African American Athletes and Academic Performance

This week, Gregory Kaliss, author of Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality(now available in paperback), pens an essay for Black History Month on African American athletes and education.

A recent spate of stories in the national news media has examined the serious problem with the academic performance of athletes at Division 1 colleges and universities. A study by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania showed the significant gap between the academic performance of black student athletes in relation to their white peers, with the football players of the national champion Florida State Seminoles graduating at only a 37% rate. Equally troubling was a CNN story noting the academic deficiencies of men’s basketball and football players at the University of North Carolina and other public schools nationwide.
It seems quite clear that many student athletes, especially racial minorities, come to college unprepared to succeed and are offered little remedial help to bolster their chances for earning success.

These are serious issues and are especially meaningful in light of the hopes that black leaders had for college athletes to transform the racial landscape in the U.S. When African American leaders pushed for racial integration in the realm of college athletics, they did so in the hopes that sports participation would lead to broader changes in American society. Whites would see blacks and whites playing together as teammates. They would be forced to acknowledge the accomplishments of African Americans on the fields and in the classrooms of privileged institutions of higher learning. They would have to acknowledge black men as something other than the caricatures passed down through Hollywood films, biased media coverage, and various other cultural forms.
Like professional sports, integrated college sports would show that an equal opportunity society was possible once African Americans were given the chance to succeed. But college athletics had the added bonus of educating future black leaders to take up the cause of racial equality in later years.

Men's College AthleticsAs my own research for Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality, and the work of other scholars attests, those hopes dimmed over the years, especially as the 1960s progressed. White fans attempted to relegate black achievements to the realm of the physical, refusing to credit black male intelligence and leadership. Certain positions on teams, such as the quarterback, remained off-limits to black players for decades. And, most significantly, black athletes found that white coaches and university administrators had little concern for their academic wellbeing. Plucked from under-funded schools and completely unprepared for the rigors of college life, these student athletes found themselves taking just enough courses to remain eligible for their sport, only to discover that they had not worked toward a degree. When their time in sport was done, they had almost nothing to show for their time in college.

Although some of these issues have clearly improved over the years, the stories now circulating in the media suggest that many problems still remain in the academic realm. And they indicate that many administrators, coaches, players, and fans need to be reminded of the long struggle for African-American athletes to get an opportunity in Division 1 athletics, and the high hopes black leaders once had for college sports. In remembering those struggles and those aspirations, we may yet generate enough dialogue to create meaningful change in how our colleges and universities educate their student athletes.

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

Temple University Press staff selects the Books of the Year to give, get, and read

As we wish everyone Happy Holidays and happy reading, the staff at Temple University Press selects the memorable titles of 2013.

Micah Kleit, Executive Editor

The Press published a bounty of riches this year, from Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer’s Envisioning Emancipation to Dean Bartoli Smith’s Never Easy, Never Pretty, an exciting account of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win. But the book I’d most like to give as a gift is Philipp H. Lepenies’ Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World. It’s the kind of work that represents, to me at least, the best of what university presses do in advancing scholarship.Art, Politics, and Development_sm

I’d love it if someone bought me a copy of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  It’s just the kind of inside-publishing book that reminds me of why I love what I do!

The book I’m planning to read over the holiday — in preparation for the “sequel” that’s due early this Spring —  is Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists.  It’s one of his earliest novels, and I’m excited that he’s returning to this story and continuing it, since it speaks (like so much of his work) powerfully to the ideas of what makes up the American character.

2013 was a great year for big novels from emerging and established writers, and the very best I read this year had to be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a book that was at once really economical in style but epic in scope: about 70s radicals, motorcycles, Italy and America.  I don’t think I’m the only one who thought of Don DeLillo when reading Kushner’s wonderful novel.

Sara Cohen, Rights and Contracts Manager

G-000865-20111017.jpgThe best TUP book to give?   My loved one are going to have to wait until Presidents’ Day to receive their Christmas gifts so that I can give them Thomas Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays? The first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. A friend sent me Zadie Smith’s New York Review of Books piece “Man vs. Corpse,” which cites My Struggle, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I also hope to receive a vegan cookbook (maybe Veganomicon)  so that I can start the new year off with good dietary intentions.

The book I plan to read over the break?  I’m supposed to be reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn with my husband and one of our friends.  I’m going to spend the break trying to catch up to the two of them.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

MoreMuralsEarlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It’s engrossing historical fiction about what it might have been like to live in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union, and to feel real optimism about the country’s future even while beginning to see cracks that would spread and destroy it.
I look forward to reading and giving Temple University Press’s Philadelphia murals books Philadelphia Murals and the Stories they Tell, and  More Philadelphia Murals the the Stories They Tell, as a new volume, Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30,  is forthcoming in 2014. I’m from Philadelphia but only recently moved back, after thirteen years in New York, to come on board at the Press. The terrific Mural Arts Program expanded a great deal while I was gone, and I’m excited to catch up with it through these beautiful books.

Charles Ault, Production Director

This year I read A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which is now on my all-time favorites list. Ruth Ozeki is a 40-ish Buddhist priest who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver, Canada. Her book features a writer named Ruth who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver. She discovers the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl in a waterproofed bundle that washes up on the shore. The girl is contemplating suicide and has decided to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, as her last act. We (the reader) read pieces of the diary as Ruth does and then we read Ruth’s reaction to the same thing we just read (and reacted to). But I haven’t mentioned the Zen philosophy and ritual that pervades the story. Or the discussion of quantum mechanics. Or contemporary Japanese pornography….

Joan Vidal, Production Manager

Justifiable Conduct_smThe best TUP book to give: If you have a group of friends who like to read and discuss books, I recommend Erich Goode’s Justifiable Conduct . Filled with examples from the memoirs of public figures who seek absolution for their transgressions, this book is sure to spark conversation.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays: I would like to have The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, by Theodor Geisel.

The book I plan to read over the break: Next on my list is Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Don't Call Me_smThe best book I read this year?  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This year’s National Book Award fiction winner is the wild story about John Brown and his raid, narrated by a freed slave boy masquerading as a girl.  It’s hilarious.

The best TUP book to give? Don’t Call Me Inspirational, Harilyn Rousso’s compelling memoir.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

The book I plan to read over the break: I will finish Edwidge Dandicat’s
Claire of the Sea Light and begin Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Brian Murray, Marketing Assistant

How We DIe Now_smThe best TUP book to give this season is Never Easy, Never Pretty by Dean Bartoli Smith. My father has been a Ravens fan his whole life and reminisces about going to games with his father when he was growing up. This book is perfect for him and perfect for any other Ravens’ fan or football fan in general.
The book I plan to read over break is Karla Erickson’s  How We Die Now. What better way to celebrate the holidays with my immediate family and older relatives than to evaluate my own mortality and the cost of living longer? Also a perfect gift for my great Aunt Lenora who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday this January.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

WHAT I WILL GIVE: Music, Style, and Aging by Andy Bennett. Because holidays should be filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll and reading, right? Music Style Aging_sm

WHAT I WILL READ: Ink, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (one of the co-authors of 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia by the staff of Al Día). Ink looks at immigration issues through multiple lenses and I really admire Vourvoulias’ work.

THE BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013: Night Film, by Marisha Pessl, is not so much a book you read as a story you investigate. It involves a disgraced journalist and a cult filmmaker, whose daughter has died—or possibly been murdered. What’s intriguing is not just the mystery, but the format of the book: an impressive collection of photographs, website downloads, dossiers, missing persons reports, institution assessments, and created articles. It’s a fascinating interactive experience.

WHAT I WANT TO READ: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I really want to read James Franco’s Actors Anonymous.  I’m an unabashed  Francofile and a completist. I’ll also likely see his film adaptation of As I Lay Dying over the break as well.

Maybe Alligators Don’t Mind Toxic Pollution

In this blog entry, Stephanie Kane, author of Where Rivers Meet the Sea, offers advice on how to clean up Guanabara Bay for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Alligators thrive along Rio de Janeiro’s coastline and even the most famous beaches are subject to swimming advisories for pollution. Although the Brazilian constitution promises the right to clean water and habitat, up and down its coast, wherever urbanized rivers meet the sea, industrial and household toxins and sewage degrade water habitats. Brazil is not unique. Worldwide, cities destroy the habitats and hinterlands upon which they depend.

That statement did not constitute news until November, when a story came across the AP newswire: Sailors, who had begun training in Guanabara Bay, became more than a little concerned about the bay’s pollution; the visuals startled them although the contaminants that frighten health professional are visible only through microscopes, especially fecal coliform bacteria that could cause dysentery and even cholera. Rio organizers pledged to clean up and monitor Copacabana, the designated swimming venue. But consider: INEA, the state environmental agency, “has classified nearly all the 13 bayside beaches it monitors as ‘terrible’ for 12 years running. . .” AECOM, the company that built London’s Olympic Park, designed the Olympic Park site for Rio 2016; although lovely, as Oliver Wainright noted,  the design does not convey the stagnation of the surrounding Jacarepaguá lagoon. The video-plan evokes AECOM’s  “water strategy” with a visual gloss of rainfall—captured, filtered, recycled and revitalized. Really?  Carlos Minc, state secretary for the environment, says for 20 years, everyone has known that the “bay is rotten.”  This time, he adds, there is something new in the government’s response.  Landfills around the bay have been closed (at least legal landfills), some industrial pollution has been “curbed” and programs to collect floating garbage and install “river treatment units (RTUs)” are in the works. Built over rivers, the RTUs are meant to filter garbage and human waste as it slides by on the way to open water. But contaminated water flows everywhere, above and below ground, through the dense, diverse human development spreading outward from the bay’s edge. How can AECOM’s site-specific water strategy possibly trigger significantly cleaner water for the Olympian swimmers and sailors in 2016  or more importantly, the people of Rio who will still be there in 2017? Will there be RTUs installed on every stream and river? Can RTUs substitute for centralized urban garbage and sewage infrastructures that retrieve and manage waste before it befouls the water?  Even if those responsible manage to keep the water looking clean enough for a few days, is that really a good enough aim? Couldn’t the “legacy” of Rio 2016 be a serious effort toward functional urban infrastructure and to implement and enforce anti-pollution laws?

Where Rivers_smThe special few apparently believe that they are protected from regional water degradation. Earthworks, filtration, labs to monitor fecal pathogens, gestures toward environmental law enforcement—this infrastructure sustains an unequal, exclusionary and paranoid security logic: urban elites wall themselves off within zones deemed free of toxins and criminals and wall out the masses who are left to struggle, to effect real change, to invent and extend sustainable habitat—or merely to withstand and survive. Although well-funded materialized illusions  may make it seem so, islands are not separate.  Rain, mist, subterranean fossil water, cycles, tides, and surges—water brings back whatever we give.

The image of Olympian athletes skimming along the murky surface, intermingling with the city’s disgusting outpourings warns of a dangerously unhealthy situation requiring either sure action or speedy retreat. Surely, the catastrophic air pollution in the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a clue: the environment cannot be ignored. Who knows? Out of pure pragmatism, the International Olympic Committee could actually transform itself into a global engine for start-up urban environmental sustainability projects that could lead to larger projects after the Olympians have gone home (like Bahia Azul, a project that cleaned up the Bay of All Saints in Salvador). Political will and imagination is what is needed here, installing a few RTUs simply won’t cut it.

A Q&A with Dean Bartoli Smith, author of NEVER EASY, NEVER PRETTY

In this Q&A, Temple University Press author Dean Bartoli Smith talks about his football fandom, going to Super Bowl XLVII, and his new book, Never Easy, Never Pretty: A Fan, A City, A Championship Season.

Q: In the first chapter of Never Easy, Never Pretty you write about your love affair with football, and how it began in 1970, when you were 7. Your father took you to a Colts practice game. What was it that sparked your interest in the game/team?

DBS: I was immersed in Baltimore Colts football as an infant rolling around on the carpet as the game unfolded on a black-and-white television in the late 1960s. I learned about the team in books like Great Moments in the NFL as soon as I could read. My fandom was sealed when I received a Colts helmet as a gift. I wore that blue horseshoe against a pure white background everywhere. My relatives told stories around the dinner table about the football exploits of Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Mike Curtis, and Bubba Smith. I couldn’t believe I was going to meet them in person at a practice game. Carrying Unitas’ shoulder pads after practice changed my life.

Q: The book has an interesting structure—while it is a game-by-game analysis of the Raven’s 2012 Championship Season, it is also a history of the team, and a memoir of sorts. How did you conceive of the narrative?

DBS: The season dictated the narrative structure; the games themselves provided a crude outline. The writing was very much like a playing in a football game. I needed to drive the narrative down the field, find the open holes and pass to the open receivers. In the first three games, the team experienced the loss of Art Modell and Torrey Smith’s brother and played one-point games against the Eagles and Patriots—nothing was going to be easy. The Ravens set the tone early on that overcoming loss was going to be a major theme.  Then you have three “trench warfare” wins (Browns, Chiefs, and Cowboys) that were brutal slugfests. Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb go down. In the aftermath of these games was the miraculous Fourth and 29 that hinted at something greater. Then, the team hit rock bottom.  They rose up again with the return of Lewis and a stunning victory in Denver.

I felt the presence of my departed relatives and even Johnny Unitas on occasion as I wrote. Art Donovan passed away 4 weeks after I spoke with him. His last published interview is in Never Easy, Never Pretty.  I visualized the chapter “Blue Horseshoes” about the Colts playoff game first.  Everything flowed into that game and from that moment. The playoff games each needed their own chapter; the irony and drama is magnified when more is at stake.

smith_cover front_hi-res_smQ: You poignantly discuss your experiences of becoming a Ravens fan, despite mixed feelings Can you describe the emotional journey you felt as a fan during these moments?

DBS: I remember camping in the Everglades during college and almost getting into a fistfight with someone about the Colts leaving. It was the spring of 1984, just after the move. The Redskins were good back then but I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for them. I felt groundless and numb to the NFL but the New York Giants brought me back in 1986.  I thought about my family and those who loved the Colts and passed away before an NFL team returned. My football journey became an extension of my dad’s. It had taken my father awhile to embrace them and when I saw him wearing a Ray Lewis jersey, I knew it was time to commit.

Q: You frequently mention putting on your #82 Torrey Smith Jersey. Why did you select this player?

DBS: When I moved back to Baltimore in 2010, I was perplexed for several months about what jersey to buy. It’s not a straightforward thing with players leaving town every year. I thought about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed but knew their days were numbered. Then I decided on a player—Torrey Smith—with my last name.  He is going to have a long career here and even if he leaves town, the jersey will still say “Smith.”

Q: You wax poetically about the passion you’ve seen in the city for Ravens—from Purple Fridays to deafening sounds of the stadium. Why do you think the Ravens engender such rabid enthusiasm?

DBS: This is a tight-knit football town. It’s a gritty pit-bull mix of a city with a chip on its shoulder. The city’s demeanor rests on the outcome of every Ravens game. Baltimore didn’t have football for 12 years and is making up for it with a ceaseless passion for the purple and black. The Ravens organization is first-rate and people respond to that. The team exemplifies the blue collar values that permeated Baltimore in the 50s and 60s—when it was a city that made things.

I remember hearing the Cincinnati Bengal announcers in 2011 talk about how they’d never seen so many fans in team jerseys as they did in Baltimore. Fans follow the Ravens like it was their high school team. The players are part of an extended family, the way it was with the Colts.

Q: How did looking at the Ravens’ 2012 season with 20/20 hindsight help you write Never Easy, Never Pretty?

DBS: I didn’t set out to write a book at the beginning of the season. It grew organically out of the columns I wrote. I had witnessed an extraordinary series of events and wanted to do something on a larger scale that would withstand the test of time and be a book that my son and daughter could refer back to 25 years from now.

Q: The 2012 season was, as many folks have indicated, an emotional rollercoaster. How would you describe watching the team win amid tragedies? This feeling gives your book its title, Never Easy, Never Pretty. Why is this phrase so apt for the Ravens?

DBS: I watched in awe as the season unfolded. The team overcame setbacks and prevailed with sheer physicality and they needed every minute of every game to do it. “Never Easy, Never Pretty” not only captures the Ravens’ essence but also the inner psyche of Baltimore. The team reflects that kind of personality and brings everyone together under a purple hue. Throughout the season, players referred to “winning ugly” and “it wasn’t pretty but it was a win.” After the Super Bowl, John Harbaugh says, “It’s never pretty. It’s never perfect, but it is us.” Joe Flacco steps to the podium and says, “We sure don’t make it easy. But that’s the way the city of Baltimore is.”

Q: You pepper your book with quotes from broadcasters, players, even observations by and about management. Why did you decide to provide this added dimension to the narrative?

DBS: I wanted to give fans a variety of perspectives to recreate the game experience. I interspersed the sights, sounds and smells of the stadium. Football is about the weather, the concessions, the cheers, the introductions, the fans and the pre-game talk shows. It’s also about the people upstairs who put the pieces in place—Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Byrne, John Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti. I wanted Never Easy, Never Pretty to be a different kind of sports book—one that included memoir, play-by-play, commentary, reportage, historical context and quotations written by a fan for both the diehard Ravens fan and the casual observer.

Q: Of course no story of the 2012 Ravens would be complete without the famous Fourth and 29, the game saving first down, or the Mile High Miracle. How do you think these highlights compare in Ravens’/Colts’ history and/or football history writ large?

DBS: “Fourth and 29” became a mantra for how the team approached the game of football. The play itself gave a glimpse into what the Ravens were capable from a will standpoint. They willed themselves to a Super Bowl victory. The play will be remembered for decades by every Baltimore fan that followed the team in 2012 and future generations of fans. The Mile High Miracle was the “shot heard around the world.”  It was perhaps the most incomprehensible moment in a season full of improbable twists. It was the denouement, the point of rising action that crystallized a Super Bowl champion—and it never should have happened. It’s easily the greatest play in Ravens’ history. It paved the way for David embodied by Ray Lewis to take down Peyton Manning’s Goliath.

Q: What can you say about the photographs in the book?

DBS: The photos capture many of the key moments of the season. Ravens photographer, Phil Hoffmann also provides some interesting anecdotes in the book. He’s an amazing artist who told me that he approaches his job like a defender anticipating the next play. He was able to catch every amazing moment.

Q: You recount attending Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans in the opening chapter. This is something most fans only dream about doing. What can you say about the experience, other than the Ravens won?

DBS: The Super Bowl was the most intense sporting event I have ever witnessed. I made a last-minute decision to go and didn’t believe I would make it there until I was in my seat. I had reached a point after the Denver game when I needed to follow this team all the way to the end. I had finally become part of the Super Bowl tradition. All of those faded highlight reels of past gridiron championships flickered in my mind with the voice of John Facenda as I traveled to New Orleans. The tension inside the Superdome was palpable. It’s a “winner take all” atmosphere and as a fan you don’t want to come this far and lose. Every play was magnified. My faith had waivered during the season and I wanted to see it all the way through. The first five minutes of the game were incredible as the Ravens scored quickly. I lost my voice in the first quarter and met some great fans from Baltimore. We stuck together.  I never trusted our lead and wanted the Beyonce halftime show to end to get back to the game. The blackout wasn’t scary, just another distraction and then the 49ers sprang to life and roared back with a vengeance. They mowed us down and my worst fears were realized. The Ravens’ goal line stand was the only way for the game, the season, and Ray Lewis’ career to end. I’m still running through the plays in my mind and wondering to this day how the 49ers didn’t score.

Ray Didinger: Remembering the Eagles’ Jerry Wolman

In this blog entry, reposted from PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Ray Didinger, co-author of The Eagles Encyclopedia, remembers Jerry Wolford, the former Eagles owner who passed on August 6.

Eagles History

“Call me Jerry.”

That’s what Jerry Wolman would say to anyone who called him “Mr. Wolman.” It didn’t matter if it was a player, an office worker, a reporter or a fan. Anyone who approached the former Eagles owner was told, “Call me Jerry.” He was a rich guy who never acted rich.

Wolman, who died Tuesday at the age of 86, bought the Eagles for $5.5 million in December, 1963. He owned the team for just five years before selling to Leonard Tose in March, 1969. Wolman did not want to sell – indeed, he said it was the biggest disappointment of his life – but he had no choice. A series of financial setbacks left him staring at bankruptcy.

It was a sad ending to a rags-to-riches, only-in-America success story. As a boy, Wolman hitchhiked 100 miles from his home in Shenandoah in upstate Pennsylvania to watch the Eagles play. He was a high school dropout who worked in his father’s fruit business and through sheer hustle and persistence built a successful career in real estate and construction.

He was 36 when he bought the Eagles making him the youngest owner in the National Football League. His worth at the time was a reported $36 million. He owned a dozen office buildings and apartments in the Washington, D.C., area. None of it, however, gave him the same thrill as owning the Eagles. He described himself as a kid with “a new toy.”

Jerry Wolman and Jeffrey Lurie

At his first Training Camp, Wolman ran around the practice field in Hershey, Pa., in an Eagles T-shirt and low-cut football shoes, catching passes with the receivers. He shagged punts, jogged laps with the coaches and shook the hands of every fan who came to watch.

“Nice to see you,” he would say. “Thanks for coming.”

And always, “Call me Jerry.”

Wolman was a gregarious guy who always seemed to have a smile on his face. Well, almost always. One day the Eagles scrimmaged the Washington Redskins in Hershey and some Redskins fans were heckling the Eagles. Wolman came down from the press box and dove into the crowd to take on the hecklers. Wolman was outnumbered, but he didn’t care. He was still throwing punches – and taking his share – when the Eagles coaches rushed in to save him.

An NFL owner would get fined for that today. But in Philadelphia, it would make him a folk hero.

A personal memory: My father, mother and I went to Hershey every summer to watch the Eagles practice. In 1964, Wolman’s first year as owner, we were in the lounge at the Cocoa Inn one evening watching the College All-Star Game on TV. The room was packed and Wolman came in with several coaches. The Eagles had two draft picks in the game – tackle Bob Brown and quarterback Jack Concannon – and Wolman wanted to see them in action.

Wolman went around the room and said hello to everyone. He stayed until halftime and shortly after he left, a man came in with a stack of pizzas. He put one on every table and said, “Compliments of Mr. Wolman.” I mean, who wouldn’t love a guy like that?

Wolman was all boyish enthusiasm – he once referred to himself as “a babe in the woods” – and while there was a charm to it, it also got him in trouble. The worst example was his decision to sign Joe Kuharich to a 15-year contract as coach and general manager on the basis of a 6-8 finish in 1964. Wolman saw it as such an improvement over the 2-10-2 record of the previous year that he felt Kuharich merited the longest and largest ($900,000) contract in professional sports.

It proved to be a disaster. The Eagles had only one winning season under Kuharich – a 9-5 finish in 1966 – and by 1968 they were in free fall and the fans were screaming “Joe Must Go.” Wolman’s financial empire was collapsing at the same time. Construction delays stalled his biggest project – the $50 million John Hancock Center in Chicago – and he ran out of time and money. He had other holdings including the Spectrum and Yellow Cab, but it was not enough to offset the crushing losses in Chicago.

Wolman made frantic attempts to secure loans from various banks, but it was no use. The only way he could stave off bankruptcy was to sell his most valuable asset, the Philadelphia Eagles. On March 1, 1969, he met with Leonard Tose and after 14 hours huddling with the lawyers, the deal was done. Wolman sold the team to Tose for $16.1 million.

“I’ve been fighting this thing for some time,” Wolman said. “This is a day I never thought for a second would come. But I had no choice. It’s here.”

When Wolman met the press that night, he remained gracious despite not having slept in days. He was described as “pale and nervous with the hint of a five o’clock shadow,” yet he managed a smile and said: “When I saw the expression on Leonard’s face tonight, I remembered how I felt when I bought the Eagles.”

The love Wolman felt for his football team never died. In January, 1981, when the Eagles went to their first Super Bowl, Wolman, who was then back on his feet financially, attended the game wearing Eagles green. He was interviewed at the game by Bill Fidati of the Philadelphia Bulletin.

“Philadelphia is still my favorite city,” said Wolman, who was then living in Bethesda, Md. “I would think that some day I will try to get back. Though I’m not involved in football or the city, I still feel a part of them. I’m happy about the accomplishments I had while in Philadelphia. I did have the Eagles, I helped bring the Flyers there and had the Spectrum built.

“What do I miss about the city?

“Everything.”

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for Comcast SportsNet. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the season for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History pieces here.

Philly’s Hoop History Commemorated

This week, Larry Needle, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress and author of Homecourt: The True Story of the Best Basketball Team You’ve Never Heard Of, a new children’s book about Red Klotz and the SPHAS, writes about hoop dreams and memories.

With the unveiling of a historic marker commemorating the legendary SPHAS basketball team at the site of the old Broadwood Hotel April 14, the hoop memories run deep.

Memories of the SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) teams of the first half of the 20th century, who made the Broadwood their home and helped to show the world that an all-Jewish basketball team could compete with the very best in the land.

MOGUL comp smallMemories of “the Mogul,” Eddie Gottlieb, who founded the team in 1917 and coached them to multiple championships in the Eastern League and American Basketball League over three decades (including seven titles in 13 years from 1933-1946), before going on to be one of the founders of the NBA and owner of the Philadelphia Warriors NBA franchise.

Memories of the SPHAS winning in the toughest of environments, against nasty, often anti-Semitic crowds, in gyms from Cleveland to Brooklyn, and Harlem to Trenton.

Of course, there was the scene at the Broadwood every Saturday night in the 1930s and ‘40s, fans dressed to the nines for the game and the dance that followed on the court immediately afterwards, with SPHAS player turned bandleader Gil Fitch often playing both roles.

Men paid 65 cents for their tickets and women 35 cents.  Hot dogs were a dime.  During games, another legend in the making, PA announcer Dave Zinkoff, would give away a salami and a $20 suit to Gerson’s department store.

And there were, of course, the SPHAS players. Names like Lou Forman, Shikey Gotthofer, Cy Kaselman, Inky Lautman, and Temple legend Harry Litwack.  And of course there was Red Klotz.

Growing up in South Philly, Red’s legendary set shot would help lead him on a career from South Philadelphia High School to Villanova University, and championships with the SPHAS in 1942 and the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets in 1948.

At 5-7, he was usually the shortest player on the team, but that didn’t begin to measure his heart or his passion for the sport of basketball.  Because that NBA championship wasn’t the end of his basketball career, it was merely the beginning.

Homecourt CoverRed would go on the become the founder and owner (as well as player and coach) of the Washington Generals, the team that would play foil to the Harlem Globetrotters over the next 60 years.  He became one of the sport’s great ambassadors, bringing basketball and smiles to millions of people around the globe, as well as lessons of sportsmanship and tolerance.

Of course, his legacy of winning would turn to one of losing; more than ten thousand games of losing in fact, but always with dignity and grace.  Of course, there was the exception, that one night in Martin, Tennessee, when Red hit the jumper to seal the Generals last recorded win against the Globetrotters in 1971.

Globetrotters legend Curly Neal recently said this about Red: “He may have been on the losing end of the scoreboard many nights, but the laughs and thrills that we brought to audiences all over the world is what makes Red a winner every single day. “  He called Red “the little giant with the timeless two-handed set shot and game-winning smile.”

Despite Red’s phenomenal career and contributions to the sport of basketball, he has yet to be honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Just this week, the 2013 inductee class was announced, and Red was again sadly denied his rightful spot in the Hall.

Red is now 92, and lives with his wife Gloria in Margate, surrounded by family, friends and rooms full of basketball memories that he helped to create.

Of course, there is still room on the shelf for the one missing piece; what should be the crowning achievement to a career dedicated to playing the game the right way, and teaching those lessons to countless players, coaches and fans over the decades.

Red’s story is one of many in an incredible legacy created by the SPHAS, a legacy that will forever be honored with the new historic marker.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers

%d bloggers like this: