Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

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Abraham, Jackie and Branch

In Baseball, Culture on April 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm

CDH’s Becky Koenig reviews the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, in theaters this Friday, and examines its connections with another recent film about breaking racial barriers.

Who broke baseball’s color barrier?

As any casual fan can tell you, the simple answer is Jackie Robinson. In 1947, the speedy infielder joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues. But the Robinson biopic 42, debuting tomorrow, calls into question just who truly was responsible for integrating America’s pastime.

Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) shares the screen with Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the cigar-smoking Dodgers executive determined to get him on the field. Rickey got his start playing professional football and baseball, and then managed the St. Louis Browns before serving in World War I. He returned to St. Louis as a manager and executive for the Cardinals and developed the modern minor league system. The Dodgers hired Rickey away in the early 1940s. His star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame refers to him as “the greatest front-office strategist in baseball history,” who, by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, “simultaneously broke baseball’s color line and built the great Dodger teams of the 1940s and 1950s.”

This contrasts with the Robinson estate’s official website. The site asserts that “Jackie Robinson engineered the integration of professional sports in America by breaking the color barrier in baseball.” That’s the version most people have heard. In paying equal attention to the black ballplayer and the white team executive, 42 tries to resolve this tension, challenging audiences to reevaluate their assumptions about how the color barrier was broken. Read the rest of this entry »


The Semantics of Steubenville

In Culture, Football on March 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm

The Steubenville rape case has received national attention and significant media coverage as an example of the cult of high school sports. But have we missed the real narrative?

Two teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio were convicted Sunday of raping a teenage girl.

You’ve heard this story already? I’ll bet it was introduced to you a little differently:

Washington Post: “Two members of Steubenville’s celebrated high school football team were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl…”  

Ohio Plain Dealer: “On trial in Jefferson County Juvenile Court are two Steubenville High School football players accused of raping a 16-year girl…”

NBC: “Two Ohio high school football players have been found guilty of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl…”

CNN: “Two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of raping a West Virginia teenager.”

You see, it wasn’t just any pair of young men found guilty of rape. It was a pair of football players. Star football players. Promising young athletes. Hometown heroes.

If you’re wondering why that’s relevant, why media coverage is being framed in that context, you’re not the only one. Why on earth does it matter what extracurricular activity the perpetrators preferred? Read the rest of this entry »

Rally ’round

In Culture, William & Mary on October 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I was wearing my William and Mary sweatshirt on a plane the other day, and when I stood up to grab my bag from the overhead bin, the older man sitting behind me asked, “Did you win this weekend?”

Excuse me? Win what? Wracking my brain, I realized he was probably referencing the football game the Tribe played two days before. I wiped the clueless look off my face.

“I don’t know, sir,” I said cheerfully, “I was out of town!”

He looked stunned.

“You don’t know?”

“Uh, no, I was gone –”

“Well who were you playing?” he asked impatiently.

Shoot. I knew this. What were the initials? Please stop looking at me like that, sir, um, it was N and H, but it wasn’t New Hampshire….

“New Haven?” I squeaked.

He smiled smugly. “You mean Yale? It certainly wasn’t Yale.”

“No, no, um, I don’t, no…” I trailed off, mortified. Read the rest of this entry »

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