Here at Sport Heritage Review HQ, we’ve been busily at work on a number of different research projects – which, unfortunately, has lead to a bit of neglect for our social media channels. As such, it seems like the time is right to provide a few updates about our sport heritage research:
Clemson Football Memories Project: The findings from this project, which links sport heritage (specifically about Clemson University’s football program) with reminiscence therapy, have been shared at academic conferences including the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) conference in Winnipeg and the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) Conference in Grand Rapids. The project, in fact, was awarded the Excellence in Education Award at ATRA. Findings will soon be submitted to peer-reviewed journals in both Recreational Therapy and Heritage Studies. The project team will also soon be meeting with members of the BasebALZ baseball reminiscence therapy project in Austin, and one of our project team members will be attending the Football Memories Scotland convention in Glasgow in November. It is hoped that these meeting will provide both learning opportunities and research directions for the project team as well as provide valuable networking connections within the sport-based reminiscence community.
Baseball Heritage: Two manuscripts about the baseball research projects, which included stops in both Cooperstown and Cincinnati, will soon be submitted. One of the research projects explores the cultural and economic outputs, duties, and tensions at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, while the other looks at representations of Pete Rose at both Cooperstown and at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
Post-Event Olympic Museums: Jungah Choi, a doctoral student in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University, is currently researching post-event Olympic museums (in other words, Olympic museums in former Olympic host cities. She will be presenting her research proposal at the International Symposium of Olympic and Paralympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Ms. Choi will also be contributing posts to the Sport Heritage Review about her research in the near future.
Politics of Sport Heritage in Brazil: Felipe Tobar, a doctoral student in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University, is currently working on a manuscript and conference presentation related to the politics and corruption of listing football stadia as heritage properties in Brazil. Mr. Tobar will also be contributing posts to the Sport Heritage Review about his research in the near future.
Sport Heritage Travels: Our travels this past summer have included a number of sport heritage stops, including in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Cincinnati. The Ottawa trip was particularly informative, as several prominent national museums and public spaces included sport-based heritage – including a large scale public art project featuring a rendering of the Stanley Cup (see above), the trophy awarded to the champion of the National Hockey League. The Canadian Museum of History also included a tremendous amount of sport heritage in telling the story of Canada, while the Canadian War Museum held a special exhibition about armour, including the use of armour in medieval and contemporary sport.
We hope to be back shortly with updates on these projects, announcements of new and exciting project, as well as posts about sport heritage research from a number of new voices and perspectives.
As we head into the summer months, at least here in the northern half of the globe, there is normally a chance to slow down, take it easy and, perhaps, browse our local bookshop (or, probably more likely, our Kindle app) for something to read during our downtime. Somewhat sporadically over the last few years, I have written blog posts recommending some sports-centric books suitable for beach/cabin/cafe/holiday reading (see the 2014 list here, the 2015 list here, and the 2016 list here). Some books have a sport heritage component to them, some do not, though they were popular sports books that over the past year or so I enjoyed reading and would recommend (which also means that they were not necessarily published in the last year, but that I happened to read them over the past year). That said, there are a number of other sites that I would also recommend (most notably, the frequent and well-written reviews from our friends at the Sport in American History blog comes to mind.
In any event, here are a few 2018 recommendations for your summer sports reading:
Part memoir, part ethnography, the author spends a year becoming a professional “horseplayer” and meeting other gamblers along the way. I think horse racing inspires entertaining books, particularly when focused on contemporary rather than historical horse racing, because it is such a niche – and, in many ways, antiquated – sport. Whereas knowing and gambling on horses in the US was once a major leisure pastime, now it attracts an incredibly quirky group of people – each with their own system of handicapping the races. McLelland provides a very engaging narrative about the culture of a track, the people it attracts, and his own highs and lows on the road to becoming a professional handicapper.
This was probably my favourite sports book I read in the past year. Marzorati’s memoir of taking up tennis in retirement, obsessing over it, acquiring skills and milestones and victories and setbacks and, ultimately, something resembling contentment was, for me at least, inspiring. Part of this is that I recently took up tennis as well and, though I am not in retirement, I am also not in great physical shape (and certainly not at the level of Marzorati). In many ways, this book has taught me that there is still time to learn, to try, and to achieve no matter the stage in life.
On a recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Rethinking History podcast, he discussed an academic paper which concluded that a hockey coach who’s team is down a goal should pull their goalie with nearly six minutes to play in the game. While “pulling the goalie” is a common tactic in hockey, it is normally done with fewer than two minutes remaining in the game. Gladwell used this point to discuss, among other things, the idea of approval in decision-making (a coach who pulled the goalie with six minutes left would, almost certainly, not be a coach for very long despite the fact it might actually be the statistically correct move). The idea of trying tactics that are statistically defensible but completely fly in the face of a sport’s culture and norms is the focus of this entertaining and often funny book by the hosts of the excellent Effectively Wild baseball podcast. Given almost complete control of the on-field tactics of a minor league baseball team, Lindbergh and Miller quickly learn that what might be right on paper is not always going to be accepted by players and managers on the field.
Though likely a bit dated, given that it was from the late 1980s/early 1990s, it is nevertheless a disturbing though compelling account of hooligan culture in England. Although there is an entire subgenera of memoirs from hooligans, this one is unique in that it was written by an American who didn’t grow up in football/soccer culture but who slowly went from being revolted by what he saw to being a participant in the mayhem.
Pete Rose is either viewed as a hero – the “hit king” who topped Ty Cobb’s record – or a villain – the man who sullied the American Pastime through gambling on games he managed. Kennedy’s memoir is a nuanced account of Rose, a remarkable player who was a deeply flawed (though never particularly mean) character. Kennedy doesn’t particularly make the case for or against Rose as much as asking those on either side to take a closer look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the summer break (such as it is) winds down here in South Carolina, I thought I might provide a brief update on various research projects, publications, and activities.
Book – Drafting chapters for Heritage and Sport: An Introduction continues. The entire book exists in outline, and this summer the first “thin” drafts of chapters have been written. I am looking to a full “thin” draft to be complete by the end of the year. The process has been enjoyable thus far, though the next fifteen months or so will require a great deal of focus in order to submit to the publisher by Fall of 2018. Part of the summer included a research trip to London, which helped immensely in the creation of several chapters. An upcoming family trip through the midwestern United States will, at points, also include research stops at a few sport heritage sites, and also help provide some much needed examples and illustrations for the text. Unsurprisingly, as I attempt to write about the many forms and types of sport heritage, I am finding (and, perhaps, rediscovering) many areas and topic which – I hope – I can flesh out in greater detail once the book is complete. Namely, I am finding that I’ve been drawn recently to existential forms of sport heritage, particularly as sport heritage is embodied and performed in various places and circumstances, as well as a increased interest in dissonant sport heritages – inspired in large part by the excellent Blue Plaque Rebellion project in the UK.
Sport heritage and Reminiscence Therapy project – Work continues on a research project linking sport heritage and reminiscence therapy. This project, which uses Clemson University’s football heritage in the creation of a reminiscence therapy project for local residents suffering from dementia-related illnesses, will be implemented in the early autumn, pending a successful review by our Institutional Review Board (i.e.: research ethics review). We have all the materials ready, and hope that this project – and its findings – will not only help people suffering from dementia as well as their families, it will also further demonstrate the utility of sport heritage in a variety of settings and programs.
National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame – I obtained a small research grant to conduct research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It is anticipated that data collection will take place in October, and will focus on the mitigation/management of dissonant sport heritage narratives, as well as looking at representations of (and public reactions to) women’s baseball heritage at the Baseball Hall.
Published/Forthcoming Research – Thrilled that a co-edited special issue of the Journal of Sport & Tourism (along with Sean Gammon and Richard Wright) looking at theory and sport tourism was fully published in June, including a reflection Sean and I wrote about the current state of sport heritage in sport tourism. I also recently learned that two previous papers, one about sport heritage and the health stadia agenda and one (written with Inge Derom) about sport heritage and tourism development, will be included in two different edited volumes in 2018. I also recently contributed a research focus point about outdoor ice hockey and heritage sport tourism for the forthcoming third edition of Tom Hinch and James Higham’s Sport Tourism Development. Finally, I’ve also been working on several pieces not related to sport heritage with other researchers, including one piece about coastal tourism development in South Carolina and another about uses of nostalgia in reentry for travelling missionaries.
Reading – I have managed to read a bit for pleasure this summer. I thoroughly enjoyed Gerald Morzorati’s Late to the Ball about him taking up tennis at a serious level in his 50s and, as I do every summer, I piece my way through the latest Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Lately I have been reading both William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life and David Foster Wallace’s On Tennis: Five Essays. Though my summer reading does often include sports books, it usually doesn’t skew this sports-heavy. Perhaps I was seeking an escape of sorts during these troubled times.
Activities – I continued my practice from last summer of scoring baseball games I attend, which too provides a sense of serenity as well as a souvenir of a game watched. I started, tentatively, playing tennis as well – an activity, I must admit, I am enjoying more than I thought I would.
One of the assumptions made about stadium/sports venue tours and sport museums is that they have appeal to both dedicated supporters and the merely curious. In many ways, the best tours and museums strike a balance between providing an in-depth experience for the most knowledgable fan without alienating the non-supporter. The best result can be to make the supporter more supportive, and the non-supporter a fan.
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, along with the tour of the venue, do a remarkable job of providing something of value to the tennis fan, as well as pushing the non-fan to follow the sport. The fact that Wimbledon is one of a handful of sporting venues that are synonymous with a sport (along with places like Churchill Downs for horse racing, or Lord’s for cricket) means that they espouse a responsibility not just for the venue and its wellbeing, but the sport as a whole. A similar notion, where a venue’s heritage experiences were felt to have larger purposes, was mentioned to me by a manager at Twickenham Stadium where he felt that the purpose of the venue’s tour and museum were not just to tell people about Twickenham but to ignite or reaffirm their love for rugby regardless of where they live. In this, both the tour and museum at Wimbledon are often about much more than Wimbledon.
Of course, one of the remarkable aspects in visiting Wimbledon for the first time is actually just how compact the entire venue is. This is something I have experienced visiting many infamous sporting venues – that the expectation of a venue noticeably removed from the rest of the surrounding geography is often not the reality. It’s not that Wimbledon is not noticeable from the surrounding landscape, but perhaps more that you might actually miss it unless you were specifically looking for it.
The tour itself mirrors many other sport stadium tours, in that it begins in the gift shop and includes stops such as the media rooms and press conference room, check-in location for the players (in lieu of visiting the locker room), and Centre Court. The tour narrative balanced history, traditions, logistics and was relatively inclusive for both dedicated tennis fans and non-tennis watchers alike. For example, when describing particular matches and players, the narrative tended towards the infamous rather than the arcane. The court where the Isner-Mahut marathon match took place, for example, was a good introduction to both the side courts as well as including something that both tennis and non-tennis fans knew and could understand. Similarly, the anecdotes were largely related to the relatively recent and famous players such as Federer, Williams, Sampras, and so on. Interestingly, the site also keeps the bracket and scores up for the entire year following The Championship, perhaps for the purposes of the tours but also maybe a nod to the prestige of winning the tournament.
There were two relatively surprising elements to the tour narrative. The first was that our guide, though largely friendly, demonstrated frustration and agitation with visitor questions. I am not sure if this was a personality quirk, something to do with scheduling (in terms of not running into other tour groups), or that he felt (or was instructed) that he could not deviate from a scripted tour narrative. In any event, even the most innocent questions (for example, about how to attend the tournament) were dismissed, often quite sharply. Granted, most of the questions were answered throughout the tour narrative, but it was extremely odd that a guide would not welcome genuine interest and curiosity about the venue and its history. Secondly, the the tour narrative was scripted as such to be quite self-conscious about the exclusivity of the tournament and venue. The guide spent an enormous amount of time discussing that the main priority of the venue managers was to promote tennis, and not to acquire more wealth. Specifically, the fact that regular people could queue each morning and purchase grounds passes for only £25, or that visitors could bring their own food and drink to the tournament rather than buying on-site, or that people who had dedicated their lives to the promotion of tennis (the example of a youth tennis instructor from “the north of England” was frequently used) were more likely to gain membership than the wealthiest of bankers with no tennis background, bolstered the venue’s egalitarian bonafides. Needless to say, much like other infamous sporting venues (passing through the “gates” of Augusta National golf club comes to mind), the Wimbledon tour narrative is rife with religious symbolism (“eye of a needle” etc.)
The Lawn Tennis Museum offered an excellent companion to the venue tour. Although there were anticipated aspects to the displays and artefacts, including history of the sport, development of equipment technology, trophies, and memorabilia from past women’s and men’s champions, two aspects stood out. The first was the museum’s use of technology, including holograms – in this case, of John McEnroe talking about playing at Wimbledon as well as some of his famous matches – and a VR exhibit that puts the visitor at Centre Court during both last year’s women’s and men’s finals. One of the challenges of places like Wimbledon, which are famous for particular annual events and which, more often than not, are very exclusive, is providing visitors something of an experience of attending or playing-at an event Wimbledon. As such, the museum does a good job of being both intellectually and sensually engaging in its interpretation, using its space to not only tell “what it was” but “what it is like”.
One of the welcome exhibits was one about media broadcasts of Wimbledon. In fact, I feel that one of the overlooked aspects of sport heritage is the role of media, in particular that much of our own, individual sport heritages are created not through attending sporting events themselves but listening to/watching them at home with friends and family. Though the exhibit was ostensibly recognizing the BBC’s history of broadcasting the tournament, there was also a section about personal memories of listening to or watching the tournament during the English summer. The fact that some of the most ardent tennis fans will have never actually attended The Championships, though nevertheless see it as part of their own summer traditions, is something that sports museums need to explore in greater detail, and that sport heritage research ought to explore further.
Despite a few strange developments on the tour, I will admit to becoming quite enamoured with Wimbledon, The Championships, and tennis as a whole after my visit there. I am hardly a tennis aficionado, and while I will sometimes tune into a few of the matches during a major tournament, I find that after my visit to Wimbledon I am not only anticipating this year’s tournament even more, I find that I am wanting to follow (and even attempt to play) the sport more than I did before.