Wednesday’s Book Review: “A People’s History of Sports in the United States”


9781595584779_p0_v1_s260x420A People’s History of Sports in the United States. By Dave Zirin. New York: The New Press, 2008.

I have appreciated Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States since I was first exposed to it. I have also been an avid reader of Dave Zirin’s columns and books, with their emphasis on sports and politics in America. Unfortunately, there is little relationship between the concept of a “people’s history” and Zirin’s account of sports. Moreover, while this is something of a history it is overwhelmingly focused on the post-World War II intersection of sports and politics, with something about class warfare but never quite enough. He emphasizes the 1960s and 1970s and discusses the icons of the era such as Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, and John Carlos and Tommie Smith.

At some level this is more of a counter narrative to the dominant reverence for sports and sporting figures in the United States. It takes aim at the ruling elite in sports and their shortsightedness. There is quite a lot about labor relations, race relations, and other assorted divisive issues. This is a necessary corrective to other investigations, but it is also a relatively straightforward short introduction to the subject. There is little here that gets below a surface discussion. There is also considerable overlap with what is contained in this book and what Zirin has to say about these same subjects in other books that he has written, especially Bad Sports (2010) and Welcome to the Terrordome (2007).

This book is interesting, and certainly worth reading, but there are other issues that deserve serious consideration not covered here in any appropriate manner. These include the subjects of class and ethnic identity, immigration, and the like. There is also considerably more to be delved into concerning the race and labor issues that Zirin does explore. As it is, this book is a useful introduction to a counter history of sports in America; but it is far removed from the final word on the subject.

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