and defining any subject is difficult, but journalists seem to do a good job of examining inequity...and...yet...they are usually looking backwards, telling their narratives through the clarity of perspective. Writers are less definitive when it comes to the current state of affairs, usually writing reaction stories, like when Dusty Baker talked about the superiority of African-American and Latin players in warm playing conditions. (One notable exception: William Rhoden's Forty Million Dollar Slaves.) Still I have read some real quality stuff recently that delves into ethnicity and sports in our modern world. Here is a roundup: the Chicago Sports Review on the word scrappy and how commentators never use the word to describe African-American players. Chicagoist's signature tongue-in-cheek take on the University of Illinois' banned mascot Chief Illiniwek. And Michael Lewis' recently published football book, The Blind Side, is also, in part, about race relations.

For regular coverage of this topic, check out Richard Lapchick, president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. He writes for ESPN.com and other publications; Lapchick's articles can be found here. [Full disclosure: I am writing a book for Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of Triumph.]

UPDATE 11/27/06: Michael Irvin apologizing for his racial comments--with a replay of his statement--about Dallas QB Tony Romo on last week's Dan Patrick Show [ESPN Insider req'd]. And Slate's take on Irvin.


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