Much has been written about Nelson Mandela in recent days, and some of it has been about his association with sport – both personally and politically. Of course, there was much more to Mandela than sport – but his use of it as a source of unity, particularly at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is legendary.
One of the undergraduate courses I teach is heritage tourism, and one of the units in the course is about the politics of heritage. During this unit, I discuss the idea of dissonance in heritage, in that heritage in its many forms is frequently divisive. In other words, one person’s symbol or site of heritage pride is another’s symbol of hate or anguish. Rarely are these divergent views reconciled. In case after case, students are shown that, perhaps, the one inherent quality heritage demonstrates is division.
However, at the end of the unit, I show the students The 16th Man documentary from ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary series. In it, the students see how Mandela took the Springbok – one of the central symbols of apartheid – and made it into a symbol of unity. Of course, this challenges the students to question whether heritage always erects barriers or can actually help to build bridges, so to speak.
As we enter the Thanksgiving holidays here in the US, I got to thinking about how certain sports or sporting events are associated with holidays and how watching these games – or even having them on in the background – is a traditional part of holiday festivities.
Of course, Thanksgiving in the US means a slate of NFL football games, and having the TV tuned to whichever game(s) might be on is as integral a part of Thanksgiving as having yams and turkey to eat. Here at Clemson, the Thanksgiving weekend seems to always be when the rivalry game between our Tigers the the University of South Carolina Gamecocks takes place, though the TV tradition doesn’t seem to be as strong as the Thursday NFL games – however, in terms of college football, the many bowl games (and, in particular, the Rose Bowl) on New Years Day tends to be traditional television viewing. The NHL is trying to start a Thanksgiving/television tradition with a game on Friday afternoon of the weekend, though it remains to be seen whether this “tradition” takes hold. I seem to recall that Boxing Day (December 26) in the UK is strongly associated with going to football or rugby matches – though, I don’t know to what extent television plays a role in that tradition. Being from Canada, the World Junior Hockey Championships are synonymous with the Christmas holidays, as I can recall many Christmas mornings having a Team Canada game on in the background from Helsinki or Riga or Moscow as we opened presents from under the tree.
It seems that many of these sport/television traditions are during the winter months, and perhaps are not the focus of attention either – as I say they are often part of the background but, I would suggest, they would be noticeable by their absence. It would be kind of strange not having football on in the background at a Thanksgiving Day feast.
In any event, I am wondering what other sporting events might be considered traditional and associated with both watching the game on television – perhaps with family and friends – and particular holidays?
EDIT: Of course, I completely forgot about all of the NBA games on Christmas Day and the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game on New Years Day.
I have spent much of this week writing about the decennial of the Heritage Classic - a pair of outdoor ice hockey games, played between both the regular and alumni Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadians hockey teams, at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on November 22, 2003. If you are not familiar with the event this should help get a feel of what it was like:
Much of my interest in reflecting on this event has largely to do with my research – and, in particular, the fact an analysis of the Heritage Classic was my first major published research project. I remain very proud of this paper, and I think it holds up very well. You could also say that with the passage of time, now that I am comfortably ensconced at a research university, remembering this event has made me a bit nostalgic for my days as a doctoral student. Certainly an unexpected nostalgia, but one that certainly happened for me while thinking about the ol’ HC this week.
In any case, I have been writing a research note about the impact and legacy of the Heritage Classic ten years on. To summarize – I think it was a very successful event, in large part because it came about at the right time. However, there has been little long-term local impact and that the template it created for the many, many, many outdoor events since have largely eliminated any of the broader cultural or emotional impacts. In short, good event that’s been emulated far too often and, as such, its legacy is a bit tarnished.
However, I have – in some ways – separated the Heritage Classic into professional and personal reflections. The professional, as mentioned above, has to do with my time as a student, the beginnings of my subsequent research in sport heritage, and what the event means now. However, the personal has to do with many nights watching Gretzky et al at Northlands Coliseum with my dad, my brother and I fighting over who was going to get to see the Cup victory this year, my mother taking me to get autographs of the Oiler goaltending duo of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, and skating at the outdoor rink at Mayfield Community Hall until we had to go home. This was my childhood in Edmonton and, of course, it is a great source of nostalgia. And, it was only fitting that I went to the Heritage Classic with two long-time friends – one who I have known nearly all of my life, the other a friend from early adulthood but who, also, knew what it was to grow up in Edmonton in the 1980s:
The thing I will remember most about that day is not the cold, not the games, not even Gretzky skating out onto the quintessential Canadian landscape wearing his beautiful blue Oilers jersey. Rather, I will remember my first glimpse of the rink – taken just before this photo – and my friend Terry saying to me, “Tomorrow, you are a researcher. Today, you are 12 years-old.” And for that day, I absolutely felt like a kid again.
Much has been written this week about the Atlanta Braves decision to move from their downtown stadium, Turner Field, to the city’s northern suburbs (so much, in fact, that links may prove a bit overwhelming). It is a strange move for many reasons. The stadium is only sixteen years old and feels like a new ballpark (I only live about two hours from Atlanta and, though I loathe the Braves, I normally go to one or two games a year – and, I can attest, it is a great stadium). The team also moves from the inner city of Atlanta and into the suburbs – reversing a couple of decades of downtown stadium development (though, Turner Field is just south of downtown and really has nothing but parking lots and residential areas around it). Supporters of the move have pointed to the fact that the vast majority of the Braves ticket sales come from the northern, affluent suburbs (and, as Bomani Jones points out in his tweet below, it is way more than a ticket sales map, as Atlanta is a very racially divided city as well):
In any event, the city of Atlanta has announced that it will demolish Turner Field once the team moves north.
Although there are larger issues at play in this decision, such as the willingness for municipalities to use stadiums as a substitute for urban policy, there are some heritage preservation concerns as well – and, as far as I can tell, they haven’t yet been raised. The first, and most obvious, is that Turner Field as a baseball stadium is a heritage venue – perhaps not through age, but through the ongoing ritual of games being played, fans attending, forming memories, and creating a sense of place. Whenever a team moves venues, this is an obvious heritage concern. Secondly – and, a fact that has been largely overlooked – Turner Field was actually also the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Games. Now, it is hardly recognizable as the Olympic Stadium (it underwent a massive renovation post-Games to make it into a baseball-only stadium) and there are few markers in the stadium now that recognize it’s Olympic past, but this still will disappear once the stadium is gone. Finally, there’s the Hank Aaron wall in the parking lot across the street from Turner Field:
When Fulton County Stadium was demolished to make way for the Olympic Stadium/Turner Field, they kept the wall over which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record:
Beyond that home run being important in baseball history, it also had a broader impact in highlighting racial issues in the US. In Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary, while Aaron’s homerun is showed, the soundtrack is the hate mail Aaron received en route to breaking Ruth’s record. It makes his record all the more superhuman. However, presumably, this location will be gone along with the rest of the stadium area.
It is not unusual for teams to “relocate” their heritage to a new stadium – in part for the new venue to have a project a sense of history and legitimacy. I have little doubt that Aaron’s wall – and the legacy of Hank Aaron himself – will move it’s way north and be transplanted in the new ballpark (however, given the antipathy the Braves displayed for the stadium’s Olympic past, I imagine that heritage – at least at that space – is gone). However, this move does raise the issue of in situ heritage, and whether it ought to be part of the discussion in stadium relocation.