March Madness: Looking back at an infamous NCAA game

In this blog entry, Gregory Kaliss, author of Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality writes about an infamous NCAA tournament game.

Next week, the Dallas metropolitan area will host the South regional of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, the first time since 1994 that the area will host these later-round games. But many may not realize that the city’s involvement with the tournament has deeper roots, and one of the most famous—or, really, infamous—regional final weekends in tournament history took place in Dallas in 1957.

That year, the regional semifinals featured teams from Southern Methodist University, Oklahoma City University (OCU), St. Louis University, and the University of Kansas—whose star sophomore Wilt Chamberlain made the Jayhawks the odds-on favorite to win the national championship. There was only one problem for Chamberlain and his KU teammates—he and senior guard Maurice King were black in a region unaccustomed to hosting integrated sports competitions. The responses to the integrated KU team—from fans, opposing players, and the media alike—undermined the idea of sports providing a “level playing field” for racial equality.Men's College Athletics_sm

The first sign of the team’s unwelcome came in the form of their housing—unlike the other teams, who stayed in downtown Dallas hotels, the Jayhawks booked rooms in Grand Prairie, where they took their meals in a private room because no restaurant would serve an integrated squad. Although Chamberlain, because of his celebrity, had been able to eat anywhere he liked in the still-segregated town of Lawrence, Kansas, racial lines mattered more in Texas.

The team’s reception on the court was even worse. In the team’s first game in Dallas, they struggled to a hard-earned overtime win over SMU, as a hostile crowd verbally abused the Kansas players and threw trash and other objects at them. According to Chamberlain, the fans “booed and jeered” and used a variety of derogatory terms, including “‘nigger’ and ‘jigaboo’ and ‘spook’ and a lot of other things that weren’t nearly that nice.” Pleased to escape with the win, which they earned in part because King had blocked a last-second shot in regulation, the KU players assumed the worst was over, since the hometown SMU team had been eliminated.

They were wrong. In fact, the team’s second game against OCU involved even worse crowd behavior. Dallas fans, outraged that an integrated team had defeated their school, switched allegiance to OCU and continued to taunt and harass the KU squad. To make matters worse, Oklahoma City coach Abe Lemmons and several of his players participated in the unruly behavior. Before the game, Lemmons warned referee Al Lightner that there would be problems “if that big nigger [Chamberlain] piles onto any of my kids.”

As Kansas pulled away to a convincing victory in the second half, the chaos became even more intense. Not even pleading from the SMU athletic director and other public officials could calm the outraged fans, who threw a variety of objects, including coins, paper airplanes, seat cushions, and food, onto the court. After the game, an armed cadre of police officers led the team off the court and traveled with them to the airport.

The media refrained from condemning, or even describing, these events. Hardly a word about the abuse suffered by Chamberlain and King made it into the press immediately following the contest. Acknowledgment of the game’s racial dynamics occurred only after the game’s referee, a resident of Oregon, complained about the racial epithets and violent behavior. But even then, most newspapers distanced themselves from the controversy, refusing to take a stand. In doing so, they prevented these sports contests from having larger meanings outside the arena; they did not use these games as opportunities to consider the many consequences of segregation and racism.

On the surface, the story of the 1957 Dallas regional final is a painful curiosity, a relic of a different era when Jim Crow reigned supreme. But the media silence surrounding the events is a reminder that silence can condone injustice, that dialogue is the first step towards creating social change. Sports can bring out the worst in us, as the response to the Jayhaws shows, but if we encourage meaningful dialogue when we talk about sports, they can also bring us together. Let us hope for that outcome, no matter the teams in the upcoming tournament.

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The Filadelfia Story

In this blog entry, Sabrina Vourvoulias, the managing editor of Al Día, describes the stories that can be found in the photo history, 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia
I am enamored with stories. My own and my family’s, certainly, but also the stories my friends and neighbors tell. And the ones I overhear when a grandparent explains to a child why something is significant, or a beloved custom.
Even more, I love the stories that emerge when many of us sit together leafing through photo albums — remembering food, festivals, people — in community.
For the past twenty years, Latinos in Philadelphia have read and seen their stories appear weekly in Al Día newspaper. The book 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia is simply an extension of that work of documentation. Book_cover_ok
In it you’ll find stories about Latinos in Philadelphia that go back to the time of the founding fathers: Like Manuel Torres, for example, the first diplomatic officer from Latin America recognized officially by President James Monroe, who was a resident of the city and is buried at Old St. Mary cemetery alongside Commodore John Barry and Thomas Fitzsimmons.
You’ll see a cabinet card of of Samuel Cruz and his family, newly arrived from Puerto Rico. He would go on to become one of the best respected of the butchers working in the meat-packing district of Northern Liberties, and an integral member of the Puerto Rican community that opened bodegas and settled their families in North Philadelphia. You’ll also see photographs of community-wide celebrations, like the annual St. John the Baptist parade, that took place along Spring Garden Street because that’s where La Milagrosa — the first church in the city to hold a regular Spanish-language Mass and considered “the Plymouth Rock of Latino Catholic Philadelphia” — was located.
la_milagrosa2012030510 SamCruz
There are stories, too, in the photographs of the Puerto Rican community taken by local photojournalist David Cruz in the decade before the Al Día newspaper was established, and in the profoundly moving photo stories he’s shot for Al Día since. In these — many of them focused on the Mexican community — you’ll find stories of tragedy, and resilience, and of the hope for a better life every immigrant packs in his or her bags when they come here.
A day without an ImmigrantThe value of this book isn’t as an exhaustive history — it isn’t one — but rather it is in the glimpses it provides of the everyday lives of Latinos of the city. It also handily refutes the erroneous assumption that all Latinos are recently arrived, unskilled laborers and undocumented immigrants. There is both honor and great joy in the way every member contributes to the vitality of our community, but our diversity is also a point of pride.
As you leaf through the pages of this book, I hope you’ll see what I did when I took on the task of editing it: There are a million stories in these images. They are worth telling. And worth hearing.

How C.W. Anderson “built” Rebuilding the News

In this blog entry Rebuilding the News author C. W. Anderson explains his book’s sociological methodology by remembering the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. 

Rebuilding the News_smRebuilding the News contains a number of local stories that (I hope) are interesting to readers in Philadelphia and elsehwere. However,  I wanted to explain my newsroom method (called “actor-network theory”) through the prism of a story that didn’t make it into the book: the story of the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Or rather, through their rather odd and aborted playoff slogan: “why can’t us?” I know, I know, it’s grammatically incorrect. But, as in so many things in Philadelphia, that seems to be exactly the point.

The back story from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Peter Mucha, in that wonderful fall of 2008:

“It began as a caller’s remark just last Thursday. In short order, a local sports blog and one of the nation’s leading sports blogs began singing its praises as a Phillies rally cry. Then, T-shirts and mugs were designed to get out the message, and hundreds of items have already been sold, raising money for charity. Then it spread to radio, Facebook, print and ESPN.

Have folks found the perfect slogan for the Fightin’ Phils?

Even if – or because – it’s ungrammatical.

Judge for yourself: It’s ‘Why Can’t Us?’”

RTN1

Mucha’s story, which went on to be featured on the front page of Philly.com, noted that it was quite possible that the slogan could become the official Phillies playoff slogan, and quoted local blogger Dan Levy, who hoped that the phrase would get mentioned during the game. Philly.com also asked its readers to weigh in on an online poll, asking “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ a great Phillies rally cry?”

Now … a traditional analysis of news production processes, one steeped in several generations of academic social constructionism, would argue that the Philadelphia news media “created” the “Why Can’t Us” meme, and that if it ended up becoming the Phillies World Series slogan this would represent another case of the powerful media creating “reality” out of “nothing.” A slightly more nuanced, technologically hip version of the same argument might make the claim that while blogs play a role in creating social reality, their efforts are meaningless until their work is ratified by the conventional, “mainstream media.” A second, more old-fashioned analysis would conclude that the “Why Can’t Us” slogan wasn’t created by the Philadelphia media at all, it was created by a caller on XM Satellite radio, and anyway, if it became popular that that only showed that it was a great slogan in the first place.  We can see this argument play out, most seriously, in the periodic complaints of losing Presidential candidates who start to blame the media for their flailing campaigns, as well as the push back (usually from the winning side) claiming that the candidate who lost was “inherently flawed.”

This debate, while it might have once been useful, has grown increasingly stale over the past decade. I’ve tried to avoid it entirely by adopting a methodology known within studies of science, technology, and society as actor-network theory (ANT). I’ve tried not the let ANT dominate my fieldwork in Philadelphia, but have tried to keep it in the back of my head at all times as a form of guidance and corrective. ANT began as a way for anthropologists and sociologists to study the construction of scientific facts inside laboratories. I, and a few others, are starting to try to use ANT as a way to study the construction of news facts inside newsrooms.

Here are some of the main tenets of Actor-Network theory, adopted for use with news media production:

  • ANT places objects and subjects, things and people, on the same ontological level. In other words, it gives objects agency. These entities are called “actants.”
  • ANT refuses to draw lines between insiders and outsiders; it embraces the instability and uncertainty of group boundaries.
  • News facts ultimately amount nothing more than an assembled network of actants (subjects and objects). The longer the news network, the more powerful the news fact becomes. Additionally, it helps to have “hard” actants, ie, “objects,” on the side of your network.
  • ANT– as noted above– tries to dispense with the tired debate between social constructionists and social realists.

I admit that this is all pretty abstract. So let’s apply these insights to the Peter Mucha story “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?”

  • ANT places objects and subjects, things and people, on the same ontological level.

Here’s a list of some of the things a traditional media analysis of the above story might consider:

The Philadelphia Inquirer / Philly.com and maybe … Marty from Delaware.

Now here’s a list of some of the things an ANT analysis would include in its analysis:

Peter Mucha /  The Philadelphia Inquirer / Philly.com / Marty from Delaware / Sports Center /XM Satellite Radio / Dan Levy / The 700 Level  / Deadspin / T-shirts/ mugs / 609Design Shop / Cafe Press / hoodies / a dog T-shirt / an infant bodysuit / a large mug / Philebrity / Facebook / The news article “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?” / The website

http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20081021_Is_Why_Cant_Us__new_Phillies_rally_cry_.html”

  • ANT embraces the instability and uncertainty of group boundaries.

Would you include blogs, Facebook, and Sports Center in your media analysis? How could you not? Rather than attempting to answer the question of “who counts as a journalist,” an ANT inspired analysis can simply turn our attention to the manner in which various journalistic actants interact, network, and define themselves in practice. And all this only starts to matter when you conclude that …

  • News facts ultimately amount nothing more than an assembled network of actants (subjects and objects).

How did “Why Can’t Us” become a powerful contender for the “official” world series slogan? After all, it’s nothing more than, as John Durham Peters might put it, “words spoken into the air.” In this case, however, the sign “why can’t us” “enrolled” XM Satellite Radio into its network, along with the blogger Dan Levy, his blog The 700 Level , the bigger blog Deadspin (and by bigger here we simply mean “an object with a bigger network”), Sports Center, and quite importantly a series of “hard” objects like mugs and dog t-shirts. The blog website CafePress, not a journalistic blog at all, then provides “instant attachment” (thanks Lucas!) to the various objects not networked into what was just a breath of air, “why can’t us.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, then, takes a set of already solid news facts (called in ANT, “black boxes”) — the slogan, the blog posts about the slogan, the people talking about the slogan, the merchandise– and performs its own act of enrollment, adding its own interviews and sets of weblinks to the mix, and creating  a “news story” out of a series of formerly disparate objects. This story, “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?” or more accurately,

http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20081021_Is_Why_Cant_Us__new_Phillies_rally_cry_.html”

has now become its own object, and is ready to be enrolled in any number of additional networks. Furthermore, the slogan itself has gained an additional ally, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • Finally, ANT tries to dispense with the tired debate between social constructionists and social realists.

Looking at the work it took to assemble the news story discussed above, can anyone doubt that the story was “constructed”?? Can anyone who has witnessed the painstaking labor carried out by reporters, as they write a news story, have any doubt that reporters “construct” the news? And yet, this should not be seen as a criticism that the above story is “false,” or that it is  “only social in nature” or “nothing more than rhetoric.” The story above is, indeed, about words, ideas, and slogans …  but it is also about slogans that have become “hard,” through XM radio, and have been hardened again, through weblogs. It is a story about mugs and doggie t-shirts. And the story itself, eventually, becomes an “object,” made out of a bunch of other objects, which can then be enrolled in all manner of networks.

So there it is: a highly technical, and rather intimidating, philosophical and sociological method explained through baseball.

Queer Voice = Life

In this blog entry, Michael Sadowski, author of In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, describes the various life experiences that informed his new book.

Like many young gay men coming out in the 1980s, I often wore buttons that proclaimed pride in my newfound gay identity after emerging from the shadowy silence of adolescence.  One button that was common among my contemporaries featured a pink triangle–the Nazi symbol for homosexual—on a black background and the slogan: Silence = Death, a statement of protest against government inaction in the face of mounting death counts that disproportionately fell on the gay male community. It was years before I began to understand more fully the meaning of this equation and its far-reaching and critical corollary for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ) individuals, especially young people: Queer Voice = Life.silence=death

In the 1990s, I taught English and theatre at a high school in Massachusetts. During my tenure, a brave group of students—including “Jake” (pseudonym), the only out gay student I knew of at the school—approached me about starting a gay-straight alliance. After weeks of administrative resistance, the students ultimately prevailed and the GSA was born. It was too late for Jake, though—not long after the founding of the GSA, Jake somewhat mysteriously dropped out of school. I had a hard time finding out details about Jake’s departure, yet I couldn’t help wondering whether the accumulated stress of being the only out gay student, the reluctance of school officials to address LGBTQ issues, and the harassment he experienced were major factors in his decision to leave.

In the year 2000, seeking a wider reach for my work on the issues affecting LGBTQ students, I returned to graduate school to pursue a doctorate.. Sitting in a lecture hall at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I listened as psychologist Carol Gilligan (author of the feminist classic In a Different Voice) talked about the ways adolescent girls’ voices are silenced in a patriarchal culture, and how they often silence themselves and drive aspects of their true thoughts, knowledge, and feelings “underground” in order to get along in a male-dominated world. The consequences of this silence include  spikes in girls’ depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation (cutting), and other physical and psychological symptoms at the onset of adolescence. Although Gilligan and her colleagues weren’t talking about queer youth, I saw my own past experiences and those of many students I had known as a high school teacher, including Jake, in a startling new light. Hadn’t I silenced myself for years in various ways to survive in a world where heterosexuality was the norm? Might that have been what ultimately happened to Jake?  When his true voice as a queer student wasn’t sufficiently heard or valued in a heterosexually dominated high school culture, did he silence his own voice completely in that culture by simply dropping out? And if so, how did that decision affect his options later in life?Sadowski

During my graduate school years, I also became involved with the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. As a commissioner in this organization, I became deeply immersed in state data that showed dramatically higher incidence of skipping school, suicide attempts, depression, substance abuse, and other risks among queer youth than among their heterosexual peers. To cite just one pair of statistics, queer youth have suicide attempt rates three to four times those of heterosexual youth, and between one-quarter and one-third report that they have attempted suicide. The disparate pieces began to fit together. Did statistics like these represent the ultimate costs of the silencing of LGBTQ young people? And if so, what might happen if they we made it safer for more queer youth to bring their voices out from “underground?”

In a Queer Voice-smThese questions drive the research profiled in In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood. In my in-depth interviews with LGBTQ youth, I heard stories that chronicled how queer youths’ voices were stifled at school, at home, and in society. . But I also heard nascent voices of resistance to these silencing forces, kids who found supportive relationships with peers, teachers, family members, and institutions. Following a few of these young people into adulthood with another set of interviews six years later, I was able to hear the full emergence of unique queer voices—young adults who have a strong belief in themselves and their right to live their lives as they choose.

For these young people, the emergence of a “queer voice” was associated with psychological health and well-being and with the cessation of their risk behaviors. As Lindsay, one of the research participants who had attempted suicide before she felt safe coming out, explained, “I can talk to people now. . . [Before] I never talked to anybody, and that was hard.” For Lindsay and numerous other young people profiled in In a Queer Voice, silence really could kill, and finding a queer voice was a lifeline.

In In a Queer Voice, I describe how voices once silenced in adolescence learned to break free and the lessons their examples can teach us about how to nurture other voices that still go unheard. If applying these lessons has a chance to save even one young life, we are obligated to try.

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