A significant examination of how athletes have fought for inclusion and equality on and off the playing field, despite calls for them to “stick to sports.”
The claim that sports are—or ought to be—apolitical has itself never been an apolitical position. Rather, it is a veiled attempt to control which politics are acceptable in the athletic realm, a designation intricately linked to issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and more.
In Don't Stick to Sports: The American Athlete’s Fight against Injustice, Derek Charles Catsam carefully explores this disparity. He looks at how, throughout recent sports history in the United States, minority athletes have had to fight every step of the way for their right to compete, and how they continue to fight for equity today. From African Americans and women to LGBTQ+ and religious minorities, Catsam shows how these athletes have taken a stand to address the underlying injustices in sports and society despite being told it’s not their place to do so.
While it’s impossible for a single book to tell the entire history of exclusion in the sporting world, Don’t Stick to Sports looks at key moments from the World War I era to the present to shatter the myth of sports as a meritocracy, of sports-as-equalizer, highlighting the reality as something far more complicated—of sports as a malleable world where exclusion and inclusion are rarely straight-forward.
Derek Catsam is professor of history and the Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin where he teaches courses on race, politics, and sports. His most recent books include Beyond the Pitch: The Spirit, Culture, and Politics of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and Flashpoint: How a Little-Known Sporting Event Fueled America’s Anti-Apartheid Movement. Catsam has won awards, fellowships, and grants from a number of respected institutions and was named the 2016 Hugh Le May Fellow in the Humanities at Rhodes University. Catsam appeared in the Emmy award winning PBS “American Experience” documentary, Freedom Riders, and on C- Span’s Book TV.
Introduction The Binded and the Protected
Chapter 1 “The Highest Point of the Game’s Enthusiasm”: The National Anthem, Patriotism, and the 1918 World Series
Chapter 2 Of “Dead Sparrows” and “Muscle Molls”: Gender Expectations and Women’s Sport
Chapter 3 Jackie Robinson, The Army, and Sam Huston College: The Dilemma of the Black Athlete in 1940s
Chapter 4 A Tale of Two Cities: The Integration of Professional Sports in Boston and Cleveland
Chapter 5 The 1960s and the Limits of “Integration” in American College Sports
Chapter 6 Oh Say Can You See?: Rebellion, Anger, and Contested Americanisms
Chapter 7 Raised Fists, Black Shorts, and a Fallen Queen: Race, Politics, and Sex-pectations in Track and Field
Chapter 8 Gaps Between Ideals and Reality: Exclusion and Modern Sport
Conclusion Taking a Knee: Sport and Politics in 21st Century America
About the Author
Protests, taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, culture wars—increasingly, sports and politics are tangled together. While professional athletes ply their trade in front of tens of thousands of avid fans and millions of TV viewers, their personal lives and behavior are also scrutinized. Historian Catsam concludes, "Athletes who deviated from the expectation to be seen and rarely heard would find that they were very much bound and very much not protected." .... Professional athletes have the right to use their stage and celebrity to promote social justice, and calling attention to injustice is certainly not unpatriotic. A winning and widely appealing blend of biography, sports history, and the struggle for social justice.
History deniers, be warned. Professor and notable sports historian Derek Catsam hits a homerun with Don’t Stick to Sports, a collection of essays that highlight the unavoidable intersection between sports and politics in American culture. Catsam brilliantly draws the correlation between the 1918 global pandemic, domestic tensions, and the use of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to the 2020 global pandemic and subsequent debates on personal freedom and public health, and American athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem. Through the personal histories of some of the greatest names in NFL, NBA, and MLB, in boxing, track and field, tennis and more, Catsam challenges the idea that athletes should “stick to sports” and leave activism at the door even as sports has become a popular leverage for politicians to “rouse the ire of cultural warriors against imaginary foes.” From Muhammad Ali to Brittney Griner, from Bill Russell to Mary Decker, from Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, Catsam reminds us just how intertwined sports, politics, civil rights, and the most basic freedoms truly are. You need this book in your personal library.
As bottom-up history, Don’t Stick to Sports is a brave and bold book that will change the reader’s thinking about how they view American sports. From telling the history of the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events, to detailing how today’s LGBTQ athletes navigate a toxic sporting space, Derek Catsam gives a powerful history lesson on why studying sports can tell us a lot about ourselves as a nation.