Podcasts and Sport Heritage

In late 2014, following the overwhelming popular success of Serial, the wider world began to take notice of podcasts.  Although podcasts and podcasting are not new – they have been around for about a decade or more – it seems that there is a broad interest, or perhaps a renewed interest, in this medium.

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Though there are thousands of sport-based podcasts, I am not currently aware of any that are specifically focused on sport heritage.  I have considered creating a sport heritage podcast – we have a wonderful studio here at Clemson – and plan to put this on my to-do list for the coming year.  However, in the meantime, here is a list of sport podcasts that I feel at least touch-on aspects of sport heritage, sport and culture, and sport history.

Sporting Witness (BBC World Service) - An offshoot of the World Service’s excellent Witness podcast, this series specifically looks at first person narratives from the sporting past.  A great resource, and one that I have used often in my teaching.

Sportshour (BBC World Service) - Another World Service podcast, though more sociological and current events/topical than Sporting Witness, Sportshour examines some of the issues, debates, and topics that shape how sport is played, consumed and remembered.

Edge of Sports (Sirus XM Channel 92) - Like Sportshour, Edge of Sports is more sociological and current events-related, though decidedly more polemical. The show’s host, Dave Zirin, takes a very critical theory approach when discussing the social, economic, and political inequities of sport.  He’s a sports fan, but also realizes that his fandom is frequently fraught with hypocrisy, moral ambiguity, and injustice. This podcast is also one of the few sport history/sociology podcasts from the US, with decidedly US topics and points of view.

World Cricket Show – I’m not certain this podcast is necessarily sport heritage-related, though the hosts have a good sense of cricket’s past, especially in England. However, it is just plain fun.  The hosts, Adam Bayfield and Tony Curr, have a great rapport while discussing (and sometimes not discussing) the latest cricket news and matches. Frequently funny, always entertaining, and may even appeal to non or casual cricket supporters.

Sport and the British (BBC Radio 4) – This program is available in archive form – I believe it originally aired in 2012 – though it remains a great tool for revealing the history and current issues in sport.  Even though this podcast is specifically about sport history and development from a British perspective, so many of the foundations of contemporary sport are British that, at times, it is difficult to separate the national from the international when it comes to topics like globalization, broadcasting, and political uses of sport.  Again, a great teaching tool that I have used many times.

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It goes without saying that the relationship between fathers and sons is a fundamental part of sport heritage.

Many of the foundational events and moments, often really the first sporting memories, involve fathers.  Fathers taking sons to games, to practice, teaching them to catch at ball, and so on.  There’s a reason why the final scene in Field of Dreams is so moving, because so many have had similar memories with their fathers.  Sport has a way of connecting fathers and sons.  Its a cliche, but some cliches have a way of being true as well.

I can’t remember a time when sport wasn’t a part of my relationship with my dad.  Some of my earliest memories – taking me to an Edmonton Oilers game, or to practice at the old Parkland arena, or, indeed, going down to the little park at the end of our block to have a catch – involve both sport and my dad.  Not all of the memories were pleasant, of course.  As the father of two goalies, my dad often had to know when best to let both my brother and I be to stew over a bad game or goal.  He never got on us for having a bad game.  I appreciated that.  When I stopped playing hockey, through a combination of ability and injury, my relationship with my dad changed.  Not badly, mind you, but it took some time for both of us to reconfigure, and to find some common ground again.  I’m sure it was tough for him to adjust, as it was tough for me to find what my post-athletics identity was going to be.  Thankfully, again, dad gave me the space to figure it out. I hope I’ll be able to do that with my son.

Living in a different city – a different country – I don’t get to see or talk to my dad as often as I once did.  I miss going to games with him, just sitting along the first base line or at the hashmarks of the faceoff dot, and just shooting the shit.  I miss that he can’t just pop around and tell his grandson all of the sports stories I’ve heard a thousand times.  I miss my dad.  Today is his birthday, and I just wanted to say that his guidance, influence, and love was the best legacy I could have received.

Thanks, Papi, and I love you.

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Sport Heritage in 2015

2014 was an interesting year in sport heritage.  The ways in which the sporting past is used today seemed to garner a fair amount of public interest.  This was particularly the case with the anniversary of the First World War and how sport became one of the primary avenues of public remembrance.  Debates continued as to the content of sport heritage, particularly in the US as to how controversial pasts – particularly in baseball – ought to be recognized  It was also exciting to see the organization of the first National Sporting Heritage Day in the UK, and I am pleased to see that sport heritage will again be celebrated on September 30 of this year.  There was also plenty of great sport heritage research published, highlighted by the special sport heritage issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism.

As for 2015, there appear to be the continuation of certain trends from the previous year, as well as sport heritage going in some new and exciting directions:

Commemoration – It seems likely that sport heritage will continue to be used in commemorations of particular anniversaries and events.  Many First World War commemorations continue, and though it seems unlikely that there will be as many public events as in 2014 for the centenary, it would seem likely that the sporting arena may continue to be the vehicle for remembrance.  Similarly, with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War this year, it will be interesting to see if sport is used in these commemorations.  Also, in any given sport there are numerous anniversaries of famous events, athletes, and moments which, undoubtedly, will be recognized.

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Commodification – The commodification of the sporting past would seem to continue in 2015, as heritage remains a strong, saleable good for sports franchises and leagues.  Heritage-based sporting events continue, and continue to be popular (such as with the numerous outdoor hockey games throughout North America and Europe), historic “moments” can be planned in advance along with various forms of memorabilia (Derek Jeter’s retirement from the New York Yankees in 2014 showed how lucrative this practice can be), and the perceived stability of the past – particularly when compared with the unpredictable present and unknowable future – seems to draw our attention and precious (and finite) leisure time.

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Politics – 2014 witnessed a transformation of sorts for sport heritage, from a benign “ye olde tyme” nostalgia trip to a tool of political and social change.  The fight over sport heritage space – and, indeed, what heritage space looks like – took a decidedly political turn in London in 2013 and 2014 during the fight over the Southbank Skatepark. The “I Can’t Breathe” movement, particularly in the NBA, cited John Carlos and the 1968 Olympic protests as inspiration.  No doubt more globally integrated networks mean that different people from different backgrounds will lay claim to different sport heritages, and it seems likely that what sport heritage is – and who gets to shape it and speak on its behalf – will continue to evolve.

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Me, Lee, and Stories as Sport Heritage

Sport heritage, like most any form of heritage, has many ingredients.  One of the more important aspects are personal memories, where we contextualize our own recollections in terms of broader contexts.  Sometimes this takes the role of a “where were you?” during an important event or moment, but often it is on a much smaller scale, where the heritage is much more at the family or community level.

In any event, a few months back the folks at the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada asked me to contribute a submission to their website. ECAMP’s role, at present, is to act as a repository for the city’s intangible heritage – the histories, stories, memories, and lore that tell the city’s story – from the infamous to the intimate. I was born and raised in Edmonton and, as such, they felt I might be able to add something sport-based to their collection, particularly as I have been away from the city for a number of years.  Edmonton’s sporting heritage is vast, covering many different sports, athletes, and events throughout its history.  Some of this history, particularly those from the late 1970s through early 2000s are a part of my own story and heritage as well.  And, though I thought about doing a “where were you?” piece – or even a more objective heritage “moment” (such as recapping and recalling particularly famous sporting moments or events), I elected to go with the more community level heritage, and perhaps capture a time when the gulf between professional athletes and working class families wasn’t great at all.

My story, called Me and Lee, is unabashedly sentimental and, as a few former classmates have reminded me, may have happened differently or perhaps not even at all.  I have a strong memory of this particular piece of community lore and my reaction to it and, as a good friend reminded me, memory isn’t subject to facts (nor, often, is heritage).

If you would like to have a read (ECAMP’s website is open access and does not require subscription), please click the link here.

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New Research – “Too Much Nostalgia? A Decennial Reflection on the Heritage Classic Ice Hockey Event”

I am pleased to announce the publication of a research note in the journal Events Management titled “Too Much Nostalgia? A Decennial Reflection on the Heritage Classic Ice Hockey Event.”

From the abstract:

This research note explores the legacy of the Heritage Classic, an outdoor ice hockey event held in Edmonton, Canada in November 2003. The event explicitly and successfully evoked nostalgia for former players, past teams, rural environments, and the egalitarian nature of childhood games, becoming a major international media and tourism event as well as the template for numerous outdoor ice hockey events held around the world. It also provided the Edmonton Oilers hockey club and the event’s organizers with both emotional and economic capital at a time when the franchise required support. However, the success of the Heritage Classic meant that the National Hockey League (NHL) and other hockey leagues would organize subsequent outdoor hockey events, thereby minimizing the ability for individual franchises to benefit from their heritage as the Oilers did. Furthermore, little was done locally to build on the success of the Heritage Classic, while the proliferation of similar events globally may have minimized both the media and tourism impacts of subsequent outdoor hockey games.

This research note is a follow-up to my 2006 article “Place Identity and Sport Tourism: The Case of the Heritage Classic Ice Hockey Event” (co-authored with Dr. Tom Hinch of the University of Alberta) published in Current Issues in Tourism.  Given the proliferation of outdoor ice hockey events, both in North America and Europe, it seemed time to reflect on the legacy of the event that started it all.

Should you not have access to Event Management through an institutional subscription, please drop me a line and I would be happy to share a copy of this research note with you.  Feel free to contact me by email, on Twitter, or by direct message on Facebook.

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Sports Films for the Holiday Season

Binge-watching films and television shows – particularly in the Netflix age – has become an integral part of the holiday season.  After all, there are so few times in our calendars to pause, to reflect, and to the spend entire days lounging around the house (at least, when it is socially acceptable to do so!)  For me, at least, I like to balance my viewing between holiday classics, super-mega-silly blockbuster extravaganzas, and deeper, more serious films and documentaries – some of which involve something about sports.  There are many “classic” sports films and documentaries – stuff we probably all know and have seen many times.  However, there are some films that are a little more obscure, or may not have garnered a wide audience. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions of, perhaps, some lesser known sports films and documentaries that you may wish to fit in to your holiday binge-watching calendar.

Joyeux Noel – It would be difficult to call this a “sports film” per se – though, sports plays a central role in the story.  Similarly, it is probably the one film on this list that could be properly called a “Christmas Movie.”  In any event, this is my one “must watch every year at Christmas time” film.  The film is a fictionalized account of a real moment – The Christmas Truce of 1914.  The truce – which has become perhaps the most well-known aspect of the First World War – most famously included football matches and exchanges of gifts between enemy troops, though it also provided an opportunity to bury the soldiers left in No Man’s Land.  Joyeux Noel is deeply sentimental and very moving (the moment when a German solider sings “O Come All Ye Faithful” reduces me to a blubbering mess every time).  Given the First War centenary this year – as well as the many commemorations of the Christmas Truce – it is a poignant and timely reminder of our humanity.

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Fire in Babylon – I remember reading that the best time to think about baseball is during the winter.  Perhaps it is the same with cricket.  This documentary looks at arguably the greatest team ever assembled in any sport – the West Indies cricket test match team of the 1970s and 1980s.  Even if you don’t know your bowler from your wicket, this excellent documentary delves into the myriad of issues that faced this team – from colonialism and racism to the globalization of cricket leagues and labour – while also making for an absolutely engrossing story.  I have watched this documentary innumerable times and find something new each and every time.  It also made me want to build a time machine to go back and watch Viv Richards play. Wonderful stuff!

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Senna – I know absolutely nothing about auto racing and, though the name Ayrton Senna rang a bell, I knew nothing about him when I watched this absolutely engrossing documentary.  The way this documentary is constructed – the visuals, the sound, the lack of an audio commentary – allows the viewer to really get a sense of this man’s life…and, (*spoiler alert*) is tragic death.  By the end of this film, I was in tears.

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The Damned United – I adore this film.  Again, I knew nothing about Brian Clough and his time at Leeds United when I watched this film, but the wonderful performance by Michael Sheen is very funny, and often moving.  There are many sports movies about believing in one’s self in the face of overwhelming adversity, though few are as entertaining at The Damned United.

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Chariots of Fire – Although hardly an unknown film (it did win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981 after all, and features perhaps one of the most iconic opening scenes and scores in cinema history), it seems a film that has been largely forgotten over the past three decades.  Though it is flawed at points, and much of the soundtrack seems lifted from Blade Runner, the story of two British athletes at the 1924 Olympics who run for more than just glory remains compelling, and certainly ticks the “epic, period drama” box for holiday viewing.

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Silly Little Game – ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series features some wonderful films.  Silly Little Game – a quirky, and often funny film about the beginnings of Rotisserie Baseball (the precursor to fantasy baseball) – is an often overlooked entry into this series.  The documentary is, admittedly, a bit unusual – there are some ways in which it was filmed that, I’ll admit, worked for me but might not be for everyone – but really gets to the heart of why grown men and women get so passionate about fantasy sports.

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Happy Viewing!

Heritage and the Empty Stadium

There was an interesting blog post written by Dave Cournoyer at his site daveberta.ca recently about the future of Rexall Place in Edmonton, Canada.  For the initiated, Rexall Place (as it is currently named) was opened in the mid 1970s and, though it has hosted numerous concerts, performances, and sporting events in its 40 year history, it is most famous for being the long-time home of the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL).  In particular, the arena housed the Oilers during their “Glory Years” in the 1980s and early 1990s when, led by hockey superstars Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and others, the team won five Stanley Cup championships in seven seasons.  The arena, arguably, has significant heritage value, in large part because of the Edmonton Oilers, though perhaps to a lesser extent because of aspects such as its architectural value, it role in other sporting events such as the annual Canadian Finals Rodeo, and its historical connection to the Northlands fair grounds.

From a individual view, Rexall Place has significant personal heritage value to me.  For decades, it was the place I went to see hockey games with my family.  In fact, I actually witnessed two of the Oilers Stanley Cup championships – in 1984 and 1988 – from our family’s season tickets in Section K, Row 14.  A number of years ago, while completing my doctorate at the University of Alberta, I got to play hockey on the “hallowed ice” of Rexall Place – which was exciting and thrilling and wonderful, even to a grown man.  Rexall Place was also where I went to concerts with friends, saw wrestling cards as a teenager, and had my father take me to an occasional monster truck show.  Simply put, the arena was part of the landscape of my growing up and living in Edmonton, and I suspect it has become an integral part of many Edmontonians’ personal heritage narratives over the past forty years.

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In 2016, the Edmonton Oilers will be leaving Rexall Place and moving to a brand new downtown arena. Cournoyer’s blog post explores some thoughts and issues associated with what happens to Rexall Place after the Oilers move.  As Cournoyer points out, there hasn’t been much thought about this issue, and argues that local residents have not been consulted as to the arena’s future or how the arena might be used after the Oilers leave.

I would add that, part of the consultation about the future of Rexall Place ought to address and assess it’s heritage value, in particular whether the arena’s heritage ought to be recognized and how this heritage recognition would take place.

Empty stadiums and arenas, particularly those with a clear heritage value, pose some very interesting challenges.  I argued, in my recent paper “Sport, heritage, and Tourism” in the Journal of Heritage Tourism that, perhaps what makes sport heritage unique is its link to a sense of perpetual play and performance:

…sport heritage appears to be a very distinct form of heritage, perhaps because of its broad dissemination and consumption, though perhaps more because of its corporal nature.  We have to continue to play sport, or support those who play, in order to create future sport heritage. The fact that sport heritage often does not fossilize, that it must continue to be made and remade through play and performance, is perhaps what gives it a distinctive place in the heritage and heritage tourism landscape.”

What this may mean for empty stadiums, in fact, is that they are essentially dead landscapes; that perhaps the heritage isn’t in the building itself but the relationship between the building/landscape, the spectators, and the game/performance.  Without games being played – in essence, generating new heritage – the buildings themselves may have limited heritage value.

Recognizing the heritage value of empty stadiums and arenas has taken different forms, with different levels of success.  In situ preservation is probably the least feasible option. Leaving aside ancient sporting monuments, such as the Colosseum in Rome, preservation for preservation’s sake would appear unlikely for any stadium.  There are places like Rickwood Field – the oldest baseball stadium in the United States – in Birmingham, Alabama which does not have a core tenant and is probably the best example of preservation for preservation’s sake.  That said, the stadium hosts dozens of events each year, from college baseball games and tournaments to memorabilia shows, so it is hardly a “mothballed” stadium.

Adaptive reuse of heritage stadiums and arenas is a popular option.  Both the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens have incorporated numerous heritage elements of the old arenas into new retail, real estate, and education spaces.  However, adaptive reuse is not always an option.  Tiger Stadium in Detroit was slated for a real estate redevelopment that would have incorporated the old stadium in the development, but plans fell through and the stadium was demolished.  Frequently, the old stadium sat adjacent to the new stadium, so some form of heritage markers were often used to denote where the previous stadium was after demolition. The “old” Yankee Stadium in New York is now a park next to new Yankee Stadium, and Fulton County Stadium is parking for the new Turner Field in Atlanta, with both examples denoting important markers from the old stadium in the new space (e.g.: location of home plate, etc.)  Sometimes, artefacts from the old building are incorporated into the new building.  The scoreboard from the old Omni Coliseum in Atlanta is situated in the foyer of the new Phillips Arena, for example.

Of course, many old arenas simply continue on without their core tenants, or perhaps find a different – and often lower tier – sports tenant.  The Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, once the home of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, continues as a concert venue, a site for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and is the home of the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL), a junior developmental hockey league.  As such, how the venue’s heritage is preserved or recognized may change as well.

In the discussions on the future of Rexall Place, the heritage of the venue should be raised – and, depending on the future use of the building, how the heritage is recognized will be a key issue.  I also think that the heritage of the venue isn’t just the Oilers, but encompasses many different forms – including personal heritages.  I would imagine that the venue will end up in some sort of adaptive reuse project – I simply can’t imagine it being preserved in situ, nor can I see it continue without its core tenant given the population size of Edmonton.  That said, I hope the good citizens of my former hometown consider a broad range of cases in how to use the venue going forward while still recognizing and acknowledging its heritage value.

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