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Seasons and Sport Heritage

Last year on this blog I wrote about sensing sport heritage, that is to say that there is a particular form of sensuality associated with sport heritage which is more than just seeing or touching a sporting place or artefact. Many heritages, as we know, are more personal in nature and link to individual pasts and memories, particularly from childhood. Things like smell and taste are part of our sporting pasts, and can take us back to particular sporting experiences. One of my students, for example, recently related a story about how drinking hot chocolate immediately reminded her of being at a hockey rink in her home in Vermont. For her, hot chocolate will always be linked to winters at the rink, and she found that it triggered a very specific form of nostalgia for her.

Perhaps less specific than links to specific senses are the associations of sports with the natural calendar; that there is an almost visceral connection between seasons and particular sports. Of course, particular sports must be played at particular times of the year, although with our ability to control and create artificial environments, weather can be eliminated or controlled in sporting environments in many cases. No, this is to say that watching or participating in certain sports simply belong to the wider heritage of a particular season; that certain sports simply belong at particular times of year. Of course, we may simply be conditioned to expect that particular sports belong at certain times of the year – what is commonly called institutional seasonality. American football is associated with the Fall, and though it feels as though it ought to be associated with leaves and cooler temperatures and autumn holidays like Thanksgiving, the institutional structure of it simply puts it at a certain time of year. Football could, of course, just as easily be played in the spring – but, because of its institutional structure, we associate the sport with the broader markers of the season. Other sports, like baseball, have – in a sense – a dual season – as Ken Burns says (and to paraphrase), baseball gives us the promise of spring and the harsh realities of fall. And, yet, there is something wholly appropriate about the traditions associated with Opening Day in baseball – normally one of the most anticipated days in the American sporting calendar – in large part because of the promise of spring renewal. Similarly, I have friends and colleagues who adore October baseball, not only because it is the playoffs but because the feel of the games are part of the tradition; that summer has clearly past, and winter is on the horizon, but the playoffs occupy that beautiful liminal space in-between. As a colleague said to me earlier this month, “it just smells like October baseball.” Baseball may even have a third season, the offseason where many of the moves and transactions take place, which – associating it with cold, winter nights – is called the “hot stove” which “calls up images of baseball fans gathering around a hot stove during the cold winter months, discussing their favorite baseball teams and players.

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A few years back, I had a paper published about the development of community league hockey rinks in Edmonton. Although the paper was largely a historical look at gender and recreation, the paper was – in part – framed around the winter-based tropes that are part and parcel of the outdoor hockey experience. Of course, cold, winter weather is necessary to have outdoor hockey but, of course, the rink and the season associated with this sporting practice are part of broader identities. I liberally quoted from both academic and popular sources that framed the rink as, in part, “a key signifier of our national claims on winter and northernness, of our identity as a wholesome, hardy people. Rosy- cheeked children play shinny against a prairie sky, a city skyline, a ridge of pines. Cold winds are vanquished by the swoosh and cut of a blade, the thwack of a frozen puck on a stick. A national fairy tale.” In this, the sport cannot be separated from the season; they are both part and parcel of the traditions and heritages of certain times of year.

Of course, like any heritage, the linking of sport and particular times of year are contextual and, perhaps, driven by media discourses. The infamous – and often parodied – introduction of The Masters golf tournament by Jim Nantz has constructed and solidified an impression of spring in the South. Of course, in the global media age, many of these impressions of particular times of year are mobile, and may resonate with people who have never directly experienced these conditions – but feel attached and attracted to them, nevertheless. Growing up in Canada, the outdoor rink was simply part of who we were – though, now, through the proliferation of outdoor hockey events, many fans may now see these kinds of environments as part of their heritage too – even if they are relatively foreign to them.

However, we ought to consider these broader environments – seasons, temperature, and weather – as part of sport heritage. In many cases, they are as important in creating and constructing the sporting past as buildings and artefacts.

Athletes and the Paradox of Sport Heritage

On Friday evening, I will be going to Turner Field in Atlanta (the former Olympic Stadium which will close at the end of this season) to watch the Atlanta Braves take on the Miami Marlins. Though there are several reasons for going to this game in particular – perhaps, in part, connecting a summer leisure activity to a kind-of American traditionalism and nationalism, not to mention the fact that though I dislike the Braves immensely, I like the Marlins…and I love attending live baseball games in the middle of summer – one of my main considerations is seeing Ichiro Suzuki play one final time before he, likely, retires at the end of the season.

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Ichiro was, in many respects, baseball’s first global superstar, having established himself in Japanese baseball before joining the Seattle Mariners in his late 20s. Recently, his combined professional hits total topped that of Pete Rose – and though there is some controversy as to whether his Japanese career “counts,” there is little doubt that Ichiro changed the game of baseball, both through his playing ability and through his global reach. He is certainly a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, and arguably one of the best baseball players of all time.

I first saw Ichiro play live in Seattle in 2006. I took a seat in right field – Ichiro’s then position – and was surrounded by fans from Japan, all there to see him play. In fact, much of the in-stadium signage – as well as many of the on-field advertisements – were in both English and Japanese, suggesting just how much of a magnet Ichiro was for fans overseas. Friday’s game will be my third time seeing Ichiro (the other was a mid-April Braves-Marlins game last season), and though I don’t expect to see the same reaction as I experience in 2006, I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few fans there who, like me, want to see him play one last time.

In many ways, my desire to see Ichiro play reflects on our understandings of sport heritage, namely that athletes represent a kind-of “living” artefact or heritage object. Sean Gammon, in his 2014 paper “Heroes as Heritage“, argues that athletes represent a type of dual sport heritage, in that they themselves are living heritage objects and that their accomplishments and feats represent a type of intangible heritage. I wrote, in response to Gammon’s paper, that

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.

Ichiro is certainly not the player he once was, and though he’s had a bit of a renaissance as of late, at 42 years of age he now a fourth outfielder (essentially filling in from time to time from starting players) and is battling well down the line-up (as he often strikes out more than he puts a ball in play these days). But, I am not going to see Ichiro as he is now – I am creating anticipatory heritage for myself (the “tell my grandkids about” moment), and celebrating his past achievements – making them, and he, more glorious and heroic as we are farther removed from them.

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.

Of Time and Timelessness

It has become somewhat of a gospel truth that, in order to appeal to sports fans these days, games have to be (among other things) relatively quick.  That is not to say that the sports must be speedy in terms of the run of play itself – though, of course, this helps – but rather that a match cannot last an interminable length of time.  Get the game over with, and in under two and a half hours if possible.

Of course, there are massive – and massively successful – exceptions to this rule.  American football – be it NCAA college football or the professional National Football League – is far and away the most popular sport in the United States, and many matches can take upwards of four hours.  If one is actually attending a game, the commitment of time is much greater.  And, given that both college and professional football in the US normally involve a significant social component – tailgate parties (or tailgating) – the time commitment can stretch to several days.

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(Play Ball – and do it faster)

However, many traditionally leisurely sports – golf, baseball, and cricket among them – are looking for ways to speed up, mainly to enhance the spectating and television viewing experience, but – in the case of golf – to curb a large decrease in participation. A recent essay in The Economist about golf’s decline in the US and Europe points to several factors: economic decline in the US, the skills required to make golf an enjoyable experience, the time commitment and pace of play, the change in aspirational capital for the middle class, the rise of video games as a form of sporting leisure for young people, the fact that the sport is largely still hostile to women and minorities, and that white males – the bread and butter of the industry – are often significantly more engaged in child-rearing and other family and career activities.  As such, many people in golf are looking for ways to engage a time/money stretched population with ways of making golf – or versions thereof – enjoyable again:

Similarly, baseball – the most timeless of sports – is looking to speed up.  In particular, as this excellent article from Grantland explains, the sport that has no clock – where a game, in theory, could last forever – has introduced time limits, in particular for the time between pitches and the time between innings.  The reasons for this are similar to golf, albeit looking at the preferences of the viewer rather than participant.  In particular, the idea that a game should be finished quickly, that the pace of play should increase, and that the sport must attract the next generation of fans who, it is supposed, are not used to a leisurely pace in their leisure, are all part of the reason for these changes.  Timelessness, and perhaps a sense of stillness, is not conductive to contemporary habits, it would seem.

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(Under the floodlights at Headingley: T20 match between Yorkshire and Durham, July 10, 2015)

While golf is looking to attract more participants through changing their game, and baseball is looking to appeal to more (and younger) spectators through the introduction of time, cricket has been grappling with these issues for years.  Indeed, cricket’s introduction of different forms of the sport – the one day limited overs match, and the Twenty20 three hour bash – have, in some ways, both enhanced and divided the sport, particularly between those looking for a pure representation of the sport (such as exists with long – and multi-day – traditional formats like test cricket) and those looking for a fun, exciting, and enjoyable day or night out.  Personally, I am a huge supporter of test cricket and, if I was living in England or another cricketing country, I would almost certainly cast my support behind something like the county championship – with their four day matches – rather than any sort of limited overs competition.  Still, when I witnessed my first T20 match earlier this month at Headingley, I could see the appeal of that form of the sport.  Indeed, the ground was full, the weather was beautiful, and the match was truly exciting.

Sport – at least in the examples I provided – is a business, and the idea that tradition, ritual, and heritage must bend to the demands of Mammon.  Indeed, many of the golf pros I know both lament the potential changes to the sport while also acknowledging that something has to be done to bring people back to the course.  In baseball, I understand that viewing habits have changed, and that there is a desire to make watching a game – for lack of a better term – efficient.  With cricket, there seems to be more of a balance in terms of time – choose your “brand” of cricket, as it were.  But, the great success of, in particular, T20 cricket in virtually every cricketing nation has lead to suggestions that longer forms of the sport are inevitably doomed.

However, I wonder if something will be lost if we simply try to appeal to a perception of what non-or-casual participants and spectators want.  Indeed, I wonder if one simply “grows” into more leisurely sports.  I, for one, have noticed my palate changed considerably in recent years.  I simply couldn’t imagine myself at 15 or 20 wanting to watch baseball or cricket, no matter how many rule changes were introduced.  But, similarly, now I find that I enjoy the spaces between play that a golf, or cricket, or baseball allows (and for which hockey or cricket or football seeks to eliminate).

In his excellent article about test cricket, Wright Thompson wonders whether timeless – or, at least, time-intensive – sports like cricket might actually be welcome in contemporary society; that we go so fast and cram so much in to our days that a “slow” sporting event might actually be an antidote of sorts for our industrial lives:

I’m into the rhythm. I enjoy the silence. I work a crossword puzzle, looking up every minute or so to see the bowler begin his run. A thought assembles in the white spaces. Being here feels like a vacation, not just because the days are free of responsibility, but because they feel so different from the rest of my life. The world is full of people trying to slow down. There’s the slow food movement, a rejection of consumerism and industrial convenience. Knitting, baking, urban farming. There’s yoga. Folk music is inexplicably huge in England again. People are seeking something.

Maybe Test cricket is part of that search. Maybe slowness won’t kill Test cricket, but instead will spark a revival: the right game at the right time. Not long ago, I read a magazine excerpt of a new book, “About Time,” by astrophysicist Adam Frank. He believes we are living at a vital moment in the history of time. For thousands of years, we’ve been shrinking time, making minutes important, then seconds. Frank says we can’t shrink it any more. An enormous change is imminent. Oil will run out and with it cheap transportation, both of goods and people. He believes that, contrary to our view of a world always growing smaller, the planet will spread apart again. Only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford flying to Europe, for instance. Global shipping will regress. Email won’t be as commercially important since the businesses it exists to support will lag behind. “We’re at a breaking point,” he says. “We just can’t organize ourselves any faster. We’ve grown up with this amazing idea of progress. That’s operating with the mindset that science will provide miracles. There really are limits. One of the things I think about this generation we’re living in: This is the age of limits.”

Time is important in heritage; age often makes particular legacies more important and, in certain contexts, more saleable. However, the idea of time itself – and how we use it, or at least comprehend it – is often overlooked as a kind of heritage value as well.  As Wright says, we seem to be interested in aspects of antiquity – even from the recent pasts – as a way of slowing our lives down; that the choice of inconvenience might actually be a pleasure.  Certainly, sports have – and always have – adapted to suit contemporary tastes; Stuart Shea’s recent exploration of the Wrigley Field argues that this historic stadium was, through much of its history, considered rather modern, comfortable, and convenient. That said, perhaps not only its there a pleasure – and, maybe even a market – for slow sports, we have to question whether we can make sport any faster than it already is and, if we do, what would that mean?  Do we really want a baseball game to last an hour?  Isn’t the pleasure of sport that it is different from the rest of our industrial lives; that we can lose ourselves and feel something of our real selves and the real lives of others in a “day out” at the ballpark, or cricket ground, or golf course?  Shouldn’t sport be different?

 

Sporting Sounds

As every academic has experienced, there are times when a publication that is potentially important to our research escapes our attention, particularly one that was released several years ago.  Such was the case this morning when my Twitter feed introduced me to the book, Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music edited by Anthony Bateman and John Bale.  The description of the text from the Routledge website:

Music and sport are both highly significant cultural forms, yet the substantial and longstanding connections between the two have largely been overlooked. Sporting Sounds addresses this oversight in an intriguing and innovative collection of essays.

With contributions from leading international psychologists, sociologists, historians, musicologists and specialists in sports and cultural studies, the book illuminates our understanding of the vital part music has played in the performance, reception and commodification of sport. It explores a fascinating range of topics and case studies, including:

  • The use of music to enhance sporting performance
  • Professional applications of music in sport
  • Sporting anthems as historical commemorations
  • Music at the Olympics
  • Supporter rock music in Swedish sport
  • Caribbean cricket and calypso music

From local fan cultures to international mega-events, music and sport are inextricably entwined. Sporting Sounds is a stimulating and illuminating read for anybody with an interest in either of these cultural forms.

I will admit, having just “discovered” the book today I do not yet know whether it is an insightful collection (though, given the reputation of the editors, I imagine it is fantastic!)  However, the subject of this book got me thinking about the relationship between music and sport heritage, and how this might be an overlooked topic in sport heritage research.

Anecdotally, I can think of many areas where music and sport heritage overlap.  Of course, the most obvious are national anthems that, particularly in North America and in most international competitions, are still part and parcel of the pre-game ritual.  The other that comes immediately to mind are the songs sung by fans at football matches which, of course, represent a kind of traditional knowledge.  The debate in Canada a few years back, where the traditional theme of Hockey Night in Canada (also known as Canada’s “other” national anthem) on CBC was changed, certainly demonstrates something of the sport heritage/music connection.  Heck, my friends and I used to bet when they’d play the ubiquitous song Cotton Eyed Joe at hockey games, so familiar was it to our sporting experiences.  Indeed, my former students at Clemson wax nostalgically about the rituals and meanings they associated with a song called “Zombie Nation“.  In short, I’m rather kicking myself something so obvious, and so clearly a part of the sport heritage experience as music, escaped my attention – though, I must admit that this “discovery” is rather exciting!  I guess I must open my ears as well as my eyes! 🙂

Sports, Recreation, and Christmas Day Traditions

As we approach the holiday season, I began thinking about the relationship between this time of year – in particular, Christmas Day – and sport/recreation traditions.  Unlike my post a few weeks back which looked at watching sports – either as a spectator or on television – as a holiday tradition, this time I am wondering about playing sports on Christmas Day and whether these have become important traditions for us.

Growing up in Canada, normally part our Christmas Day tradition as kids was playing hockey – either at a local outdoor rink or, often times, just road hockey out front of the house.  It wasn’t a particularly conscious tradition – this wasn’t watching a favourite Christmas movie every year or always having a particular meal on Christmas night – and, I suspect, these games were probably “strongly encouraged” by our weary parents looking for a bit of quiet.  Still, I remember them quite vividly – and, given that many other Canadian friends and family had similar hockey-related traditions on Christmas Day, I imagine that there were broader cultural connotations.  I also seem to recall that these Christmas Day hockey was a bit more egalitarian – that many more levels of ability were tolerated than at other times of year – though, of course, this may be nostalgia merging with memory.

Since moving to the South and, often, not having much family around on Christmas, I always take one of my dogs for a special Christmas walk through the Clemson University campus.  In some ways, these walks were echoes of the Christmas walks I would take in Edmonton in my 20s and 30s (sans dog back then), where I would enjoy the quiet, the lack of cars on the streets, and the peace.  Although I know these aren’t sport or necessarily recreation, at least in a structured sense, I guess they fall into something of an “active” Christmas tradition.  As my son gets older – he is starting to understand Christmas a little more each year – I wonder what Christmas traditions we might develop and whether they will reflect something our cultural environment.

In any event, I guess I’m wondering if you have a Christmas sport/recreation tradition, and whether you see it having any larger cultural meanings?

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A Brief Note on Sports, Holidays, Television, and Traditions

As we enter the Thanksgiving holidays here in the US, I got to thinking about how certain sports or sporting events are associated with holidays and how watching these games – or even having them on in the background – is a traditional part of holiday festivities.

Of course, Thanksgiving in the US means a slate of NFL football games, and having the TV tuned to whichever game(s) might be on is as integral a part of Thanksgiving as having yams and turkey to eat. Here at Clemson, the Thanksgiving weekend seems to always be when the rivalry game between our Tigers the the University of South Carolina Gamecocks takes place, though the TV tradition doesn’t seem to be as strong as the Thursday NFL games – however, in terms of college football, the many bowl games (and, in particular, the Rose Bowl) on New Years Day tends to be traditional television viewing.  The NHL is trying to start a Thanksgiving/television tradition with a game on Friday afternoon of the weekend, though it remains to be seen whether this “tradition” takes hold. I seem to recall that Boxing Day (December 26) in the UK is strongly associated with going to football or rugby matches – though, I don’t know to what extent television plays a role in that tradition.  Being from Canada, the World Junior Hockey Championships are synonymous with the Christmas holidays, as I can recall many Christmas mornings having a Team Canada game on in the background from Helsinki or Riga or Moscow as we opened presents from under the tree.

It seems that many of these sport/television traditions are during the winter months, and perhaps are not the focus of attention either – as I say they are often part of the background but, I would suggest, they would be noticeable by their absence.  It would be kind of strange not having football on in the background at a Thanksgiving Day feast.

In any event, I am wondering what other sporting events might be considered traditional and associated with both watching the game on television – perhaps with family and friends – and particular holidays?

EDIT: Of course, I completely forgot about all of the NBA games on Christmas Day and the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game on New Years Day.