Work Title: A People's History of Sports in The United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, the People, and Play
Work Author(s): Dave Zirin; Howard Zinn, series editor
The New Press
Hardcover, $26.95 (320pp)
Reviewer: Ron Kaplan
For David Zirin, the unexamined sports life is not worth living. While other writers might be content to browse over box scores or dish the dirt on the private lives of athletes, he prefers to look deeper into how the games address (or not) a wider array of social issues.
The book is a straightforward examination of how sports gradually changed from a waste of time that detracted from serious work (and prayer) in the days of the founding fathers, to a way to provide diversion from unrelenting industrial labor, to a multi-billion dollar enterprise today, not only on the fields of play, but in merchandising as well.
Zirin notes the imprimaturs from presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who promoted athletics as endemic to the American spirit, as well as to keeping a sound body and mind. Where Zirin says "America," though, he is really writing about the shame of not living up to democratic ideals by excluding women and African-Americans from meaningful participation; for some reason, other ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the book for the most part. All this is prelude, however, until we arrive at the World War II era. It is at this point---in the form of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's infamous color line---that A People's History really takes off.
America moved into a desegregationist mindset following the War. African-Americans would no longer accept being treated as second class citizens and sports was seen as one way to prove their equality, if not superiority...