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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:
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:
There are football-related icons in Clemson, particularly Howard’s Rock and the Esso Club:
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:
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).
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.
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.
Me, Lee, and Stories as Sport Heritage
Sport heritage, like most any form of heritage, has many ingredients. One of the more important aspects are personal memories, where we contextualize our own recollections in terms of broader contexts. Sometimes this takes the role of a “where were you?” during an important event or moment, but often it is on a much smaller scale, where the heritage is much more at the family or community level.
In any event, a few months back the folks at the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada asked me to contribute a submission to their website. ECAMP’s role, at present, is to act as a repository for the city’s intangible heritage – the histories, stories, memories, and lore that tell the city’s story – from the infamous to the intimate. I was born and raised in Edmonton and, as such, they felt I might be able to add something sport-based to their collection, particularly as I have been away from the city for a number of years. Edmonton’s sporting heritage is vast, covering many different sports, athletes, and events throughout its history. Some of this history, particularly those from the late 1970s through early 2000s are a part of my own story and heritage as well. And, though I thought about doing a “where were you?” piece – or even a more objective heritage “moment” (such as recapping and recalling particularly famous sporting moments or events), I elected to go with the more community level heritage, and perhaps capture a time when the gulf between professional athletes and working class families wasn’t great at all.
My story, called Me and Lee, is unabashedly sentimental and, as a few former classmates have reminded me, may have happened differently or perhaps not even at all. I have a strong memory of this particular piece of community lore and my reaction to it and, as a good friend reminded me, memory isn’t subject to facts (nor, often, is heritage).
If you would like to have a read (ECAMP’s website is open access and does not require subscription), please click the link here.
Cricket, Heritage, and the First World War
This week marks one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War. The war impacted virtually every segment of society, including sports, and few – if any – athletes or sports organizations remained unscathed.
Sport plays an important role in how the War is remembered and commemorated. In particular, the now infamous Christmas Truce football match has become a focal point for how we understand the War (Ross Wilson’s excellent article about football and the the heritage of the Great War outlines these contemporary uses in greater detail) While different authors and sports organizations have looked at the sport history and heritage aspects of the First World War from different regional or national points of view, the War’s impact on cricket in England, in particular, seems to have attracted a great deal of attention.
The third test match between England and India in Southhampton this week was one of the focal points for cricket’s commemoration of the First World War. Both the England (above) and India (below) test teams paid their respects to the cricketers who fought and died in the War. The War’s impact on England’s test team, as well as first-class county cricketers, was immense. Hundreds of cricketers enlisted, and many – including four from England’s test team (basically, a quarter of the “national” cricket team) – never came home. July 29th’s Test Match Special podcast from the BBC featured a discussion about the players who served and died, as well as the impact the game had on domestic competitions and county cricket clubs. Many clubs nearly went bankrupt in the War, while competitive cricket was largely abandoned, only resurfacing for occasional charity matches to help fund various wartime causes. Other recent publications have looked at cricket and the First World War in England and, though I have not read them yet due to North American release dates, I look forward to reading books like Wisden on the Great War and The Last Over.
The interesting aspect of India’s part in this week’s commemoration is less about remembering Indian cricketers who died in the First World War, but reminding the wider world the immense role that India played in the war effort. By 1918, nearly 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in the War with nearly 130,000 casualties, 75,000 of which were deaths. Despite the contribution India played in the war, the country’s role is often overlooked, diminished, or ignored entirely in official commemorations. Part of this, as is suggested, certainly has racial overtones, but also points to another heritage issue, that of whose heritage gets remembered, by whom, and why. If nothing else, India’s test cricket team being (seemingly) an equal part of this recent public commemoration points to sport being used as a vehicle to perhaps address some of these larger heritage issues.
Addendum: Many thanks to Andrew Renshaw, editor of Wisden on the Great War, for sending this article that was part of the England v. India match programme from the third test at Southampton. In it you will find more details about both English and Indian cricketers that served, and were lost, in the First World War.
Welcome to the Sport Heritage Review
Welcome to the Sport Heritage Review, a blog dedicated to understanding the role that sport-based heritage plays in our society.
I strongly believe that to know a people, you must know something about the sports that they play. Of course, every sport has inherited or created a legacy – some good, some bad – that can used, abused, promoted, and ignored depending on the circumstances. Therefore, I see sport heritage being about how elements from the sporting past – be it sporting places, events, artefacts, traditions, memories, histories – are used in the present to address contemporary needs and circumstances, be they social, economic, political, or otherwise.
When discussing sport heritage, I will sometimes include my own research and travels. However, I don’t wish this to be simply a blog of self-promotion. Rather, I hope to describe what I see as some of the pressing topics in sport heritage, disseminate some of the academic and popular views about sport heritage, and promote some of the interesting sites and locations that reveal something about this topic.
A couple of caveats, particularly about the notion of what heritage is as opposed to history or other disciplines. Certainly, one cannot discuss sport heritage without incorporating some element of sport history – though, I see these as very different concerns. Many trees have perished discussing the differences between history and heritage (in sport or otherwise), so I will simply point you to the work of David Lowenthal (in particular The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History), A Geography of Heritage by Brian Graham, Gregory Ashworth, and John Tunbridge, among many others. In some respects, it seems that heritage has more in common with geography than history, but I digress.
Secondly, I don’t see heritage as a synonym for old buildings or artefacts or other material things. Certainly, sporting structures and old sporting equipment and jerseys are, for lack of a better term, material expressions of value, but they are not “inherently” heritage. Again, much ink has been spilled about this (I refer you, in particular, to Laurajane Smith’s The Uses of Heritage), but heritage is about values and not “stuff” – the “stuff” (be it buildings or otherwise) are only “heritage” because of our contemporary needs and values. If our needs and values change, so does the heritage.
With that being said, I hope you’ll join me in exploring this fascinating topic!