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Gambling as Sport Heritage

The Super Bowl, arguably the biggest betting day in the US, is a little over a week away. Casinos and on-line sports books are famous for taking all kinds of strange bets, called “props”, during the Superbowl – from how long the National Anthem will take to the outcome of the coin flip. Needless to say, betting is as much a part of the Super Bowl experience as the funny commercials, beer, and snacks.

But, can we consider gambling as sport heritage, and do many sport-based museums and halls of fame discuss gambling as part of sport?

Of course, as long as there’s been sport, there has been gambling on sport. Indeed, many sports – like cricket – were codified in large part because of gambling. Some of sports biggest and most notable moments – such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal in baseball – are integral in discussing and interpreting the sporting past.

But, do sports museums discuss gambling as part of their past, or indeed their present? And, should a discussion of gambling – either as in historical or contemporary terms – be part of more sports museums?

The Mob Museum in Las Vegas held an event last year about sports gambling – though, of course, this museum is not sport-based and many of its exhibits are about about gambling. It appears that both the National Horse Racing Museum and Kentucky Derby Museum make mention of gambling, though I don’t believe there’s the equivalent of a gambling simulator at either site. Online museums, like the National Pastime Museum, discuss famous gambling and match-fixing events in baseball. Of course, there may be other examples from sport heritage sites but, seemingly, sports gambling is largely ignored within sport heritage.

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In the wake of so many recent gambling issues – in tennis, cricket, soccer, and basketball among others – should sports museums be more proactive in discussing sports gambling, both past and present? Certainly, gambling plays a central role in the history of many sports – shouldn’t sports museums and halls of fame represent these pasts? Similarly, the fact that many sports leagues embrace sports gambling as part of the contemporary sport consumption experience – particularly through fantasy sports – shouldn’t museums play a role in discussing both the positives and negatives of sports gaming? Of course, many sports museums and halls of fame don’t want to touch topics like gambling with a ten-foot pole, but others might find that by discussing gambling at their sites they not only present a more holistic view of the sporting past, they also become part of the contemporary conversations about the role of gambling in sport.

Sports Venues and Historic Preservation: What the Astrodome tells us about heritage

One of the major issues facing historic preservation appears to be making the case for the preservation and protection of relatively recent sites and structures. I think this is particularly the case for buildings that were, at the time, considered futuristic or having a space-age design, or represented some kind of forward-thinking, progressive age – in fact, the polar-opposite of heritage. A recent non-sport example would be something like the site of the Kennedy Space Center, which seems to be much more about the glorious past of the US Space Program than about any kind of future discovery. Seemingly overnight, the site went from a symbol of the future to almost a relic of the past, although in some respects it still exists in a kind-of liminal space where there are still echoes of a future to come. Of course, the Kennedy Space Center still has a purpose, primarily as a tourist attraction as well as the site of occasional launches from private firms, and as such is probably spared from any real threat. However, most recent historic structures aren’t so fortunate, and it can sometimes be difficult to position them as worthy of preservation and protection.

Many sports stadia and venues from the recent sporting past also exist in a kind-of liminal space, particularly as cities and communities struggle with whether the multi-use, multipurpose venues built in the 1960s and 70s are worthy of designation, protection, and repurposing. I have argued many times – both in this forum and in academic publications – that nothing is so dead as an unused and abandoned stadium. A stadium can’t often simply exist to exist, as other historic properties might. In many cases, such as in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Philadelphia amongst many others, multipurpose venues were simply demolished. However, the case of the Houston Astrodome, and the current debates over of what to do with it, might add to the broader debate about the preservation of recent sites and buildings.

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The history of the Astrodome is well documented, though needless to say it has arguably been the most important sporting structure – in events, design, and legacy – in the US in the past 50 years. It is undeniably an important building in telling the story of American sports since the mid 1960s, and if it were a more conventional building the debate over its preservation wouldn’t be in doubt. However, because it is a large, abandoned sports venue, it becomes a little more complicated. There remains an ongoing debate about what to do with it, from the unusual suggestion of maintaining it as site for “ruin porn” tourism to the more conventional adaptive reuse options, but the fact that it hasn’t been torn down and that there are various proposals about what to do with it is encouraging – not just for those who value the building itself, but for proponents of a much broader understanding of historic preservation. The idea that sports venues are not only icons of place but repositories for memories and intergenerational bonding, sites where spectacular feats happened and amazing people performed, and sources of all kinds of artistic inspiration, are not new. However, the notion that the much-riducled multipurpose sports venue also possess heritage qualities is unique, and might make us re-think all kinds of structures from our recent past. Of course, we probably don’t want to save every stadium or every building built since the early 60s – this is simply neither feasible nor desirable. But, the example of the Astrodome demonstrates that historic properties come in all shapes and sizes, and that heritage value is much more than simply a case of a structure being particularly old or particularly ornate.

The Geography of Celebration

There are moments in our lives that we anticipate will be memorable – graduations, weddings, the birth of children, the death of those close to us, and so on. We typically take steps to plan these events, both from a practical standpoint but also because we know that these events will be milestones; moments that either we want to remember and cherish (particularly if these are positive events) or know that we will remember, even if they are painful.

More collectively, memories tend to be reactive. That is to say, an event (normally a shocking or unexpected one) happens which becomes a memory; a “where were you?” moment like September 11, 2001. Certainly, in sport, there are unexpected moments – victories (or defeats) that will be recalled and rehashed for decades to come. However, sport also does often offer the opportunity to plan a memory, knowing that a particular moment will likely form a part of a collective biography. As I wrote about last spring, there is a tendency to form an “anticipatory sport heritage” whereby we rapidly assess the impact of a sporting event either in its immediate aftermath or, at times, before the event has even happened. As such, some events are thought to be “memorable” before they’ve event occurred.

This evening is the National College Football Championship, played between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers. As a faculty member at Clemson, we were provided instructions by our Provost – Dr. Bob Jones – on how to academically approach the following couple of days, knowing that many students, staff, and faculty would either venture to Arizona for the game or, at the very least, be distracted (if not a little fatigued) whether the Tigers won or lost the game. In the Provost’s words from an email sent to all faculty, staff, and students on January 2, he notes:

“A national football championship is, for most of us, a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a key part of American higher education culture. This is true for students, staff, and faculty. It is a special opportunity. We have an obligation to facilitate participation, so long as it does not diminish the core academic mission of the university.”

Of course, it is quite impossible to say whether this event that (at the time of writing) will be “once in a lifetime”, or that we can instantly assess its significance in our own lives or the legacy of our university.

But, we can probably guess that it will be important, regardless of the result. Perhaps if Clemson loses, and perhaps wins in the coming seasons, the “once in a lifetime” will be contextualized in terms of an era of success. Or if they lose, and never return to the Championship, the memory will be bittersweet. If Clemson wins, perhaps it will be something that the Clemson community will view as an integral part of its history; something to be shared, recalled, and nostalgized for years to come.

One of the aspects I will be interested to see, should the Tigers be victorious, is the Geography of Celebration. That is to say, which areas in or near Clemson become the focus of public celebrations? I expect that it will probably be the College Avenue area, which is the main street of Clemson leading up to Bowman Field and the “entrance” to the university:

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Most of the bars in Clemson are on College Avenue, and there is the icon of the Tillman Hall/Old Main building at the end of the street. However, there is not much at this location that is specifically related to football in particular (although the field itself, historically, was once the football field). There is nothing like Auburn University’s Toomer’s Corner in this area, which has become a part of football lore and tradition:

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There are football-related icons in Clemson, particularly Howard’s Rock and the Esso Club:

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Both are near the College Avenue area and, in the case of Howard’s Rock in particular, are symbolic of Clemson football. As such, it will be interesting to see if there are several different celebration locations in Clemson itself, or if they ultimately meld into one particular place.  Added to this geography, however, is the fact that the largest remote viewing party is at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, approximately 30 miles from Clemson University. It is possible, then, that the celebration will be quite diffuse.

Of course, with such a large area – and several different iconic locations – it is possible that, win or lose, there will be a large area to monitor and potentially police. Many sports celebrations, or reactions to defeat, have sparked antisocial behaviours, most notably in Vancouver in 2011:

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Perhaps it is no coincidence then that Clemson’s President, Dr. Jim Clements, sent the following email this morning to the entire university:

“Whether you plan to watch in Arizona, at a viewing party or from the comfort of home, please remember that we are all representatives of our great university. I’m glad that the Clemson family knows that just like our student-athletes and coaches, we win or lose with class, dignity and good sportsmanship.”

Of course, one hopes that such incidents won’t occur. However, the idea that we must plan for many eventualities does have to take place. Furthermore, in the age of mobile technologies, celebrations (or any form of public gathering) can be dynamic; they can form and disperse quite quickly.

From a heritage standpoint, there is something to be said that many public celebrations tend to take place at or near icons of place (many, if not most of which, could broadly be considered heritage). It is also interesting to see which icons are “chosen” as sites of celebration, and for what reasons. In Clemson’s case, I imagine that the College Avenue/Bowman Field area will be chosen in large part because it is central, well-known, has amenities (mainly bars), and, perhaps, because it is next to an icon and symbol of the university. However, it will be interesting to see that, if tonight and the coming days, other symbols and icons – such as Howard’s Rock – become the sites of a broader, collective celebration. Similarly, if they lose, which icons become the sites of mourning and why?

Commemorating the Discarded Stadium

As many sports organizations have realized, heritage is an asset that can be used for a variety of needs and in numerous circumstances. We have seen many kinds of ways heritage have been used in sports, from throwback apparel and uniforms to retro stadiums to nostalgia-based events and experiences (like fantasy camps). Many teams, such as the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, also view their historic stadiums as assets which provide both cultural capital as well as economic benefits (the Red Sox have the second highest revenue generating ballpark in MLB, despite the capacity, in large part because of Fenway’s history and heritage).

When a team moves venues, often for economic reasons, there is normally a celebration of the old venue. Often, as in the case of Yankee Stadium, Anfield, or the Montreal Forum, the old stadium was beloved and reflect the fact that – paraphrasing sports geographer John Bale – sports stadiums are more than utilitarian structures and many supporters feel a strong sense of attachment to them. In the case of both the new Yankee Stadium and the Molson Centre (which replaced the Montreal Forum), care was taken to provide a blend of old and new – where the new venue has either direct references or explicit echoes to the previous stadium (as Anouk Belanger notes, the Montreal Canadiens had a parade of ghosts from one venue to the other). There was generally an acknowledgment by the teams that, though fans loved the old venue, the new venue would provide the club much needed benefits while also maintaining the sense of place and tradition.

However, this year there are two examples of teams celebrating the final seasons at venues that – to employ an overused phrase – they “threw under the bus.” The Edmonton Oilers, who are set to move to the new Rogers Place in Fall of 2016, are celebrating the final season in their longtime home, Rexall Place (nee: Northlands Coliseum; Edmonton Coliseum; Skyreach Centre).

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Rexall Place, architecturally, is unimpressive, but as a venue that has hosted numerous notable events – particularly as a hockey venue – it undoubtedly has broad historic value. However, in securing a new arena deal, the arena was denigrated as “antiquated and outdated“. In fact, there appears to have been little mention that the venue had any heritage value at all until the “Farewell Season” commemorations were announced.

Similarly, the Atlanta Braves are set to commemorate the final season at Turner Field during the 2016 season.

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The Braves inherited Turner Field, as it was previously built for the 1996 Olympics then converted to a baseball stadium. As such, the Braves were never particularly fond of the stadium or location, and so a celebration of the final year at a (shockingly recent) venue is a bit odd.

Celebrating the final season at a venue can have benefits for both team and spectator. For the team, it can provide an additional revenue stream through memorabilia, as well as an incentive to come to games that season. For fans, it allows them to experience the venue one more time, relive memories, and provides a transition to the new stadium. The tone of both the Oilers and Braves commemorations are a little different though, in that neither organization will shed a tear for their old venues given the apathy and, in the Oilers case, hostility towards their former homes. While I suspect the teams would have had commemorations anyway, the fact that both are teams have had or are expected to have little success in their final seasons, the heritage angle to “visit one last time” is probably an effective motivator for fans to go to games, purchase merchandise, and perhaps acquire memorabilia like seats, turf, signage and the like after the final out/whistle. It is the one season when, very likely, “just being there” rather than victories is incentive enough for fans to turn out. That said, these two celebrations this year come across as slightly hollow, particularly when compared to how other teams have seemingly handled these occasions.

The Global Recognition and Protection of Sport Heritages

Sport heritage has been, until recently, a relatively obscure topic. People working at sports sites and museums have formed professional associations such as the International Sports Heritage Association, while a small, international group of academics (including the author of this blog) have been engaged in sport heritage-based research. Anecdotally, public interest in sport heritage appears to be growing, given the proliferation of sport heritage-based sites, attractions, and experiences, while there has been a steady growth in interest and research output about sport heritage in academia.

However, two recent developments point to a growing interest in sport heritage – in particular, the recognition of sport heritage as an important cultural practice that, in some cases, may require protection.

The first major development is that ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites – which “works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places” – has declared “The Heritage of Sport” as its theme for the 2016 ICOMOS International Day on Monuments and Sites. This declaration is an extraordinarily significant form of recognition for sport heritage as a field. ICMOS is a very well known and well regarded international heritage agency, and is probably best known for its considerable work with the UNESCO World Heritage program. Details about the “Heritage of Sport” day – which is on April 18 – have yet to be released, but it will nevertheless an important milestone in sport heritage.

23 June 2010; Daire Plunkett, Dublin, in action against Paul Murphy, Kilkenny. Bord Gais Energy Leinster GAA Hurling Under 21 Championship Semi-Final, Kilkenny v Dublin, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

The second major development is the fact that the Gaelic sport of hurling is likely to be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. In an article in the Irish Times, the Irish government looked to the inscription as “provid(ing) a significant opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of hurling, uilleann piping and Irish folklore beyond our national boundaries.” Although several other sport-based cultural practices are on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, such as Taekkyeon – a traditional Korean martial artChinese Dragon Boat races and festivals, and tugging rituals and games in Southeast Asia, sport is not the primary focus of these inscriptions. However, hurling is a popular, codified, spectator sport that also has cultural meaning. In other words, the sport component is of primary significance in its potential inscription on the List.

These developments at UNESCO and ICOMOS raise some intriguing questions for sport heritage scholars. Will these efforts lead to sport being properly considered an important part of global heritage? Will heritage recognition and protection of sporting practices enhance or detract from the sport? Can the sports adapt and change over time, or will they ossify? Certainly, as a sport heritage scholar, I welcome these developments, and I look forward to seeing how sport is recognized by the global heritage community.

The Sport Heritage Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us and, if you have someone in your life with an interest in sport heritage, gift buying can be difficult and quite expensive.  Of course, there are many gift options in terms of memorabilia, autographs, and the like – though, often times, these can be costly and sometimes difficult to obtain depending on the item. Other sport heritage-related gifts – such as attending a fantasy camp or an historic event like the Masters golf tournament or Wimbledon – can be equally expensive and inaccessible to all but a wealthy few.

Not to fear, however, as we have some gift suggestions for the sport heritage person in your life to suit both your budget and their interests!

Art

Though there are many options in the art/sport heritage landscape, the work of Paine Proffitt is particularly notable. I first encountered his work in the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium back in 2007 when on a research project, and I was thrilled to see that he is still producing magnificent artwork. Although much of his current work is based in English football, as an ex-pat American he also covers North American sports such as baseball and ice hockey. Visit his website at www.painproffitt.com – you’ll be pleased you did.

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(Some examples of Paine Proffitt‘s outstanding artwork.)

Apparel 

Retro and throwback sports jerseys and apparel are fairly common now, but weren’t always so. Several companies – most notably Ebbets Field Flannels and the Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company (or TOFFS) – now produce sports apparel from bygone eras, or from long forgotten teams, often in era-specific fabric (I have a replica 1950s canvas football jersey from TOFFS). I was amazed at some of the replica items of truly quirky teams and eras that these companies reproduce. For example, Ebbets Field Flannels, though mainly reproducing baseball apparel from various minor league teams from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, produced a replica jersey from the Edmonton Flyers – a  semi-pro hockey team that most people in my hometown of Edmonton had probably long forgotten existed. Much like Paine Proffitt’s artwork, people interested in throwback sports apparel would have a field day looking at all of the reproduction items available.

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Books and other reading material 

There are many, many, many sport history books released during the holiday season, as books are an easy fall-back as gifts. Of course, there are also several academic sport heritage books as well, some of which were covered in a previous post. However, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the holiday season is the best time to dream about the spring and summer to come. Few things are more enjoyable to think about during the cold winter months than a perfect day at the cricket ground and, for that, Wisden is your spot. This time of year, there are many cricket books on sale at Wisden – not the least of which is the famous Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack

Memberships

Memberships to sports museums, halls of fame, and sports clubs make some of the best gifts. Even if the recipient is not living near the museum or club, it provides an opportunity to both provide support as well as give a sense of being a part of the organization. Most museums and halls of fame provide various levels of membership – including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – while some sports clubs have memberships for patrons living away or abroad, such as Kent Cricket’s affordable “13th Man” club membership.

Donations

For the sport heritage aficionado who has it all, donations to organizations involved in the preservation and interpretation of sporting heritage make wonderful gifts. The International Sports Heritage Association has a list of member organizations – perhaps find one in a local area and provide a one-time or on-going donation as a gift. Another possibility are donations to organizations – such as the excellent Sporting Memories Network – that use the sporting past to tackle major health issues such as dementia and depression.

Five Recent Sport Heritage Publications You Have to Read

Sport heritage research has grown from a relatively obscure sub-sub-sub field of sport tourism to a growing field of inquiry in heritage studies, sport studies, and tourism studies. Until a decade ago, the research about sport heritage and sport nostalgia was fairly scatter-shot.  The Sociology of Sport Journal had a sport nostalgia issue in the early 90s, for example, while Heather Gibson included nostalgia in her sport tourism typology in 1998 though, by and large, the ways in which the sporting past were created, commemorated, and commodified in the present went largely unexplored.

However, sport heritage now has a growing body of research.  Initially, sport heritage was largely considered a tourism resource, though most of the recent work has branched out from these beginnings to understand sport heritage from a variety of angles.  With that in mind, I give you some of my favourite recent sport heritage research. I have purposefully not included any of my own research (I feel it is up to others to determine whether my research has value), though some of the publications I list I was involved with as an editor.

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Representing the Sporting Past in Museums and Halls of Fame edited by Murray Phillips (Routledge, 2012): I have written about this edited text both on this forum and in a review in the Annals of Leisure Research, and I can safely say my high opinion of it has not changed since I read and reviewed it a couple of years ago. Phillips understands the relationship between sport history and sport heritage better than most – he realizes that the aims and outcomes of each are different and that sports museums cannot, or should not, be history books on walls. Many of the contributions also push the boundaries of what constitutes a sports museum, what they might look like, and the power relationships determine their narratives.  This book is essential for anyone wishing to study sport heritage.

Heroes as Heritage: the commoditization of sporting achievement” by Sean Gammon (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014): Dr. Gammon is a frequent co-collaborator of mine, so I was well familiar with his work when he wrote this paper.  However, this piece blew me away. Gammon took an idea that had been floating about for a few years – the idea that people (and, in this case, athletes) could be considered a kind of artefact – and took it in some provocative new directions. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:

The heroes and the sporting moments they create then, as Gammon argues, become artefacts, and though we can relive and replay the achievement (and, in a sense, preserve the moment(s) in time, perhaps through both personal memory and vicariously through media) we cannot preserve “the object” in the same way that we might other forms of tangible heritage. The relationship between the achievement and the athlete, in fact, demonstrates a paradox in sport heritage. Athletes age, change, and are no longer what they were – indeed, athletes are some of the few heritage “objects” that are not aided by the patina of age. However, their achievements may become more glorious – or heroic – as time goes on. 

Sport heritage has a unique relationship with time – both in terms of how quickly sport becomes heritage, but also how it is different than many other manifestations of heritage.  Gammon captures some of these issues, and more, in this wonderful paper.

It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain” by Ross Wilson (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014). Dr. Wilson’s wonderful paper takes many different approaches to sport heritage – including tourism, memorialization, and commemoration – and views them through the lens of the Great War. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:

Football, Wilson argues, provides an emotive bridge as well as a marker for many British tourists. However, the emphasis on football also reveals much about contemporary British culture, as well as how the War is understood and remembered in Britain today. As such, this paper confronts many of the issues at play in contemporary heritage literature, albeit through a sports lens, including contestation over memory and memorialization, commodification and authenticity in heritage tourism, and the relationship between history and heritage.

The Great War has inspired many different types of heritages, including those in sport, and Dr. Wilson provides a thought-provoking look at how football, in particular, is mobilized in how we confront and remember the conflict.

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Sport, History, and Heritage: Studies in Public Representation – edited by Jeffrey Hill, Kevin Moore, and Jason Wood (Boydell & Brewer, 2012): One of the aspects of sport heritage research that is sometimes overlooked is that there are real, practical implications to how the sporting past is created in consumed.  This edited text combines both academic and applied perspectives and, though I found it sometimes conflates history, heritage, nostalgia, and memory, it does provide some very interesting case studies about collecting, managing, interpreting, and representing the sporting past.

Non-events and their legacies: Parisian heritage and the Olympics that never were” by Ulf Strohmayer (International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 19, Issue 2, 2013): With Paris again bidding for the Olympics, Dr. Strohmayer’s paper is essential reading for anyone wondering about the many heritage implications of an Olympic bid.  Firstly, this paper presents a kind-of counterfactual sport heritage – that is to say, it presents a sport heritage that was never actually realized, at least in space and time. Secondly, it considers that archival documents – such as Olympic bids – are a kind of sport heritage.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it considers how an Olympic games might interact – or potentially damage – existing built heritage. As we know, heritage icons often form the backdrop to Olympic venues (consider Westminster Palace/Big Ben as the pan-away backdrop to beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympics), however what if there simply isn’t the room to accommodate Olympic venues in heritage districts? Is a Paris Olympics really “Parisian” if it is held in the suburbs rather than on the Champ de Mars?

Letting Go: The De-heritagization of the Sporting Past

One of the topics that has occupied heritage studies research lately is the process of heritagization; that is to say, the process whereby various pasts are constructed in the present to address a contemporary need, issue or circumstance.  As any heritage studies scholar will (or, perhaps, should) know, heritage is about the present and an imagined future – it is never about the past.  We leave the past to historians and archaeologists to critically assess.

What we don’t often talk about is de-heritagization; that is, when a heritage is no longer useful in the present and becomes part of, to employ an overused phrase, “the dustbin of history.” We talk of heritages changing, or heritages being malleable, but rarely of heritages simply becoming, for lack of a better term, “not heritage.” Perhaps in some cases – such as when a post-colonial regime looks to new national symbols, for example – heritage truly does transform into materials reserved for the historian or archaeologist. In any event, they are no longer part of our contemporary needs – we no longer use them and, as such, they are no longer heritage.

These thoughts came to me recently when I began to consider aspects of my personal sporting heritage and, in particular, how they became simply a part of my personal history and not my contemporary identity.  The first was when I was in my hometown of Edmonton recently shopping for a used pair of hockey skates.  I was a goaltender for most of my life, including through all of my adulthood, and made certain I brought my goaltending equipment with me to South Carolina seven years ago.  However, the lack of local hockey opportunities coupled with a busy career and home life meant that continuing to play goal – a central part of my identity throughout my life – was not an option.  I certainly thought about playing at times, to the point that I found out my goalie skates had fallen into disrepair and were no longer useable. When I looked for a replacement pair of skates a few weeks ago, I immediately went to the goalie skates when it dawned on me: I am no longer a goaltender, and will never be again. Most of my equipment – and not just my skates – have fallen into disrepair, I have little desire to replace my equipment and, though I might occasionally pine for another game in net, I am quite alright with that part of my sporting life being over.  Simply put, being a goaltender is no longer part of my contemporary identity and has ceased (for the time being) to be part of my heritage.  This is not to say that it won’t be resurrected as heritage at some point – if my son takes up goaltending, for example, we’ll probably talk about our family’s goaltending heritage.  But, for now, it is simply a part of my past.

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Similarly, I was recently in Winnipeg, Manitoba when I came across the many advertisements for the city’s NHL hockey team, the Jets.  The Jets were, of course, the Atlanta Thrashers at one point – and I was a Thrashers season ticket holder. The franchise’s move to Winnipeg was personally quite difficult. I had come to strongly identify myself as a Thrashers fan, and going to games in Atlanta was one of the ways I came to embrace my new Southern home. I felt quite bitter towards the sport, league, and fans of the Jets for some time. Being in Winnipeg, however, and seeing all of those Jets banners didn’t really hurt anymore.  While I can’t say I’ll ever become a fan, they became just another team, and my Thrashers fandom became simply part of my biography and, again, not my identity.

These two personal examples, though hardly earth-shattering, made me think not just about how something becomes heritage, but how we let particular heritages go.  Again, we see the letting go of heritage all the time – and it can frequently be a painful and divisive process.  And, certainly, some heritages must change and become “history” – for a variety of social, political, and economic reasons. However, I think it is worth investigating the de-heritagization process, particularly in sport. Sport heritage no longer used is not heritage – by definition, it cannot be. I would like to say that there are, for example, Olympic cities in the act of forgetting or “de-heritagizing” – perhaps through neglect, or simply through a new generation not being tied to the symbols of the old. Obviously, each generation creates its own sporting heritage and, perhaps, through the ephemeral creation and consumption of heritage, particular sporting legacies aren’t as durable as they once were.  In any event, my two recent personal examples highlighted to me that the idea of letting go of particular heritages is as important to understand as why we created them in the first place.

Empathy and Sport Heritage

One of the aspects which, I believe, separates sport heritage from other forms and types of heritage is that it is often corporal in nature.  That is to say, sport heritage requires us to continue to play and to watch sport in order to both compare with the past and to create more sport heritage for the future.  It must continually be made and remade through play, performance, and spectacle. No heritage building is more “dead” than an empty, abandoned stadium.

Perhaps because of the sensual and emotional nature of sport, we can understand and empathize with the sportsperson.  Even though most of us have never played at elite levels, or maybe not have played at all, we can still understand something of what it is like to taste victory and defeat.  In Sweet Summers, the collection of JM Kilburn’s cricket writing, the excerpt below perhaps best describes the empathetic connections between all those who have played:

Every boy who has defended a lamp-post wicket is in blood brotherhood with Bradman, and knows Hobbs or or Sutcliffe as himself…every man who has by reflex action or conscious effort flicked a boundary past point knows a thrill of intense physical delight when he sees Woolley bat.

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(“The Don” – Don Bradman. Do all who’ve played share a connection to him?)

In many ways, this goes beyond simple childhood imagination and flights of fancy, and rather an understanding of what it’s like to be a sportsperson. When I was an ice hockey goaltender in my youth, for example, it wasn’t that I was prentending to be Grant Fuhr or John Vanbiesbrouck or Ron Hextall when I played, but rather that I knew – like them – what it was like to make a fantastic save or let in a bad goal. We shared an emotional connection that only we, as goaltenders, could understand.

Perhaps our ability for empathy – or, perhaps, our desire to feel empathy for the sportsperson – makes certain sport heritage experiences both desirable and memorable.  One of my earliest memories of being at a sports museum was at the ski jump simulator at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Canada.  Using a point-of view immersive film screen, hydraulics, and several industrial-sized fans, the simulator gave me a taste of what it might be like to ski-jump, and provided me a level of empathy and understanding that wouldn’t have been possible by simply looking at the ski jump tower.  Of course, it was also a mediated form of authenticity – I could “ski jump” without actually ski jumping.  However, I never forgot that experience, nor could I ever forget the sensations and emotions it created.  It is also top of mind every time I watch ski jumping at the Olympics, knowing something of what each skier must be feeling.

Naturally, the ability to experience something of the athlete, particularly in a unique and historic place, is also one of the features that sets sport heritage apart. It can also be a way for visitors to create connections – such as fandom and support – with particular athletes, teams, and sports. Of course, all heritage sites – to some degree – use empathy by, for example, comparing our lives to those of our ancestors.  However, these are more cerebral connections; they are not immediate and current in the same ways that sport is, and perhaps not as sensually felt.  We often don’t think about empathy as a topic in heritage, and it seems that sport heritage might be a good vehicle for exploring it.

Sport Heritage in the Classroom

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.

Great-Hall_Rickmansworth-Masonic-School_Hertfordshire_United-KingdomOf 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.