Sport Heritage Review

Sport Heritage: A Current Assessment

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The study of sport heritage has come a long way.

When I first began researching this topic fifteen years ago, it seemed that sport heritage and its many variations – including sports museums, heritage-based sport tourism, preservation and heritage recognition of sporting venues, heritage sporting events and the like – was receiving limited research attention. Sport historians would occasionally write about museums, tourism scholars would suggest that sport nostalgia might be something examine in greater detail, and geographers might note the use of heritage in stadia, but it wasn’t a particularly deep or coherent body of knowledge.

I look at where we are now and I am amazed!

I think part of this has come from many different scholars from a variety of fields realizing that many forms of popular culture, including sport, are important in revealing something about ourselves, our pasts, and our current culture. Sport is no longer the ugly stepchild of heritage. I recall when I was working at a historic village in the 1990s and asked to develop sport-based public programming (primarily involving cricket, which was a popular pastime in the era we were representing). I was told that sport wasn’t “particularly serious” and that we ought to focus our interpretive efforts on “serious issues and topics.” I think the fact that sport is becoming a topical mainstay of historic markers, of preservation activities, of tourism development, and of permanent museum exhibitions is an important development.

I think there has also been a broader engagement from traditional academic disciplines such as history, geography, archaeology, and anthropology to engage with heritage more generally, and sport heritage in particular. While I used to regularly hear from scholars that heritage was little more than “fake history,” there is now I believe a broader understanding that this idea of heritage – how, why, and by whom the past is used in the present – is something we need to understand. This is not to suggest that heritage is “good” – in fact, the entire purpose of critical heritage studies is to understand and reveal which voices are given priority and which are marginalized and why – but rather that an understanding of heritage in sport is a way of engaging with the many reasons the sporting past is created and mobilized in the present. Furthermore, the idea that sport heritage in its many forms is something that many sport historians, sport geographers, and others see as something that is important to understand has been a significant and, I believe, a positive change for the field.

It has also been great to see scholars engage with specific aspects of sport heritage. Topics such as sports museums, sports venues, and heritage sport tourism have received the bulk of research attention, but the work of scholars like Joel Pinson to examine sport heritage events in depth has been a welcome development.

The development of numerous organizations that link scholars with sport heritage topics and issues has also been welcome. While organization such as ISHA have been around for decades and are integral to the continued maintenance of sport heritage for the public, recent work by organizations such as the Sporting Memories Foundation, who use sport heritage resources such as archives and museums to address issues of dementia and loneliness, Sporting Heritage, who advocate on behalf of sports museums in the UK, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who have been integral in the preservation of historic sports venues in the US, and ICOMOS, who recently recognized sport as an important part of heritage conservation, are all welcome developments to sport heritage scholarship and understanding in the public sphere.

Finally, the connections between scholars who share an interest in sport heritage, sport history, and sport culture has become more robust in recent years, developed in large part through Twitter. As a sport heritage scholar, I have learned a tremendous amount from sport scholars in a variety of fields in large part because we have “connected” on Twitter. In fact, as I was perusing the conference schedule for next month’s NASSH conference in Winnipeg, I realized just how many scholars I “knew” because I became familiar with their work through social media. Perhaps most notably, the excellent work by the group of scholars involved in the Sport in American History blog and website has not only engaged sport heritage scholars, but has engaged in “real world” topics and demonstrated the important role of the sporting past in contemporary debates.

There is still much work to do in sport heritage research, and many places scholarship can go (those thoughts are for a future blog, perhaps). There are also many more ways in which scholars from a variety of disciplines, as well as public agencies and other interested parties, can go with this field. However, I think it is important to pause for a moment and realize just how far this research area has developed.

The Clemson Football Memories Project: Sharing Our Sport-Based Reminiscence Therapy Materials and Protocols

Last year, a team from Clemson University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management developed and implemented a sport-based reminiscence therapy program a part of a pilot study linking sport heritage and recreational therapy. The program development and study were generously funded by the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute. Given the cultural and historic importance of the Clemson University football program throughout South Carolina, it was decided to theme the program around the history, heritage, and traditions of Tigers football! The program was well-received and data is showing benefits for participants and practitioners alike:

The program also received local and national media attention:

We believe our program can be used in other settings, adapted to other football teams, and can even be applied to other sports. We also want others to be able to use our protocols in other contexts, including with their own loved-ones at home. As such, we are pleased to share our Clemson Football reminiscence therapy protocols and materials (simply click on the highlighted link for each section):

There is also a great organization in the United Kingdom, the Sporting Memories Network, who also provide sport-themed reminiscence therapy materials.

We’d love to hear how you are using the Clemson Football Memories program and if you are finding it to be a useful reminiscence therapy tool. Please provide comments at the bottom of this post, or please get in touch with either Dr. Brent Hawkins (blhawki@clemson.edu) or Dr. Gregory Ramshaw (gramsha@clemson.edu).

A Cold, Snowy Week in Cooperstown

If you ever wish to go to Cooperstown, New York and visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and wish to have the museum largely to yourself – I suggest a visit in early January, particularly during a brutal run of sub-zero temperatures. There were days that the only people in the hall of fame were myself, my frequent research partner Sean Gammon, and the museum staff. Hand on heart, we essentially had a multiday private viewing of one of the most famous sports museums in the world.

While Sean and I are hard at work on a couple of manuscripts based off of our time in Cooperstown, I thought I’d share a few stray observations about the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

– I was impressed at how the museum handled some of the more contentious debates in baseball, in particular PEDs, labour disputes, and Pete Rose. They provided space for visitors to express their views, and allowed museum guides to express their own opinions. There’s even signage early on in the exhibits that positions the museums approach to, in particular, PEDs.

– Visiting the museum, ironically, made me interested in learning more about Negro Leagues baseball. That said, the section on African-Americans in baseball was a bit sparse, and seemed to suggest that racism in baseball ended in 1953.

– Some of the more surprising artefacts I noticed in the collection included items from Marvin Miller and Curt Flood, buttons made by fans protesting labour disruptions, a copy of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, a copy of the Mitchell Report, and a Detroit Tigers pride cap.

– Guides told us that Ichrio often visits the museum and is one of its most generous patrons.

– There are very few mentions of death in the museum. Only the exhibits about stadiums, interestingly enough, had dates of “death”.

– The hall of fame section is like a mosoleum. People speak in hushed tones. It is also warmer than any other section of the museum.

– I found it interesting that the only two players who had individual exhibits were Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. I was expecting one for Jackie Robinson.

– I think my favourite part of the museum was the exhibit about stadiums (“Sacred Ground”). The interpretive panels were very well written (with some remarkable observations about nostalgia and topophilia), and was the one section of the museum that really addressed the traditions and rituals of baseball spectating.

– My favourite artefact was the Barry Bonds “asterisk” home run record ball.

– It is well worth a visit, though I think my experience was unique given the time of year. The place must feel claustrophobic in the middle of summer.

Sport Heritage News and Notes

Happy 2018 from the Sport Heritage Review! A few brief sport heritage research tidbits to start the new year:

Clemson Football Memories Project: We are now into the analysis phase of our Clemson Football Memories Project, which combines sport heritage and reminiscence therapy to address dementia and other memory-related issues. In addition to our analysis, Clemson’s media relations team put together a great story and video that talks a bit about our project:

Over the holiday break, we were thrilled to receive regional and national attention for our project. Over thirty stories appeared across the US based off of the original press release, including this news clip from WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina:

While the media attention is welcome, we are currently seeking follow-up funding to continue the project further. We think, based off of our pilot project, that there is room for this project to grow and (hopefully) help more people.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: This week, Sean Gammon of the University of Central Lancashire and I will be visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York to work on a few different research projects, including how popular sport heritage tourist sites negotiate their cultural and economic outputs, as well as to continue our work about heroes as sport heritage, to understand a bit more about the idea of “home” and sport heritage, and to understand a bit more about authorized and unauthorized forms of heritage vis-a-vis sport heritage. This will be our first visit to Cooperstown and, despite the forecast of very chilly weather, we are excited to head to upstate New York to continue our work.

Sport Heritage monograph: Work continues on the sport heritage monograph, tentatively titled Heritage and Sport: An Introduction. At present, a copy is due to Channel View Publications in October of this year. Approximately two-thirds of the book has been drafted, with the remainder of an initial draft expected to be completed by the end of April. The summer will be spent adding to the draft and sending to colleagues for informal review.

 

Sport Heritage & Reminiscence Therapy: An Initial Reflection

Over the last year and a half, I have been part of a research team that developed and staged a six-session reminiscence therapy protocol at an assisted living/memory care facility. We finished the delivery of the protocol sessions at a care facility this week. The protocols were based on Clemson football’s history, heritage, and traditions, including: Going to the Game, The Stadium, Tailgating, Famous Games, Famous People, and Traditions. The project was funded by a grant from the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute and, from initial idea to delivery to final analysis and publication, will be nearly two years in total.

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We are beginning some of our post-program data collection, with data analysis, publication, and seeking additional funding opportunities as some of the next steps. However, I thought I would offer a few initial thoughts about the program and protocols as they are fresh in my mind:

  • The research team all noticed that the sessions dealing with, in Fairley and Gammon’s (2005) terms, memories and nostalgia for socialization rather than artefact offered more opportunities for reminiscence. That is to say, the sessions that covered topics such as “tailgating” and “going to the game” appeared to be significantly more interactive in terms of memory sharing by participants than the sessions about “famous players” and “famous games.” This is not to say that those dealing with more fact-based aspects of the program were poorly received. Rather, participants appeared to consider these sessions more as learning opportunities than as a space for interaction.
  • In terms of the famous games and players, we made the assumption that games and players from the 1950s and 1960s would resonate most with the participants. While there were certainly some participants who had specific memories of players, teams, and games from those eras, more recent heritage – such as the feats of quarterback Deshaun Watson – appeared to resonate more.
  • Specific knowledge about Clemson football’s history and heritage was not a deterrent for participants. Although some participants commented that they had an initial trepidation about joining the group because they didn’t know anything about Clemson football, or were not football fans at all, many took it as a learning opportunity. Even more interesting, some took it as an opportunity to explore their own personal sport heritage – reflecting on their days playing a specific sport – which suggests a form of “active sport heritage,” an idea introduced in Derom and Ramshaw’s (2016) article.
  • College football was a great vehicle for a sport-based reminiscence therapy program, as the traditions of college football include numerous social/spatial elements beyond the game itself, including pre-game tailgating, homecoming events, and “the game” being part of the overall college experience. Many participants reminisced as much about their college days as their time going to the games.
  • In assessing the risks in delivery of the program, we failed to account for the sadness expressed by some participants at our involvement in the program ending. The care facility has all of our materials, and while we are hoping that the program continues in some form, there is no guarantee of this. In some ways, we are wondering whether the novelty of the program – as well as new/different people delivering the program – was one of the primary aspects of the program’s appeal rather than necessarily the sport heritage-based topic.
  • By the end of the program, the group had formed its own traditions and inside jokes. Reminiscing about these group traditions were an integral part of the final two sessions, as it turned out.
  • Incorporating interactive activities became an integral part of the program. We played cornhole – a game largely associated with college football tailgating – at the end of several sessions, which proved very popular. We began each session with the national anthem and the Clemson Cadence Count, both of which are interactive in terms of singing/chanting. During our final session, we included a version of the tradition of touching “Howard’s Rock” and “Running Down the Hill” which proved very popular with participants.

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We have much to do in terms of analyzing our data and publishing our findings, but I think we all think that there is a “there there.” While the idea of using sport heritage and sporting memories in reminiscence therapy is not necessarily new, structuring it around specific protocols might be.

 

Sport Heritage and the Anti-Hero

While in the midst of reviewing some past sport heritage-based research for my book project, I re-read Sean Gammon’s excellent “Heroes as heritage” paper from the Journal of Heritage Tourism. The idea of living sport heritage and the “athlete artefact” has has been discussed via this forum numerous times (including the last blog post about non-human athletes), but I got to thinking that many sporting artefacts are not particularly heroic, particularly in their off-field activities. And, yet, these flawed people are never-the-less often treated with the same reverence as their more heroic sporting counterparts – and, indeed, are often strongly linked with broader heritage narratives of civic and national identity. I gave Sean a call, and we got to talking about the idea of the anti-hero in sport heritage.

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During our discussions, Sean pointed out an interesting aspect to the reverence for the anti-hero in sport: they are just like us, flawed and fragile. The idea of a sporting hero as a kind-of mythological god places them on a different plain that we mere mortals. But, the anti-hero is relatable because he (and, I think, most sporting anti-heroes are male) isn’t perfect and has made mistakes. Of course, some of those mistakes go from the everyday (perhaps drink, or gambling, or infidelity) to the truly violent – though, even then, there appears to be routes back to public admiration (see Mike Tyson). There is also the aspect of marketability, particularly if the sporting anti-hero stands out in the sporting landscape. John McEnroe is just another former tennis champion – but the “brat” character (which, apparently, still makes a pantomime-esque appearance at master’s tennis events) puts him into the anti-hero category. He shakes up the establishment, while losing his temper – just like you and me!

In terms of the broader relationship to heritage, it seems that heritage sites – team or player like museums – either try to contextualize the anti-hero or rehabilitate him. A site like the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia dedicates significant space and effort to casting Cobb, not as a virulent racist, but as a fierce competitor that historians throughout baseball’s history, for various nefarious reasons, wanted to do harm. As a friend who toured the museum once commented to me, “It seems that the museum has one overriding theme: he might have been a sonofabitch, but he’s OUR sonofabitch!”  Similarly, the photo above is from the exterior of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and references the “knotted history” of Pete Rose – the so-called “hit king” of baseball who was banned from the sport (and hall of fame) for betting but remains a beloved figure in the city. There is also a connection between official and unofficial heritage at work with the anti-hero. The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, for example, plays up his folk hero status (particularly as positioned in films such as Field of Dreams), challenges the official baseball line of him throwing the 1919 World Series, while also lobbying for him to be re-instated and, therefore, eligible for induction into Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. There is also the aspect of dividing the performance on the field from the actions off of it. Jackson, for example, took gamblers’ money to throw the World Series, but performed well in the series regardless. Pete Rose may have bet on baseball when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, and was a notorious womanizer, but that shouldn’t take away from is record-breaking on-field achievements.

Most sport heritage is pretty celebratory, and certainly there is a celebratory nature to recognizing the anti-hero. They are “personalities” and “authentic” vis-a-vis the hyper-trained media-savvy athletic gods of today. They are also a source of nostalgia – probably to a time when it wouldn’t have been surprising that a star baseball player was drinking at your favourite bar, because he probably didn’t make much more than you do. And, yet, the anti-hero offers us an interesting insight into the dynamics of heritage and, in particular, which sporting legacies we value and why. Perhaps it is not simply success that defines our sporting heroes, but whether or not we see something of them in ourselves.

Rethinking the Athlete Artefact: Horses and Sport Heritage

One of the topics in sport heritage research that has received some attention over the years (including on this blog) is the idea of the athlete artefact. That is to say, many athletes could be considered a form of “living” sport heritage – particularly after their playing careers have finished. However, unlike other types of artefacts, we cannot “preserve” them – though their achievements may become mythological and heroic over time. On the other hand, some heritage sites – such as Olympic museums – provide an opportunity for visitors to gaze upon the training of contemporary athletes, positioning the “athlete artefact” through more of a zoological lens.

A recent trip to Kentucky shed further light on this idea of the athlete artefact, in particular the opportunities to view, and even touch, former thoroughbred racehorses. Animals offer a different view of the athlete artefact. Human athletes, in most cases, position themselves as “living legends” after their careers end, perhaps by participating in exhibition matches, so-called “Champions” tournaments, and through autograph and memorabilia sales. Similarly, athletes who are on public view during their training sessions have some agency in terms of where and when they train, as well as whether to continue as an elite athlete. Animal athletes have no such agency and, as such, at places like the Kentucky Horse Park where viewing and interacting with past champion horses – including Kentucky Derby winners – are part of the visitation experience, there is a very direct zoological comparison. However, unlike a zoo, visitors aren’t coming to the Horse Park simply to view random horses – although, there are representations of different breeds at the site – they are there to actually see famous horses such as 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champions like Funny Cide.

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Part of the narrative of these horses is not only their races and victories, but also their lineage. Which champion horses are they related to, or who did they sire or dam, is an important part of their heritage narrative – both literally as well as contextually. The parentage, as well as the children, of human athlete artefacts normally only warrant a mention as part of biography rather than some sort of genetic destiny.

Horses also reveal something different about the life cycle, as well as the meaning, of the athlete artefact. For the human athlete artefact, there is the playing career, followed by perhaps the coaching and exhibition playing career, frequenting the autograph circuit, and then, perhaps, closing out with speaking engagements and the like after the body is no longer willing to, say, run around a tennis court anymore. For the animal athlete artefact, places like the Kentucky Horse Park (and, to a lesser extent, the Kentucky Derby Museum) are the culmination of a career largely built on racing and breeding. In many respects, the champion horses at the Kentucky Horse Park and the like are simply there to be admired, perhaps as physical specimens but as much simply for being what they are. They exist, like other rare heritage objects and artefacts, in order to simply exist, because they are rare, and because they are beautiful. As such, though most athlete artefacts are quite different than other forms of heritage objects, in the case of these kinds of horses they are, in fact, remarkably similar to a traditional heritage artefact. Perhaps this is because they do not have agency and that they are considered, in essence, simply objects. However, the fact that visitors can actually see, interact, watch, and admire these champions – and the fact that they are worthy of preservation after their “usefulness” is over – provides a very different perspective on the athlete artefact.

Copyright

© Gregory Ramshaw and The Sport Heritage Review, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gregory Ramshaw and The Sport Heritage Review with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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