Celebrating Black History Month with Temple University Press titles

This week in North Philly Notes, we focus on some of our favorite African American titles to commemorate Black History Month.

The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, by Tommy J. Curry

2453_regTommy J. Curry’s provocative book The Man-Not is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore, is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines. Curry argues that Black men struggle with death and suicide, as well as abuse and rape, and their genred existence deserves study and theorization. This book offers intellectual, historical, sociological, and psychological evidence that the analysis of patriarchy offered by mainstream feminism (including Black feminism) does not yet fully understand the role that homoeroticism, sexual violence, and vulnerability play in the deaths and lives of Black males. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914,  by Brian Shott

Mediating_America_webUntil recently, print media was the dominant force in American culture. The power of the paper was especially true in minority communities. African Americans and European immigrants vigorously embraced the print newsweekly as a forum to move public opinion, cohere group identity, and establish American belonging.

Mediating America explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers. Yet the author also explains how the newspaper medium itself—through illustrations, cartoons, and photographs; advertisements and page layout; and more—could constrain editors’ efforts to guide debates over race, religion, and citizenship during a tumultuous time of social unrest and imperial expansion.

Black and Irish journalists used newspapers to recover and reinvigorate racial identities. As Shott proves, minority print culture was a powerful force in defining American nationhood.

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slaveryby Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

2253_regThe Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.

Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. From photos of the enslaved on plantations and African American soldiers and camp workers in the Union Army to Juneteenth celebrations, slave reunions, and portraits of black families and workers in the American South, the images in this book challenge perceptions of slavery. They show not only what the subjects emphasized about themselves but also the ways Americans of all colors and genders opposed slavery and marked its end.

Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.

Suffering and Sunset: World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin, by Celeste-Marie Bernier

2372_regFor self-made artist and World War I soldier Horace Pippin—who served in the 369th African American infantry—war provided a formative experience that defined his life and work. His transformation of combat service into canvases and autobiographies whose emotive power, psychological depth, and haunting realism showed his view of the world revealed his prowess as a painter and writer. In Suffering and Sunset, Celeste-Marie Bernier painstakingly traces Pippin’s life story of art as a life story of war.

Illustrated with more than sixty photographs, including works in various media—many in full color—this is the first intellectual history and cultural biography of Pippin. Working from newly discovered archives and unpublished materials, Bernier provides an in-depth investigation into the artist’s development of an alternative visual and textual lexicon and sheds light on his work in its aesthetic, social, historical, cultural, and political contexts.

Suffering and Sunset illustrates Pippin’s status as a groundbreaking African American painter who not only suffered from but also staged many artful resistances to racism in a white-dominated art world.

The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obamaby Alexander Wolff

2384_regWhile basketball didn’t take up residence in the White House in January 2009, the game nonetheless played an outsized role in forming the man who did. In The Audacity of Hoop, celebrated sportswriter Alexander Wolff examines Barack Obama, the person and president, by the light of basketball. This game helped Obama explore his identity, keep a cool head, impress his future wife, and define himself as a candidate.

Wolff chronicles Obama’s love of the game from age 10, on the campaign trail—where it eventually took on talismanic meaning—and throughout his two terms in office. More than 125 photographs illustrate Obama dribbling, shooting free throws, playing pickup games, cooling off with George Clooney, challenging his special assistant Reggie Love for a rebound, and taking basketball to political meetings. There is also an assessment of Obama’s influence on the NBA, including a dawning political consciousness in the league’s locker rooms.

Sidebars reveal the evolution of the president’s playing style, “Baracketology”—a not-entirely-scientific art of filling out the commander in chief’s NCAA tournament bracket—and a timeline charts Obama’s personal and professional highlights.

Equal parts biographical sketch, political narrative, and cultural history, The Audacity of Hoop shows how the game became a touchstone in Obama’s exercise of the power of the presidency.

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Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read and receive this holiday season. 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marking Director

Give: This year I’d give Nelson Diaz’s memoir Not from Here, Not from There because of its uplifting story as the first of many things—from first Latino to graduate from the Temple Law School to the first Latino judge in the state of Pennsylvania, and on and on.  This is a book for all of us who have dual status—American but also “other”—and a dare to dream of life’s many possibilities.

Get: It’s a bit late to give me a book that I’d want to read because I already have it.  Michelle Obama’s Becoming is another inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. Besides, I still haven’t gotten the book I asked Santa for last year—Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a survey of African American art from 1963-83.

Karen Baker, Financial Manager

Give: The Eagles Encyclopedia Champions Edition by Ray Didinger with Robert S. Lyons, all my family—Mom, Dad, brothers, and kids who are all die-hard Philly fans.

Get: I would like to receive Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire because it looks so funny.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Give: This year, I’ll be giving Rebecca Yamin’s Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution to the history buffs in my life. It tells the story of 300 years of Philadelphia history through artifacts found in privies on the site of the Museum of the American Revolution through tons of gorgeous full color images. It’s also short which makes it an easy read and an affordable gift.

Get: I’m getting ready to move, so I hope that no one give me any holiday presents this year (just more to pack). Once I get settled, I’m hoping to read Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (I just read a great chapter on it by one of my authors) and Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto.

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give:  Color Me… Cherry & White. What better way to unwind than with a coloring book?  A great gift for kids and kids-at-heart.

Get: Becoming by Michelle Obama, an eagerly awaited memoir of a truly inspirational woman.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief

Give: I’m so thrilled to have Steven Davis’s In Defense of Public Lands on the list. This is an academically rigorous and powerfully written book that’s not afraid to take a stand. Davis offers the privatizers’ best arguments in a fair-minded way, then systematically dismantles them. This is engaged scholarship at its best, and there’s simply nothing else like ityou won’t find a more comprehensive and keenly argued overview of this vital and terrifyingly timely debate anywhere.

Get: I hope someone gives me Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. I believe this book is still understood to have been the most prescient work on political conditions which would eventually give us President Donald Trump. Maybe I’m not the only one still trying to figure this out?

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give:  Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City circa 1968edited by Mark Shiel. This book has all my Venn Diagrams overlapping—it’s about film, it’s about cities, and it’s about 1968. It’s also about protests and architecture. It’s the perfect gift for my cinephile friends, my urbanist friends, my activist friends, and anyone else who turned 50 in 1968 (or like the press will in 2019).

Get: Jonathan Coe’s Middle England. This is the third of Coe’s books about four friends that began with The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle. The only problem with getting this book is that it will make me want to re-read the first two!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and to me, that was never truer than in the alliance of Evangelicals with Republican candidate and now President Donald Trump.  How people dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity could support a man who is at best morally ambiguous seems incongruous. If you, too, are perplexed, as are many of my friends and family, the contributors to Paul Djupe and Ryan Claassen’s book The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition explain how and why this came to pass.

Get: Technically, I already got this (as a gift to myself), but I’m looking forward to sitting down with a pot of tea and Circe, by Madeline Miller. I love Greek mythology, and books about strong, independent, intelligent woman are always on my wish list. Circe has both covered.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America 50 Years After the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission’s warning that the United States was headed toward two societies, “separate and unequal” and that “To continue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” As Americans struggle more and more to find common ground, the keepers of the Kerner flame Fred Harris and Alan Curtis compile the top authorities on the most pressing urban issues and assemble a comprehensible compendium of what we know works: as reasonable a place to start as any in an unreasonable time.

Get: The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, by Merve Emre. I’m a millennial, and if there’s one thing millennials like, it’s taking quizzes to better label, sort, and categorize ourselves, proudly declaring the insights that we’d only discovered moments ago must now be immutably true. Luckily, if there are two things millennials like, the other is reading about how all our habits and values are harmful and wrong. This book tells how the mother-daughter team of Myers and Briggs created our national obsession with slapping four letters on who we are and how we operate and asks what it is we think we’re getting out of it?

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

Give: Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic StudiesThis isn’t a first-time choice for me. Published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research, Kalfou addresses the many issues and critical concerns that increasingly are plaguing our communities and institutions. The journal gives me a measure of hope in this very crazy time. As per the inscriptions in the beginning: kal ´fü—a Haitian Kreyòl word meaning “crossroads”“This means that one must cultivate the art of recognizing significant communications, knowing what is truth and what is falsehood, or else the lessons of the crossroads—the point where doors open or close, where persons have to make decisions that may forever after affect their lives—will be lost.”—Robert Farris Thompson.

Get: Educated by Tara Westover. I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

Ashley Petrucci, Rights and Contracts Coordinator

Give: Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin. Who Will Speak for America? draws upon the current political climate to advocate for change, which makes it a very timely piece that I think is important for everyone to read.  This would definitely be a book of great interest to several of my friends, who would enjoy reading about the various perspectives and reading through the various styles of the contributors to this edited collection.

Get: The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History edited by Dennis Waskul and Marc Eaton. I may be a bit biased, since aspects of the supernatural were key components to my senior thesis on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but this would be the book that I would most like to receive.  I’ve always enjoyed horror movies and studying the supernatural elements of folktales and stories (particularly from the Middle Ages), so I would love to sit down and read this book over the holidays.  A nightmare before Christmas, if you will.

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Manager

Give: Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, by Jamie Longazel. To quote the Preface, “This book contributes to an understanding of U.S. immi­gration politics in this tumultuous first decade and a half of the twenty-first century.” 

Get: Dreams and Nightmares: I Fled Alone to the United States When I Was Fourteen, by Liliana Velásquez.

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Manager

Give: Policing in Natural Disasters, by Terri M. Adams and Leigh R. Anderson, is inspired by the personal accounts of triumph and tragedy shared by first responders. The short- and long-term effects of these events on first responders—the very people society relies upon in the midst of a catastrophe—are often overlooked. This book opened my mind about the strength of these responders and the challenges they face while responding during times of crisis. I find it fascinating to weigh the dilemma: How do they take care of their own families first and risk neglecting their needs when the responders are required to place the needs of the people they serve first.

 

 

 

 

The Phillies’ Connections to George H. W. Bush and Government

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate author Rich Westcott’s recent column from the Delaware County Daily Times about the connection between George H. W. Bush and the Philadelphia Phillies. 

The recent passing of George H. W. Bush brings to mind a Phillies connection with the 41st president of the United States. It is a particularly intriguing connection that went unnoticed in this week’s multitude of reactions.

Bush attended Yale University. While there, he played on the baseball team and was captain in his senior year. His coach was former Phillies outfielder Ethan Allen.

Allen, who coached at Yale from 1946 through 1968, spent three seasons with the Phillies, playing as a starting outfielder in 1934 and 1935 before getting traded during the 1936 campaign. He hit .330 in his first year in Philadelphia and .307 in his second. Altogether, Allen spent 13 years in the majors, retiring in 1938 with a lifetime batting average of .300.

After serving overseas on a special-services assignment for the federal government during World War II, Allen became the baseball coach at Yale. There he led his team to the first two College World Series, where they were finalists both times. In each case, his first baseman was a former Navy pilot named George Bush.

5c0e3ea71ac2f.imageWhat kind of player was Bush? “George was an excellent fielder,” Allen told the author during an interview some years ago at his home in North Carolina. “But he was not such a good hitter. He was a very likeable guy, though, and a fine leader.”

Allen, who had an undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati, a master’s from Columbia and was eventually inducted into the College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, said that Bush always sent him a Christmas card, even after he became president. “Once, he even called me from Air Force One,” Allen recalled. “Earlier, when he was being considered as head of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), I was called for a recommendation. I said, ‘If he can understand the sequence of signals we had at Yale, he is certainly qualified for the CIA.’”

Interestingly, over the years, the Phillies have had many other connections with government and politics. These probably outnumber most, if not all, of those of other professional sports teams.

The Phillies had another player who had connections with two U.S. presidents. That would be Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose first two names were those of the country’s only president who served two terms that were not consecutive. In the movie about his life called “The Winning Team,” produced in 1953, Alexander’s role was played by future president and then-actor Ronald Reagan.

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, who spent six seasons with the Phillies, winning 19 games three straight times and hurling the team’s first perfect game in 1964, served for the state of Kentucky in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1988 to 1998, and the next 12 years as a U.S senator. He also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kentucky.

Larry Jackson, another pitcher, spent 1966 through 1968 with the Phillies during a 14-year big league career. He was a four-term member of the state House of Representatives in Idaho while also once running a losing campaign for governor.

Still another pitcher with perhaps the most interesting career in government was Pete Sivess, a little know Phillies pitcher in the late-1930s. A high-ranking Naval officer during World War II, Sivess, who spoke Russian because his parents had immigrated from there, helped to train the Russian navy while stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After the war, he became one of the American government representatives who ran Rumania for two years while the war-torn country recovered. Next, Sivess became a member of the CIA, and from 1948 until his retirement in 1972 was in charge of a covert operation in St. Michael’s, Md., that indoctrinated defectors and refugees from battered areas of Europe into the ways of American life while helping them to get jobs, places to live, and in some cases, new identities.

Although no story is more intriguing than Sivess’, the Phillies have had many other connections with the government and military. Hugh Mulcahy, a Phillies pitcher from 1935 to 1946, was the first major league player drafted into military service in World War II. Inducted in 1941, he spent most of the next five years in the army.

Third baseman Ed Grant, who played with the Phillies from 1907 to 1910, was the first major league player killed in World War I. As a captain and the commander of Army troops searching for the “Lost Battalion” after the battle in 1918 in the Argonne Forest in France, Grant was killed by an exploding shell.

Of course, many other former Phillies served their country in the military. One in particular was pitcher Curt Simmons, who in the midst of his best season in 1950 when he compiled a 17-8 record, was twice pulled from the team that season to serve in the National Guard at the start of the Korean War. The second time, Simmons’ superb season was cut short and he was unable build upon his record or to experience that rare opportunity of pitching in the World Series.

A man who was for the most part the hidden owner of the Phillies from 1909, when he put up $350,000 to buy the team, until 1913, carried the name of Charles O. Taft. He was the older brother of U.S. president William H. Taft, the nation’s first leader ever to throw out the first pitch on opening day. The Taft family also owned the Phillies ballpark called Baker Bowl for many years, and later owned a piece of the team from 1981 to 1987 as part of a group headed by Bill Giles.

Another former Phillies chief, William Baker (1913-30) was the police commissioner of New York City before taking over the team. Outfielders Gavvy Cravath (Long Beach, Calif.) and Curt Walker (Beeville, Texas) were justices of the peace after their playing careers ended.

In addition to all these people, the Phillies had two others who should be mentioned. Former Philadelphia Stars outfielder Ted Washington, who in 1952 became the first African-American player ever signed by the Phillies, had his chance to join the team, but was denied that opportunity when he was drafted into the Korean War and subsequently suffered an injury that kept him from ever playing again.

And Philadelphian Edith Houghton, who was the first woman full-time scout in major league history when she joined the Phillies in 1946, previously served for 28 years as first a reserve and then an officer in the Navy during World War II.

As all these names ably demonstrate, many people from the Phillies had important connections with the country’s federal or local government, either politically, militarily, or in some other way. Ethan Allen’s association with former President Bush served as a significant reminder of these many connections.

Rich Westcott is a writer and historian and the author of 26 sports books, his most recent being Biz Mackey – A Giant Behind the Plate.’ Westcott was once a sports writer for the Daily Times.

Temple University Press’s annual holiday sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we encourage you to attend our annual holiday sale from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm December 5-7 in the Diamond Club lobby, 1913 N. Broad Street, at Temple University.

Ray Didinger will sign copies of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, at 12:00 pm December 7. 

And if you can’t make it, our books are always available for purchase on our website.

Happy Holidays–and Happy Reading–from Temple University Press!

Holiday Sale Flyer

 

All about Mr. All-Around, Tom Gola

This week in North Philly Notes, David Grzybowski, author of Mr. All-Around, writes about why he wrote about Tom Gola.

“History stands on the legacies of others.”

That’s what La Salle University archivist, Brother Joe Grabenstein told me during my senior year at La Salle University in 2013. With the help of Brother Joe, I had the opportunity to exclusively interview Tom Gola in February of 2013, a month before the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, New York. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting Tom Gola changed my life. If you were to tell me from that meeting I was going to end up writing a book about Gola I would’ve said you’re crazy!

Well, here we are.

Almost 68 months later, I wrote book about Philadelphia’s most beloved college basketball player, Tom Gola.

When I first started this book I knew exactly what I wanted to cover and had a game plan on what stories I really wanted to tell. It was all about execution.

Mr All-Around_smI wanted to show people the behind the scenes aspect of Gola’s life that maybe fans do not know about prior. I wanted to showcase what Gola was like as a player off the court as a father, friend, businessman, mentor and neighbor. One of the more interesting parts of Gola’s life was his time working in the political field in the state of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. After his time in the NBA, Gola traded in his jersey and shorts for his suit and tie, a opportunity in politics working as a member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 170th district in Philadelphia. Gola would go on to become the Philadelphia City Controller from 1970 to 1974, joining politician Arlen Specter on a joint campaign that revolutionized political marketing within Philadelphia. Its not everyday you see a Philadelphia sports figure succeed in basketball, politics and coaching in the same city he grew up in.

To this day, there is no one that is more “Philly” than Tom Gola. He loved Philadelphia so much that while he played for the New York Knicks in the early 1960’s he decided to live in his Philadelphia home with his family and traveled to and from practices and games. You can’t get more Philadelphia than that.

I firmly believe that Gola’s story is so much more than just Philadelphia based. Tom Gola saved college basketball in the 1950’s after a huge point shaving scandal that involved a lot of basketball programs that tarnished basketball for some time. Gola was the first major college basketball star to come out of that debacle and he took the league by storm, winning the NIT in 1952 and the NCAA championship in 1954, both with the La Salle Explorers.

Tom Gola’s legacy will forever be talked about as one of the best college basketball players in history. Gola will forever be the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history with 2,201 rebounds. Gola is one of two players in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 points and grab 2,000 rebounds during his collegiate career. To this day, Tom Gola’s name is always brought up in the NCAA and NBA game of today. Thats a sign that his legacy still remains.

Tom Gola’s story needs to be told and I’m happy to be the one to tell his story.

 

Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Alas, poor Luka, alas.

This week in North Philly North, Grant Farred writes about the unlikely connection between Jackie Robinson and Croatian footballer Luka Modrić.

Only sport can properly bring home to us the true meaning of the event. If, that is, we understand the event as a specific happening that completely changes everything. At the very least, the event as such radically alters how we see the world. Over the course of three books on sport and philosophy, of which The Burden of Over-representation, is the most recent, this is the argument I have tried to make.

In its most basic form, the event might be understood as a dramatic last minute touchdown, a penalty opportunity denied, a spectacular catch that saves a game, or, maybe it preserves a World Series win. All these are memorable occasions, ones that change our outlook on the world. Think about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 after more than a century of futility, or the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. For a Cubbies fan, or an Eagles fan, this alters how the world works; no more “wait until next year.”

Burden of Over-rep_smIn The Burden of Over-representation, however, I concentrate on something else. Often, this book recognizes, the event turns on a singular individual, whether or not that individual accepts these terms or not. The fate of a team, for example. Or, as I argue in The Burden of Over-representation, the future of race relations in post-War America depended – or, so it seemed – on baseball’s “great experiment:” the “Negro” player Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball in April, 1947.

Not only in that moment, April 15th, 1947, but for many seasons after, every move Jackie Robinson made, on or off the field, during the season or before it (or, after it, for that matter), assumed a disproportionate importance. Jackie Robinson represented not only himself, but his entire race. What a burden Robinson bore, and how he bore it. With fierceness, with anger, with bitterness, all of which was grounded in a singular determination to win.

I was reminded of how much this notion of the burden is with us this summer, this summer of the World Cup. I was reminded of it because I watched the round of 16 games as well as the quarter-finals in Croatia. The round of 16 games in Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, and the quarter-finals in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

In truth, the enormity of the burden born by the exceptional individual could not have been brought home more forcefully than in Zadar. For those who don’t follow football (soccer), and who don’t know the finer points about the Croatian national team, Zadar is the home of the Croatian captain, Luka Modrić. It would have been enough to know that Modrić grew up poor as a child on the outskirts of Zadar. It would have been a heartwarming tale of local boy makes good, because Modrić is now not only among the most highly regarded players in the name but he is also the captain of his national team. Football has made him a very wealthy man. It would have enough, but also much more disturbing, to have known that Modrić survived the violence of the war that wracked havoc with life in the Balkans in the 1990s. In that war, in which the old Yugoslavia fell apart, splintering into so many competing nationalisms, ethnic Serb fighting ethnic Bosnian, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbians and Bosnian Muslims at each other’s throats. Modrić’s grandfather was killed in, and by, that violence.

Now 32 years old, in what is surely his final World Cup, Modrić bears the burden Croatian over-representation. He has been a massively successful player for his club, Real Madrid, winning a number of trophies – 3 times a Champions League winner, just for starters. In their turn, the Croatians expect him to now bring a much greater glory to “Hvartska.”

Much is expected of his team-mates as well, but, when all is said and done, it is Modrić who will have to shoulder the bulk of the burden.

In the round of 16 game, with the game knotted at a goal apiece, Modrić had a chance to seal the game with a penalty late in the match against Denmark. Uncharacteristically, he seemed a little unsure of himself. He missed, his face a study in disappointment. He had let the team down. His miss might cost Croatia the chance to advance to the quarter-finals. The match went to extra-time, which yielded nothing, and then to a penalty shootout.

Up stepped Modrić, and he converted his penalty this time. Croatia went on to win.

Next up, Russia, in the quarter-finals. Again, the score was tied (1-1) at the end of regulation, and in the extra period the two sides each added a goal. 2-2. Once more the game would be decided by penalties.

Again, Modrić stroked his penalty home.

Croatia won. On Wednesday, it will play England in the semi-finals.

What struck me while watching in Zadar was how revered Modrić is, how he is being made to stand for his nation. This local boy, who is physically small but huge in stature, who has endured so much and achieved even more, he incarnates all Croatia’s (footballing) hopes, he is a bulwark against its fears. His, Modrić’s, failure, will not be his. At least not his alone. No, the entire nation will stand or fall with Luka.

He is not allowed the luxury of a mistake. The nation can’t afford it and so he must perform to perfection.

Croatia, on the football field, for what remains of Croatia’s games this World Cup, is Luka Modrić.

Surrounded by Croatians in Zadar, in Zagreb, watching the crowds in Pula on TV, I suddenly, when I least expected it, got a glimpse, one for which I was not at all prepared, into what life must have been like for Jackie Robinson.

“Football is not a matter of life or death,” the famous Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly remarked, “it is much more important than that.”

Luka Modrić, in Croatia if nowhere else, knows what such expectation – the life or death of a nation, life or death as both metaphor and far more than a metaphor – feels like.

Playing Major League baseball in a moment when blacks were being, were still being, lynched and subjected to Jim Crow laws (as much, if differently, in the North as well as in the South), I suspect that Jackie Robinson, much more than Modrić or Shankly, knew just how much was riding on his every performance. Robinson knew how much depended upon his every hit, his every stolen base, his every routine throw to first base; his every interview with a reporter, his every off-hand comment. No rest for the wicked, or, the just; or, the over-burdened.

Across sports codes, football to baseball, across an ocean that separates the continents of North America and Europe, across the decades that separate Robinson from Modrić, across that contentious divided that is race (and religion, ethnicity, and geo-politics), for just a single moment, my writing seemed to me possessed of a truth.

Not only is sport exceptional in its ability to bring home to us the significance of the event, but it is only through sport that I, at any rate, could glimpse upon Modrić . Or, maybe I should say I could sense, surrounded by expectant, hopeful, fearful, Croatians, the utter viscerality of this truth. Ironically, it was impressed upon me by people who have probably never heard of Jackie Robinson. In victory, so far, Modrić has borne that burden with a smile that is at once joyous and anxious. No wonder, how I wonder. In defeat, especially if he is the one to “fail,” just once (more), I can only imagine the look that followed his penalty miss against Denmark will once again overwhelm his face. In defeat, that is when the onerousness of the burden, perhaps the unjustness of it all, will, I suspect, make itself felt.

For Luka Modrić’s sake, I muttered to myself after Croatia disposed of Russia, I hope he knows who Jackie Robinson is.

Such knowledge, such acquired familiarity, might, if not dispense with the burden, but, in the moment of truth, which is, one way or the other, coming, it might help to lighten the burden. It might even help him to understand why so much is being asked of him. In order to lighten

the burden of over-representation I would want to make a historic, phantasmatic introduction: “Luka Modrić, meet Jackie Robinson.”

In a matter of hours, Wednesday will be upon us.

In that moment, which could well be decisive, I do not want to wax Shakespearean. I do not want to see a Croatian reenactment of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet.

I do not want to utter those fateful words, “Alas, poor Luka, alas.”

 

 

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