When I first began my sport heritage research about a dozen years ago, I was told on repeated occasions – normally by those based in Britain – that sport heritage was strictly an “American” thing. While certainly, at that time, things like sports halls of fame, stadium tours, and the like were more prevalent in the USA, the idea that sport heritage wasn’t really a part of the heritage narrative in Britain seemed farfetched to say the least. Indeed, now it appears that acknowledging, celebrating, and commodifying the many sport heritages of regions, communities, and teams across Britain are a central part of contemporary heritage narratives, particularly in England’s northwest.
Earlier this month while attending the Transnational Dialogues in Cultural Heritage in Liverpool (sport heritage in Liverpool is immense and very public, and will receive a dedicated blog post in the coming weeks), I had the opportunity to experience many sites and locations associated with the sporting heritage of the northwest of England. Some of these sites are famous for being famous, as it were, some featured sporting practices that are traditional to the region, and some are more conscious of their touristic role.
The first site “visited” (in reality, only a quick drive past) was the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, one of the courses on the (British) Open rotation, having hosted the tournament eleven times and, most recently, in 2012. There isn’t much in the way of public visitation to the site and, had it not been for my local hosts, I probably would never have been able to find the club. I was not the only tourist lurking outside of the club’s main gates but, as the sign below indicates, it’s not really a club that welcomes visitors in any case.
Indeed, many sport heritages are not really meant for broad, touristic consumption – or, perhaps, are not self-conscious of a touristic gaze. Such was the case when attending a Rugby League match in Wigan. In fact, despite being a sport with a lengthy and distinguished heritage, rugby league has the feel of a sport that is very recent, perhaps as a reaction to making rugby union “more exciting” in the same way that T20 cricket was set up as an antidote to test cricket. However, it is a very traditional sport in England’s northwest and, despite the fact that game presentation (such as the music, etc) had more in common with, say, an NFL or NBA game, there were numerous markers around the stadium indicating the club – and sport’s – history.
I suspect I may have been one of the few foreign spectators at the match (won by Wigan over rival Leeds with a last second penalty kick); unlike other sports like football, rugby league hasn’t attracted vast global attention and, as such, the atmosphere at the match was very local and, dare I say, authentic.
Another community that appeared to publicly embrace and proudly display their sporting heritage was Preston. Specifically, reminders of the town’s home football club – Preston North End (or PNE) – and their most famous player, Tom Finney, were present throughout my brief stay. PNE are one of the oldest football clubs in the world, their home stadium, Deepdale, was the oldest football ground still in use and, for many years, the stadium housed the National Football Museum (the museum has since relocated to Manchester). However, for a club that has been in some of the lower divisions of English football for some years, and have not won many major trophies since before the Second World War, the team appears to welcome quite a few visitors, particularly at a well stocked team shop, through a stadium tour, and via various heritage markers across the stadium grounds. For a town like Preston, which appears unlikely to host many tourists, PNE appears to be one of the community’s star attractions.
The name of PNE’s most famous player, Tom Finney, is also present throughout Preston’s city centre, most notably at the University of Central Lancashire’s sports centre which also has a wonderful interpretation display about his career, his life in Preston, and his contributions to the community
While these examples do not come close to representing the entirety of sport heritages in England’s northwest, they are indicative that sport heritage is not just an “American” thing. Certainly, the role that sport has played in the history, culture, and development of Britain is immense, and it is wonderful to see that many communities – particularly those like Preston – acknowledge the important contemporary role of the sporting past.
I have heard that there are few more passionate and dedicated fans than those of auto racing and, in particular, NASCAR. And, though there are many different locations that are important to telling the NASCAR story, or that could lay claim to some important aspects of the sport’s heritage, in reality the sport’s home is in Daytona Beach, Florida and, in particular, at the Daytona International Speedway – home of the “Great American Race”: the Daytona 500, held each February.
(Main entrance to the Speedway and the tour centre)
Tours of the Speedway are, as you might expect, a mixture of NASCAR heritage, a bit of the mythology of the track itself and it’s creator, Bill France Sr., many of the technical and engineering specs of the track, access to areas of the speedway normally inaccessible to the general public, and a non-too-subtle sales pitch, both for additional track experiences and for upcoming events.
The Speedway offers many different tour options – from the quick-and-dirty 30 minute tour (seemingly the most popular, and the one I took) to longer, more involved tours. As you might imagine, a 30 minute tour does not offer much time to provide a thorough narrative, and the tour is basically taking a large people mover to the infield and to pit row and back to the tour centre. Along the way, tour patrons are given a quick history to the track, some of the people involved in its creation, the technical aspects of the track (number of seats, angles of the turns, etc.), as well as an extensive overview of the track’s expansion and renovation – a project called Daytona Rising. The 30 minute tour’s lone stop was along pit row, where tour patrons were encouraged to sign up for an additional track experience – a $150 three-lap loop around the speedway in a modified stock car.
(Tour patrons can purchase a three-lap stock car experience in one of these modified cars)
The tour ends with guides encouraging tour patrons to purchase tickets to upcoming events, as well as a viewing of the winning car from the previous Daytona 500, which the track gets to keep for a year. Of course, there is also an opportunity to purchase another souvenir – a professional photo next to the car.
(Winning car from the 2015 Daytona 500, driven by Joey Logano)
Perhaps most strikingly is that there was little information about famous races, drivers, or incidents. I’ll admit to knowing next-to-nothing about NASCAR or many of the races at the Speedway, and perhaps the tour narrative is designed both for the complete NASCAR novice who may not know nor care about this information, as well as dedicated NASCAR fans who already know all of this information anyways. Indeed, perhaps the most famous incident at Daytona – the death of Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500 in 2001 – was not mentioned at all. Certainly this is by design, as the tour is mainly about seeing a venue famous for being famous, as well as a hagiographical treatment of the Speedway and sport’s founders, though it was interesting that the tour narrative didn’t point out any important locations or spaces on the track.
(Memorial statue to Dale Earnhardt outside of the tour centre)
I will admit, though the charms of stock car racing have thus far escaped me and the up-selling on the tour did get a bit grating, it is a very efficient and, actually, interesting behind-the-scenes tour. Although there is nothing particularly extraordinary about the tour content – and mirrors much of what has been written before about sports venue tours by Gammon & Fear (2005), Ramshaw (2010), and Wright (2012) – I was actually taken back by just how popular the Speedway tours are, and how built-up the tour infrastructure is. And, unlike many venue tours that feel like either a rushed add-on or an inconvenience to the venue managers, the Speedway tours actually felt like an important and integral part of the Speedway’s public face. In fact, I can’t remember a tour where – as a paying member of the public – I felt so valued. Everyone – from the ticket sellers on up – were friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to answer questions. I think in many ways, the tours of the Daytona International Speedway mirrored why NASCAR appeals to so many people, namely that they respect and welcome their fans. Perhaps more than anything, this is what other sites could learn from the Daytona International Speedway.
One of my favourite film scenes of all time, and one in which I believe somehow inspired me to a career in academia, is from very early in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The scene involves Dr. Jones explaining the Ark of the Covenant to two government officials (and providing exposition for the rest of the audience). A bit of biblical history, a bit of archaeology, a bit of drama, a bit of folklore, and a whole lot of fiction – all explained in a beautiful Ivy-League classroom – ends up providing a great deal of urgency and gravitas to Indiana’s adventure.
Of course, teaching and research rarely leads to such excitement and drama, and few of us (myself included) are as charismatic (or, frankly, as dashing) as Dr. Jones. That said, when the light, metaphorically, turns on, I feel a little like I inhabit something of the academic world I still romanticize. Still, archaeology is a sexy topic (beyond Dr. Jones in his three-piece tweed suit). It is uncovering lost civilizations, finding cool things like skeletons and treasures, stuff like that. The reality of archeology is, as we know, brutal, underpaid, and often very unsexy – but there’s a romance to the discipline that makes stories like Raiders so appealing.
Heritage is often not sexy. Heritage is bad history, or something your grandma likes, or is boring, or is reactionary, or is old buildings. Of course, heritage can sort of be all of these things. Heritage, as a concept, is very difficult to categorize, to pin down, and to differentiate from other fields that deal with the past – like history or archaeology. Explaining that heritage is “the present use of the past” doesn’t often clarify things for students, I find, and in fact makes it an even more confusing concept. Thus, it is often something that can be a challenge to convey in the classroom.
Sport and other popular cultures can, I find, be a good hook for students to grasp how heritage works and why it is worthy of study. Unlike more remote forms of heritage, sport is something immediate, often it’s relatable, it is frequently shared or collective, and it’s contemporary use – particularly in terms of promotion and commodification – can be easily demonstrated and understood. In both the sport tourism and heritage tourism classes I teach, I use sport heritage as a way of illuminating concepts and topics like authenticity, urban redevelopment, and event management to name but a few. It is also, I find, a good way of explaining the two major paradigms in heritage studies: heritage as conservation and heritage as discourse. Students may not see sport sites – like stadiums – as necessarily worthy of protection, but when they explore the meanings they associate with these sites they begin to understand why heritage isn’t just a bunch of old buildings and artefacts.
Now, I will admit, it’s a little easier to use sport heritage in places like Clemson which is rather sports-obsessed, and the fact that so much of US culture is associated with sport makes it a relatively relatable concept domestically. But even when dealing with international audiences, many of whom have little interest in sport, I have found that sport can be a powerful vehicle for illuminating broader heritage concepts. It also helps to clarify that heritage is dynamic, and that what is considered heritage – and by whom – is constantly in flux.
At the end of the day, while there are sexy aspects to heritage studies – particularly when they involve the protection of ancient monuments – explaining the actual concept of heritage is unlikely to ever reach the romance of Dr. Jones’ lost ark (The great irony, of course, is that one of the most commonly used examples of the politics of heritage involves the Nazi’s use of public archaeology, but I digress). However, sport can, I believe, be one of the ways in which heritage can be explained and be relatable to a general audience.
A couple of new sport heritage-based research articles are now available for view and (for a limited time) free download:
In the Journal of Sport & Tourism:
“A conceptual model for nostalgia in the context of sport tourism: reclassifying the sporting past” by Heetae Cho (Clemson University), Gregory Ramshaw (Clemson University, and William Norman (Clemson University).
The concept of nostalgia is complex and difficult to measure, in part because of its diverse emotional perspectives. Various authors have attempted to classify aspects of nostalgia to further describe this phenomenon and understand its broader application. However, the nostalgia that sports fans experience, particularly in a tourist context, appears to be unique from its other types and forms. This difference is in part because the relationship between sport – and, by extension, sport-related travel – and nostalgia appears to be distinct. To address this issue, this paper provides a classification and a conceptual model to clarify the concept of nostalgia in the context of sport tourism. Specifically, this research suggests a four-way classification of nostalgia in sport tourism: (1) experience, (2) socialization, (3) personal identity, and (4) group identity. In addition, the conceptual model shows the process of the development of nostalgia by emphasizing the importance of the types of experience. The classification and model suggested in this paper are important for future empirical research to accurately measure the concept of nostalgia and to understand it in the context of sport tourism.
Download this paper here
In the International Journal of the History of Sport:
“Standing out from the Crowd: Imagining Baseball Fans through Sculpture” by Chris Stride (University of Sheffield), Ffion Thomas (University of Central Lancashire), and Gregory Ramshaw (Clemson University)
Sculptures of athletes that immortalize heroic feats have long been part of the sporting world. More recently, statues of sports fans have appeared, particularly at baseball stadiums across North America. Whilst athlete statues usually represent specific subjects, fan statues typically depict anonymous figures, giving commissioners and sculptors broader license to incorporate particular ideals. This paper investigates how the fan statuary’s form reflects commissioners’ motivations, values, and views of fandom, and whether fan statues promote a preferred (but often imaginary) narrative regarding the fan experience. A tripartite fan statue design typology is proposed: hero worship, family experiences, and the crowd. By examining an example of each type, with context provided by a unique database of baseball statuary, the fan statuary’s predominant themes and tensions are illustrated. Fan statues are concentrated at Minor League ballparks, and all feature children. The majority are alloys of both real and imagined components of the idealized fan experience of the baseball organization’s ‘ideal fan’, projecting inclusive, family-friendly, and timeless game day experiences, and evoking nostalgia for childhood. Crowd-type statues offer a more free-spirited and spontaneous aesthetic, with the crowd creating and becoming part of the spectacle – a reality that sports organizations may be less comfortable with.
Download this paper here
On Friday, I received a spot of good news – I was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. It wasn’t necessarily surprising news – my internal letters of support were strong, and I was told by members of our promotion and tenure committee that my external evaluations (which I don’t get to read) were outstanding. Of course, all of this is very humbling, and I feel that – rather than just simply crossing some academic threshold into a life of ease – I have an obligation to use the freedom and privilege of tenure to continue to (hopefully) do good work. Still, it is gratifying news that took much effort and patience – and not just by me – to achieve.
Of course, now that it is official, I wonder what is next – both for me and for the research lines, in sport heritage and elsewhere, I have helped to build. In many ways, I have looked on this news a little like the fictitious Jed Barlet of West Wing fame; taking it in briefly, then moving on to the next item:
This week, in fact, I’m working with a couple of scholars on some research here in Belgium that’s entirely unrelated to sport heritage. I still have numerous projects in various stages of completion. Classes will still be taught. Grad students will still be supervised. In reality, my reality hasn’t much changed.
There are several good blogposts out there – here in particular – that make suggestions of what a post-tenure life might look like, and perhaps what that life should set out to achieve. And, thankfully, I have a sabbatical this autumn that might help me to think through what my tenured future might look like. I really can’t imagine pausing my research – I enjoy the writing and the collaboration process too much to simply put it on hold – though the focus of that research I think, and I hope, will broaden in the coming years. I feel, to an extent, I have taken on a role of a shop steward for untenured faculty in the past year, and I would like to continue this to a greater degree. I also hope to take a little better care of myself and my family going forward. The tenure process is not always great for one’s physical and mental wellbeing – stress, deadlines, and churlish behaviour from colleagues all being contributors – though I hope that these can be managed, rather than endured, a bit better. And, I hope to do “good” – whatever that means.
From a sport heritage perspective, I hope to have some time and space to think about what this topic means and where I would like the focus of my contributions to go going forward. My goal, at least for the past decade or so, was to firstly establish sport heritage as a research topic, and secondly get sport discussed in heritage research and heritage discussed in sport research. I think this has largely been accomplished and, thankfully, a few others appear to have grasped onto this sport heritage thing and are taking it in some new and exciting directions. I hope that I might build upon this work and, hopefully, contribute to new and exciting insights. But this will take time that I’m privileged to now have.
Last summer, I wrote a blog post about some of my favourite sports-centric books that I would recommend for “beach” reading. That is to say, “beach reading” in that they are sports-based books with a bit of heft but not so weighty as to feel like assigned reading for a graduate sport sociology or sports geography class. They should be page-turners, but also be engaging, critical, and interesting as well.
With that in mind, here’s the 2015 edition of Sports Beach Books. Of course, few (if any) of these books were released in 2015, some are very well known while others are quite obscure, but I found each to be engrossing in different ways. Happy Reading!
The Last Great Fight by Joe Layden
I haven’t yet completed this book yet, but if sleep lost to reading “just one more chapter” is any indication, this is a surefire page-turner. Layden’s book looks at the intersecting lives of Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and how (spoiler alert) Douglas’ upset defeat of Tyson in Tokyo in 1990 strangely resulted in the downfall of both fighters. A fantastic read thus far!
Eric Liddell: Pure Gold by David McCasland
Perhaps the least interesting aspect of Eric Liddell’s life, the Scottish runner made famous in the film Chariots of Fire, was that he was a gold medal winning Olympic athlete. McCasland’s book covers Liddell’s unlikely athletics career that became just a small part of his international mission work. An engaging read about a fascinating man.
Boy on Ice by John Branch
The other, darker side of sports biography’s, Branch explores the life – and tragic decline and death – of hockey enforcer Derek “The Boogeyman” Boogaard. Engrossing, but often an upsetting read.
Stolen Season by David Lamb
Lamb, a long-time war correspondent in the Middle East, returns home from his assignment tired and jaded. He decides to take a summer sabbatical and rediscover both his childhood love of baseball and the country he no longer recognizes by travelling the country in a beat-up motorhome watching minor league baseball games. In many respects, both a baseball version of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charle and a time-capsule of minor league baseball and the United States in the early 90s (most of the teams and stadiums Lamb visits no longer exist), it is a reminder of the beauty, simplicity and romance of an American road trip.
The Last Flannelled Fool by Michael Simkins
In some respects, an cricket-based English version of Lamb’s Stolen Season, Simkin’s funny, nostalgic book takes him on a road trip of sorts through England’s cricket landscape, as well as his own cricketing memories. Though understanding the appeal of cricket is probably necessary to enjoy this book, I found myself enjoying Simikin’s travels to the cricketing places that once were so important to him, though the realization that both he and the places had irrevocably changed was, surprisingly, very poignant – particularly for a book firmly rooted in self-mocking humour.
On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates
Probably the weightiest in terms of ideas and content of all the books on this list, nevertheless Oates’ collection of essays about the people, history, ethics, psychology, and geography of boxing is a page-turner. Once I picked it up, I rarely put it down.
Back in November 2003, when I was working on what was to become a major section of my doctoral dissertation, I saw a poll on the Edmonton Oilers website about the Heritage Classic that struck me as a little odd. The poll asked respondents something to the effect of “Where will the Heritage Classic place in the history of the National Hockey League?” The multiple choice responses ranged from “most historic even ever” to “not very historic” or something of the like. The strange aspect was that, at the time of the poll, the Heritage Classic was still weeks away from happening so, of course, it was impossible to assess the event’s historical significance (and, as it turned out, took over a decade until it’s legacy could be examined.)
I was thinking about that poll and our predilection – particularly in sport – to anticipate the legacy of a particular event before it has happened as I scrolled through the coverage of this weekend’s heavily anticipated Mayweather versus Pacquiao boxing match. The fight was built-up as the Match of the Century, with many anticipating that it might be the most important boxing match in history. Certainly, the amount paid by spectators and pay-per-view viewers suggests that much of the appeal of the fight was to see “history made.” HBO’s pre-fight coverage, to their credit, did attempt to separate the different “histories” from one another, arguing that the fight would be historic in terms of its revenue, as well as the fact it was the first major match of the social media era, but that it was far too soon to assess its historical importance, both within the sport itself or within a broader social, cultural, and political context (a-la the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle“). Their assessment – at least as far as the different histories are concerned – reflects the “heritage of sport” and “sport as heritage” argument Sean Gammon and I made in our “More than just nostalgia” article, specifically that some sport heritages are self-contained within the sport themselves while others transcend the sport and become part of a wider cultural heritage.
In any event, the idea of anticipating what the history, or legacy, of an event might be may not be a recent phenomenon, but perhaps it is simply a part of our rapid consumption of culture – that we expect we can assess the cultural and historical worth of something either beforehand or immediately after (as some have done mere hours after the fight). Again going back to my doctoral years, I recall reading Arthur Danto’s Narration and Knowledge as part of a Philosophy of History course and remembering his thoughts about how we talk about the past, specifically that time and distance are required to assess the importance of an event and that we, while living in another era’s history, cannot possibly understand what is and is not of “historical” value. Mayweather versus Pacquiao may very well fit the moniker of “Fight of the Century” and it may reveal something about the social, cultural, and political context of 2015. Or it may mean nothing. We may simply have to wait to find out.