Black History Month Part II: Reclaiming sporting culture

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It's hard to think of a sport more awash in images of blonde blue eyed Californians than surfing. Depiction's of surfing from Bruce Brown's "The Endless Summer", fifty years old this year, trafficked in the idea of white surfers traversing the globe to the astonishment of Asian and African onlookers. The standard had been set by the 1966 classic; films and popular culture followed. Yet as Scott Laderman demonstrates in his recent work Empire in Waves, these images rest on a false narrative, the truth is that white Europeans and Americans appropriated surfing from other cultures and then due to segregation and other forces, cast its image in whiteness.  Others have also questioned the … [Read more...]

Civil Rights History at Tropics of Meta

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Martin Luther King Day is unique among American holidays, in the sense that it does not commemorate a religious event like Christmas or Easter, a cultural tradition like Thanksgiving or Halloween, or a former president.  Indeed, MLK Day is the only major holiday in the United States that celebrates the role of a political dissident - there is no William Lloyd Garrison or Susan B. Anthony or Ida Tarbell or Eugene Debs Day in the US.  It gives us occasion to consider the role of activism and political struggle in the making of our (hopefully) "more perfect union." In that sense, it is perhaps the most American of holidays. To commemorate the legacy of Dr. King, we have looked back at some … [Read more...]

Dropping the Ball: The Problem With Sports Imagery in Political Campaigns

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The National Football League playoffs began this weekend, concluding with the Super Bowl on February 7th; conveniently sandwiched between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries. Competition and high drama are sure to ensue in each setting. The nexus between sports and politics is strong. For many, politics is sport -- complete with winners and losers. Yet, the stakes are so much higher in the political arena and unlike the NFL playoffs, over 200 million Americans actually get to participate in elections across the country. However, citizens are woefully ill-prepared to do so. Much of that blame is due to the candidates themselves and the simplistic imagery they use to frame policy … [Read more...]

“That’s My Little Mexican Shortstop”: A Reflection on Race, Space, and the Origins of the Southern California Bombers Baseball Club, 1998-2002

West Covina Bombers, Las Vegas, NV, 1998

We were good! We were 13 years-old and travelling to places as far as Arizona, New York, Colorado, and Texas just to play baseball. Some of our teammates even traveled to Cuba to play a Junior Olympics tournament as members of the US National Team. We were the first batch of kids to come up in the Southern California Bombers Baseball Club. We practiced together at Whittier Narrows Park in El Monte, where my parents would drive me from the Pomona Valley twice a week to train. It was 2002, and we had won both the Triple Crown and USABF World Series, the two most prestigious youth baseball tournaments in the world. We started off as a batch of kids out of West Covina Pony League. The team … [Read more...]

The Complexity of US Soccer Fandom: “Eurosnobs,” MLS, and Generation X

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Sometimes it seems American soccer fans can’t win. “The problem is your soccer obsessives. By my reckoning, they may be the most derivative, excessive and utterly ridiculous collection of sports fans on the planet,” wrote Johnathan Clegg in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article. “They refer to the sport as ‘futbol,’ hold long conversations about the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation and proudly drape team scarves around their necks even when the temperature outside is touching 90 degrees.” For Clegg, U.S. fans cheering widely for teams “thousands of miles” away all seems much more like an “elaborate piece of performance art” than any manifestation “of genuine fandom.” Look up “Eurosnob” in … [Read more...]

Opening the Waves for Everyone: Surfing, Race, and Political Awareness

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  In recent months the sight of NFL, NBA, and NCAA athletes donning t-shirts protesting the deaths of Ferguson’s Michael Brown, Staten Island’s Eric Garner and other black Americans by law enforcement officers has become commonplace, as have critical reactions to such symbolic acts. The St. Louis Police Department and the Rams’ now famous passive aggressive Twitter battle serves as only one example of the friction that arises when athletes voice a political position. Still, recent protests like those described here seem a far cry from the 1980s. Michael Jordan never did tell kids to stop shooting each other over his sneakers, and when pressed about his politics or rather the lack thereof, … [Read more...]

Requiem for “The Sports Guy”: Bill Simmons, ESPN, and the Shifting Sports/Cultural Landscape

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When New York Times notifications lit up iPhones on Friday announcing “Bill Simmons is leaving ESPN,” it highlighted how important of a player “The Sport Guys” had become in the journalism and media world. “I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract,” ESPN head honcho John Skipper noted. “We’ve been talking to Bill, and it was clear that we weren’t going to get to the terms, so we were better off focusing on transition.” Skipper, a self-professed friend of Simmons, grabbed hold of the narrative and rode it into the weekend, while his former employee responded with “uncharacteristic silence,” Richard Sandomir quipped in the Times. Skipper’s announcement put an official end to a … [Read more...]

South Asian American Femininity: Who Can Play?

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The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity (New York University Press, 2015) from Stan Thangaraj, a City College professor of Anthropology and friend of Tropics of Meta.  This passage comes from Chapter 5, "Breaking the Cycle." which consists of a series of fascinating vignettes about contests over identity among Asian American basketball players in the South. Women are present at [desi basketball] tournaments. Their presence constitutes part of the pleasure men take in performing athletic masculinity. The men become the main targets of gaze for a wide audience. Additionally, many women play an … [Read more...]

Politics of Surfing: Environmentalism and Feminism Among California’s Waves

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  "California's oceans, waves and beaches are about to become a little cleaner thanks to the efforts of the California State Legislature this week!" the environmental surfing advocacy group, Surfrider Foundation, recently declared. On August 29, 2014, the California legislature overwhelmingly approved a statewide ban on single use plastic shopping bags and imposed a $.10 fee for their paper counterparts. Over the past six years several iterations of similar bills had come and gone, each unsuccessful in its attempt to gain passage. However this year's version, SB 270, authored by three Los Angeles area state senators -- Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles) and … [Read more...]

Pioneering the Pacific Rim: Baseball, California, and the Creation of Transpacific Trade

Babe Ruth in Japan, 1934

On September 1, 1964, Masanori Murakami threw a scoreless eighth inning for the San Francisco Giants. Amid a playoff push, Murakami took the mound for his first action in the big show. Though he gave up one hit, he struck out the side and would go on to make nine total appearances that year with one victory, a save, and an ERA of 1.80. The following year, Murakami made 45 relief appearances, went 4-1 with a 3.40 ERA and eight saves. After a contract dispute between his Japanese club and the Giants led to his return to Japan, another Japanese player would not enter the Major Leagues until Hideo Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, which set off a consistent flow of Japanese players … [Read more...]

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