Walter Camp made the development of football—indeed, its very creation—his lifelong mission. From his days as a college athlete, Camp's love of the game and dedication to its future put it on the course that would allow it to seize the passions of the nation.
Roger R. Tamte tells the engrossing but forgotten life story of Walter Camp, the man contemporaries called "the father of American football." He charts Camp's leadership as American players moved away from rugby and for the first time tells the story behind the remarkably inventive rule change that, in Camp's own words, was "more important than all the rest of the legislation combined." Trials also emerged, as when disputes over forward passing, the ten-yard first down, and other rules became so public that President Theodore Roosevelt took sides. The resulting political process produced losses for Camp as well as successes, but soon a consensus grew that football needed no new major changes. American football was on its way, but as time passed, Camp's name and defining influence became lost to history.
Entertaining and exhaustively researched, Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football weaves the life story of an important sports pioneer with a long-overdue history of the dramatic events that produced the nation's most popular game.
Winner, Al Lowman Memorial Prize, Texas State Historical Association, 2014
In 1939, a team of short, scrappy kids from a vocational school established specifically for Mexican Americans became the high school basketball champions of San Antonio, Texas. Their win, and the ensuing riot it caused, took place against a backdrop of shifting and conflicted attitudes toward Mexican Americans and American nationalism in the WWII era. “Only when the Mexicans went from perennial runners-up to champs,” García writes, “did the emotions boil over.”
The first sports book to look at Mexican American basketball specifically, When Mexicans Could Play Ball is also a revealing study of racism and cultural identity formation in Texas. Using personal interviews, newspaper articles, and game statistics to create a compelling narrative, as well as drawing on his experience as a sports writer, García takes us into the world of San Antonio’s Sidney Lanier High School basketball team, the Voks, which became a two-time state championship team under head coach William Carson “Nemo” Herrera. An alumnus of the school himself, García investigates the school administrators’ project to Americanize the students, Herrera’s skillful coaching, and the team’s rise to victory despite discrimination and violence from other teams and the world outside of the school. Ultimately, García argues, through their participation and success in basketball at Lanier, the Voks players not only learned how to be American but also taught their white counterparts to question long-held assumptions about Mexican Americans.
Triathlons, such as the famously arduous Ironman Triathlon, and “extreme” mountain biking—hair-raising events held over exceedingly dangerous terrain—are prime examples of the new “lifestyle sports” that have grown in recent years from oddball pursuits, practiced by a handful of characters, into multi-million-dollar industries. In Why Would Anyone Do That? sociologist Stephen C. Poulson offers a fascinating exploration of these new and physically demanding sports, shedding light on why some people find them so compelling.
Drawing on interviews with lifestyle sport competitors, on his own experience as a participant, on advertising for lifestyle sport equipment, and on editorial content of adventure sport magazines, Poulson addresses a wide range of issues. He notes that these sports are often described as “authentic” challenges which help keep athletes sane given the demands they confront in their day-to-day lives. But is it really beneficial to “work” so hard at “play?” Is the discipline required to do these sports really an expression of freedom, or do these sports actually impose extraordinary degrees of conformity upon these athletes? Why Would Anyone Do That? grapples with these questions, and more generally with whether lifestyle sport should always be considered “good” for people.
Poulson also looks at what happens when a sport becomes a commodity—even a sport that may have begun as a reaction against corporate and professional sport—arguing that commodification inevitably plays a role in determining who plays, and also how and why the sport is played. It can even help provide the meaning that athletes assign to their participation in the sport. Finally, the book explores the intersections of race, class, and gender with respect to participation in lifestyle and endurance sports, noting in particular that there is a near complete absence of people of color in most of these contests. In addition, Poulson examines how concepts of masculinity in triathlons have changed as women’s roles in this sport increase.
Willie Wells was arguably the best shortstop of his generation. As Monte Irvin, a teammate and fellow Hall of Fame player, writes in his foreword, “Wells really could do it all. He was one of the slickest fielding shortstops ever to come along. He had speed on the bases. He hit with power and consistency. He was among the most durable players I’ve ever known.” Yet few people have heard of the feisty ballplayer nicknamed “El Diablo.” Willie Wells was black, and he played long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Bob Luke has sifted through the spotty statistics, interviewed Negro League players and historians, and combed the yellowed letters and newspaper accounts of Wells’s life to draw the most complete portrait yet of an important baseball player. Wells’s baseball career lasted thirty years and included seasons in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada. He played against white all-stars as well as Negro League greats Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neill, among others. He was beaned so many times that he became the first modern player to wear a batting helmet. As an older player and coach, he mentored some of the first black major leaguers, including Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe. Willie Wells truly deserved his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Bob Luke details how the lingering effects of segregation hindered black players, including those better known than Wells, long after the policy officially ended. Fortunately, Willie Wells had the talent and tenacity to take on anything—from segregation to inside fastballs—life threw at him. No wonder he needed a helmet.
The Jerry Sandusky child molestation case stunned the nation. As subsequent revelations uncovered an athletic program operating free of oversight, university officials faced criminal charges while unprecedented NCAA sanctions hammered Penn State football and blackened the reputation of coach Joe Paterno.
In Wounded Lions, acclaimed sport historian and longtime Penn State professor Ronald A. Smith heavily draws from university archives to answer the How? and Why? at the heart of the scandal. The Sandusky case was far from the first example of illegal behavior related to the football program or the university's attempts to suppress news of it. As Smith shows, decades of infighting among administrators, alumni, trustees, faculty, and coaches established policies intended to protect the university, and the football team considered synonymous with its name, at all costs. If the habits predated Paterno, they also became sanctified during his tenure. Smith names names to show how abuses of power warped the "Penn State Way" even with hires like women's basketball coach Rene Portland, who allegedly practiced sexual bias against players for decades. Smith also details a system that concealed Sandusky's horrific acts just as deftly as it whitewashed years of rules violations, coaching malfeasance, and player crime while Paterno set records and raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the university.
A myth-shattering account of misplaced priorities, Wounded Lions charts the intertwined history of an elite university, its storied sports program, and the worst scandal in collegiate athletic history.