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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.

The Aesthetics of Sport Heritage Ruins

At some point in the heritage conservation movement (memory serves it was during the nineteenth century, but I could be wrong) there was a significant change in the thinking around heritage ruins. Rather than being viewed as incomplete buildings, ravaged by decay, they were recast as romantic, enchanting, and haunting – a bit of a gothic dream, if you will. Of course, when visiting ruins today, they are still largely cast as romantic.  One need only visit the ruins of an abbey, for example, to imagine that they are almost a set piece in a Jane Austin novel, with their manicured vegetation et al.

In any event, the meanings and aesthetics of ruins got me thinking about their application in sport heritage.  Photos of contemporary abandoned or ruined places have become ubiquitous.  One need not look that far for pictures of abandoned cinemas, libraries, and churches in places like Detroit.  Seemingly these photos are meant as a kind of warning, a bit of a memento mori. Perhaps they can be read as a warning against faith in capitalism and the free market, or of globalization, or even of how everything – even the most grand and ornate places – can be abandoned and forgotten. And, yet, there is still an aesthetic beauty to them.  They are a warning, for sure, but one feels drawn to them, and imagines what it might be like to walk through these places, to experience them, to live near them and create great art based on them.

Sport heritage, too, has its contemporary ruins and normally during the staging of mega events like the Olympics or World Cup, many photos of former venues – now abandoned and forgotten – become part of the social media landscape.  This collection of photos, in particular, made its rounds through Twitterverse most recently.  Indeed, there are warnings here too – about fallacy of sport event legacy (particularly when it comes to sports infrastructure), about the costs of staging a sporting event, and how sporting events are rarely ever panaceas in addressing larger socioeconomic issues – but, like those photos from Detroit, there’s also a beauty here.  Indeed, the photos from places like Athens and Beijing are warnings – particularly given how recently these Olympics were staged, and how quickly these venues were mothballed. But, the ones from Sarajevo are very sad, given the post-Olympics history of that country. In any event, I am wondering how these places ought to be read, and how they fit into the broader history of heritage decay? Seemingly they share some history with their ancient and gothic cousins, but are they different because they are recent (both in construction and abandonment)? Are there broader issues here, too – about environmentalism, human conflict, or disposability of culture?

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It’s Here! The “Heritage and the Olympics” Book Cover

My new co-edited book, Heritage and the Olympics, has been “officially” out for about a month now, but I didn’t receive my copy until today.  I’m very pleased with the look and feel of the hardcover version and, of course, having a tangible copy makes the book “real.”

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Again, if you are interested in requesting a copy for your library, please follow this link at the Routledge page.  I don’t set the price, I’m afraid, and though I am hoping that there will be a more affordable trade paperback or e-copy version of the book down the road, for now you may want to just want to request that your institution purchase it.  However, my previous co-edited text – Heritage, Sport and Tourism – is slightly more affordable and available in several different formats, if you are interested in this research topic and haven’t come across this text already.

Thank you for your patience as I try and get the word out about this book.  I have a few new sport heritage topics, sites, and publications in the queue to discuss, and I look forward to writing more about other people’s work and not just my own. 🙂

Canadians Abroad: Thoughts on Hockey Gold

Watching Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s gold medal hockey final yesterday, someone on social media commented (and, forgive, I’m not sure who it was) something to the effect that “how did we watch sports before Twitter?”  Indeed, part of the fun of watching the men’s final on Sunday was the connecting with other Canadians on social media, particularly as many regions in the country amended their liquor laws in order to allow bars to open for the early-morning game. One Edmonton-based commenter even made the comment that Twitter was like one, big Canadian pub during the game:

Having lived away from Canada for nearly five years now, moments like Sunday – and, to an extent, Thursday’s women’s gold medal hockey game (unfortunately, I was teaching during Canada’s comeback versus the US and couldn’t watch the game) – help me to maintain a connection to my home country.  I certainly don’t hide my national identity down here in South Carolina, but normally my accent gives me away and I often end up talking about the Homeland with grocery clerks, waiters, and gas station attendants.  Certainly, I’m proud of my citizenship, though as the years go on I do feel myself becoming less attached to Canada.  Moments like Thursday and Sunday were a nice reminder of my heritage.

Perhaps most surprising to me was that I actually cared as much as I did about the result of both games.  I grew up playing hockey, have long been an avid hockey watcher, could quote stats and hockey history, etc, though – for a variety of reasons – I have drifted away from the sport in recent years. In the sport tourism class I teach, we talk often about globalization and mobility, and how these things can create – in a sense – a crisis of identity.  If I were pressed, I probably care more about baseball and cricket right now than I do about hockey, and maybe that’s both a part of my current address as well as my personal/professional tastes and interests.  Certainly, I quasi-follow college football and the NFL now because of where I live.  However, the space-time collapse of things like social media meant that I could engage with my Canadian hockey heritage, even if only for a few days, and share something of the experience of being back home.  In many ways, these interactions with my fellow Canadian hockey fans re-enforced my sense of identity. At the same time, neither hockey game – nor the Winter Olympics, for that matter – was really on the radar of most people in Clemson (beyond ex-pats and Olymphiles, I suppose) so my sense of nationalism was somewhat limited to the virtual space and time created on Twitter.  I suppose this would have been the case with or without Twitter and global broadcasts of sporting events in real time, and maybe the fact that watching the Olympics isn’t as all-encompassing as it was in previous generations re-enforces the globalization and mobility argument.  After all, we can disengage or ignore something like the Olympics ways that we never could before.  Still, the real-time feel of Twitter helped me feel a little more connected and a little more Canadian, but anecdotally it would seem that it was just we Canadians (where ever we might be) talking to ourselves.

Looking to Sochi: Olympic Bids and Heritage

Recent reports from Sochi, now just a few days away from the start of the Winter Olympics, are not promising.  The students in my sport tourism class asked why international sport organizations like the IOC grant bids to countries that seem ill-prepared to host a Games.  While I’m waiting to hold my fire for Sochi until the Games actually begin (after all, it seems like the days leading up to almost every Olympiad are fraught with challenges), and I’ll leave the “why” of the IOC’s decision to more qualified sport management scholars, it did make me think of the bidding process and a chapter in the Heritage and the Olympics book (also available in the International Journal of Heritage Studies) where Ulf Strohmayer describes Olympics that “never were” and the impact hosting an Olympics on the non-Olympic heritage infrastructure of cities (in his case, Paris).  From the abstract:

This paper examines three failed bids by the French Olympic Committee and the City of Paris to host the summer Olympic Games of 1992, 2008 and 2012 in an attempt better to understand the role of heritage designations in the context of urban change. Introducing the various sites earmarked for the Games, the paper explores the relationship between planning as a political tool and its impact on the built environment within the context of a complex web of local, national and international demands, needs and aspirations. Based on archival research, the paper explores the dialectical relationship between the demonstrated ability of city councils to declare designated ‘Olympic’ spaces as functionally ‘ready’ to absorb massive new infrastructures and questions posed by whatever physical infrastructure remains after a bid has failed. Since the timeframe chosen for the paper (1986–2006) coincides with a move by the International Olympic Committee to prioritise ‘sustainable urbanism’ as a key legacy of ‘successful’ Olympic Games, this relationship between presences and absences is mediated not just with the help of possible futures in the form of Olympic sites but has had to validate and justify the choice of terrain as well. The paper concludes with a brief meditation on the relationship between present urban heritage and possible futures in the context of mega-events like the Olympic Games.

Although the Paris bids and the Sochi Games are quite different, it did make me think about the risks involved in hosting an Olympic Games.  I wonder if Paris dodged a bullet by not hosting a modern Olympics – not that they wouldn’t be prepared, but for how such an event might alter the city (though, post-London, this may be less of an issue).  In the case of Sochi, it doesn’t seem – at present – like it is setting up to be a successful Games.  Even for locations like Vancouver, which were largely successful in terms of operations and image, didn’t have much lasting economic impact (if any) and, really, was a two week period for Canadians to feel good about themselves (which isn’t a bad thing, mind you).  Seemingly, then, the main reason for hosting a mega sporting event these days is to create post-event legacies through infrastructure, create a sense of domestic cohesion through nationalism, and…well…not much else. One has to wonder if hosting an Olympics is something best avoided – I guess we’ll see at Sochi.

Heritage and the Olympics: People, Place and Performance – Now Available

I am very pleased to announce the publication of Heritage and the Olympics: People, Place and Performance. This text, co-edited by Sean Gammon of the University of Central Lancashire, me – Gregory Ramshaw of Clemson University, and Emma Waterton of the University of Western Sydney, is published by Routledge and available here.

The description from the Routledge website:

The Olympic Games have evolved into the most prestigious sport event on the planet. As a consequence, each Games generates more and more interest from the academic community. Sociology, politics, geography and history have all played a part in helping to understand the meanings and implications of the Games. Heritage, too, offers invaluable insights into what we value about the Games, and what we would like to pass on to future generations. Each Olympic Games unquestionably represents key life-markers to a broad audience across the world, and the great events that take place within them become worthy of remembrance, celebration and protection. The more tangible heritage features are also evident; from the myriad artefacts and ephemera found in museums to the celebratory symbolism of past Olympic venues and sites that have become visitor attractions in their own right. This edited collection offers detailed and thought-provoking examples of these heritage components, and illustrates powerfully the breadth, passion and cultural significance that the Olympics engender.

Given the cost of the text, I would strongly recommend that that you request it be purchased by your university library.  I imagine that there may be a trade paperback or e-book version of the text down the road but, for now, it is only available in hardback form.  

Further information, including table of contents, ISBN number, and ordering details are available via the Routledge website here:

http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415726009/

My co-editors and I are pleased with this collection and hope it reaches as wide an audience as possible.  Thank you in advance for requesting a copy and for getting the word out!

Turner Field and Abandoned Heritage

Much has been written this week about the Atlanta Braves decision to move from their downtown stadium, Turner Field, to the city’s northern suburbs (so much, in fact, that links may prove a bit overwhelming).  It is a strange move for many reasons.  The stadium is only sixteen years old and feels like a new ballpark (I only live about two hours from Atlanta and, though I loathe the Braves, I normally go to one or two games a year – and, I can attest, it is a great stadium).  The team also moves from the inner city of Atlanta and into the suburbs – reversing a couple of decades of downtown stadium development (though, Turner Field is just south of downtown and really has nothing but parking lots and residential areas around it).  Supporters of the move have pointed to the fact that the vast majority of the Braves ticket sales come from the northern, affluent suburbs (and, as Bomani Jones points out in his tweet below, it is way more than a ticket sales map, as Atlanta is a very racially divided city as well):

In any event, the city of Atlanta has announced that it will demolish Turner Field once the team moves north.

Although there are larger issues at play in this decision, such as the willingness for municipalities to use stadiums as a substitute for urban policy, there are some heritage preservation concerns as well – and, as far as I can tell, they haven’t yet been raised.  The first, and most obvious, is that Turner Field as a baseball stadium is a heritage venue – perhaps not through age, but through the ongoing ritual of games being played, fans attending, forming memories, and creating a sense of place.  Whenever a team moves venues, this is an obvious heritage concern.  Secondly – and, a fact that has been largely overlooked – Turner Field was actually also the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Games.  Now, it is hardly recognizable as the Olympic Stadium (it underwent a massive renovation post-Games to make it into a baseball-only stadium) and there are few markers in the stadium now that recognize it’s Olympic past, but this still will disappear once the stadium is gone.  Finally, there’s the Hank Aaron wall in the parking lot across the street from Turner Field:

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When Fulton County Stadium was demolished to make way for the Olympic Stadium/Turner Field, they kept the wall over which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record:

Beyond that home run being important in baseball history, it also had a broader impact in highlighting racial issues in the US.  In Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary, while Aaron’s homerun is showed, the soundtrack is the hate mail Aaron received en route to breaking Ruth’s record.  It makes his record all the more superhuman.  However, presumably, this location will be gone along with the rest of the stadium area.

It is not unusual for teams to “relocate” their heritage to a new stadium – in part for the new venue to have a project a sense of history and legitimacy.  I have little doubt that Aaron’s wall – and the legacy of Hank Aaron himself – will move it’s way north and be transplanted in the new ballpark (however, given the antipathy the Braves displayed for the stadium’s Olympic past, I imagine that heritage – at least at that space – is gone).  However, this move does raise the issue of in situ heritage, and whether it ought to be part of the discussion in stadium relocation.