Colin Kaepernick’s Critics Only Care about Symbolism and Ignore Substance


As for many American boys, sports were a staple of my life growing up in the 90s and it was rare to hear about contemporary athletes taking stands on political or social issues. Sure, there was Mohammed Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos and Tommie Lee, but that was a different era and the urgency that impelled their activism seemed out of place at the time (in the mind of a white, middle class kid). The reigning most-famous athlete in the world at the time, one Michael Jordan, made it clear that he was not interested in wading into politics. When asked to support Harvey Gantt, an African American running against racist Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms in 1990, Jordan reportedly (and … [Read more...]

Kaepernick’s Protest Gesture and the Militarization of Professional Sports


Colin Kaepernick’s recent gesture has shaken up the sports world because he has refused to take part in one of professional, and amateur-level, sports’ most normalized rituals: the playing of the national anthem. The gesture has made an impact not solely because he is denouncing the current state of US race relations, but because his gesture exposes some of the real contradictions in professional sports as key sites for normalizing nationalism, militarism, hetero-normative-patriarchy, and social darwinist ideology. This nexus is perhaps best described as the militarization of professional sport. Spending too much time watching professional sporting events might even lead one to believe … [Read more...]

Hmong Youth, American Football, and the Cultural Politics of Ethnic Sports Tournaments


For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, ToM is featuring two excerpts from the new anthology, Asian American Sporting Cultures from New York University Press. In the first, Constancio Arnoldo Jr. examines Filipino ideas about masculinity and identity through boxer Manny Pacquiao. (See also our recent post on the intersection between boxing, Los Angeles, and the Philippines: "From Villa to Pacquiao: Filipino Boxing in L.A. and the Power of the Transnational Punch") In our second excerpt, Chia Youyee Vang explores the intersection of Hmong American identity and sport in the United States. The December 12, 2011, edition of Sports Illustrated ran a story titled “How to Become an American.” … [Read more...]

Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao, the Transnational Fist, and the Southern California Ringside Community

One of Manny Pacquiao’s most notable precursors, Flyweight Champion Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo; [Fly weight boxing champion of the world, Pancho Villa, on the left, boxing with Flores, Philippine Islands], circa 1890-1923, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, ToM is featuring two excerpts from the new anthology, Asian American Sporting Cultures from New York University Press. Here in a chapter excerpt, Constancio Arnoldo Jr. examines Filipino ideas about masculinity and identity through boxer Manny Pacquiao. See also our recent post on the intersection between boxing, Los Angeles, and the Philippines: "From Villa to Pacquiao: Filipino Boxing in L.A. and the Power of the Transnational Punch" One night in December 2009, after taking a five-hour flight from Illinois to California, I had just walked into my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Long Beach. My then two-year-old nephew, all thirty-six inches … [Read more...]

Greenberg to Koufax to Valenzuela: Ethnicity, Identity, and Baseball in “Chasing Dreams”

Orange crate label by Ben Sakoguchi

The 1965 World Series would prove groundbreaking. It marked the first time that two professional baseball teams from west of the Mississippi – the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins – competed for Major League Baseball’s title. More importantly, it was the stage upon which Sandy Koufax weaved the narrative of his greatness and by extension highlighted Jewish America’s connection to the national pastime. Having sat out Game 1 due to its falling on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and then struggling through a less-than-stellar Game 2 outing, Koufax bounced back with magisterial performances in Game 5 and the now-famous Game 7 in which he pitched a complete game shutout, striking out … [Read more...]

From Villa to Pacquiao: Filipino Boxing in L.A. and the Power of a Transnational Punch


Nearly one year ago last may, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. battled 12 rounds in what was billed as the "fight of the century." The two fighters carried a long history of antagonism into the ring, though perhaps much of this could be attributed to Mayweather, whose trolling of the Filipino boxer over the years sometimes veered into racism. Pacquiao's loss to Mayweather, a unanimous decision, seems unsurprising in retrospect, especially considering the latter's status as arguably the greatest defensive boxer of his generation. Don't cry for Manny though, the Las Vegas fight racked in $400 million. Granted, it's been a tough year for Pacquiao, his homophobic comments a couple … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part II: Reclaiming sporting culture


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


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

spiking the political football

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...]