10/29/08

Sports Icons Humanized in Rosen's New Book
Reconstructing Fame

What a difference a symposium can make. Joel Nathan Rosen, assistant professor of sociology, presented "Separating Wheat from Chaff: Looking for Jackie Robinson in an Uncritical Age" at a 2005 Ithaca College conference. He was intrigued to learn that Robinson had been invited to Boston to try out for the Red Sox in 1945 (when professional baseball was segregated), but had been "no-showed" repeatedly. Yet by the late '90s, Boston completely reversed its stance, helping to lead the charge to celebrate Robinson as a national hero. Today, at least two annual celebrations honor Jackie Robinson. "I wondered why everyone was loving him now—he was much more complicated than that," says Joel Nathan.

About a year later, at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, Joel Nathan met David Ogden, and a lively discussion ensued. "He had similar thoughts about the racialization of athletes' reputations," says Joel Nathan. "Before long, we had mapped out four or five separate books we wanted to do on the subject."

Reconstructing Fame: Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations, released this month by the University Press of Mississippi, is the first of the collaborative series co-edited by Joel Nathan Rosen and David C. Ogden, associate professor of communications at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


"I wondered why everyone was loving him now—he was much more complicated than that," said Joel Nathan Rosen.


The collection of essays covers Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Curt Flood, Paul Robeson, Jim Thorpe, Bill Russell, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos—twentieth-century athletes whose careers were affected by racism, and whose post-career reputations have improved as society's understanding of race has changed. Contributors attempt to clarify the sports stars' stories by analyzing the myths that surround them, delving into the role that nostalgia and collective memory play. Shifts in popular perception often obscure an athlete's true role in history and can serve to trivialize their achievements.

Future books in the series will discuss athletes whose reputations have changed from hero to villain; the creation of women athletes' reputations; and how international sports stars' reputations are framed. Joel Nathan Rosen is also author of The Erosion of the American Sporting Ethos: Shifting Attitudes toward Competition (2007).

Reconstructing Fame: Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations is available at bookstores nationwide and from Amazon.com. A book signing is being planned for December or January.