Nicholson, James C. 1968: A Pivotal Second in American Sports activities. Knoxville: The College of Tennessee Press, 2019. Pp. 149. $34.95 hardback and e-book.
Reviewed by Łukasz Muniowski
The yr 1968 is commonly thought of a significant yr for America. A yr recognized for unrest and protest, it additionally was marked by technological progress and assassinations of two progressive icons, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The yr thus pushed plenty of younger folks into motion, as they determined to face up for his or her beliefs and create a brand new, extra inclusive society.
As argued by James C. Nicholson in his e-book 1968: A Pivotal Second in American Sports activities, the significance of 1968 additionally applies to American sports activities. Sharing the opinion that it’s not possible to separate sports activities and politics, Nicholson reintroduces numerous sporting occasions to the reader, offering the context essential to clarify how they have been influenced by the cultural, social, and political occurrences of the day or how they transcended sports activities and led to vary outdoors the sphere, courtroom, ring, or observe. As a substitute of distracting most people from what was taking place, athletes participated within the occasions that made change potential.
On the forefront of the struggle was Muhammad Ali, who famously refused to take part within the Vietnam Conflict and was stripped of his championship, in addition to barred from competing in boxing occasions. As a substitute of laying low, Ali used his voice to specific his political views on numerous school campuses. He was nonetheless preventing, simply in a special ring. Nicholson estimates that “The Best” visited round 200 universities, which solely gave extra publicity to his trigger.
Nicholson’s retelling of the dishonest scandal on the Kentucky Derby additional illuminates how deeply political the sports activities world was in 1968. The winner, a horse owned by Peter Fuller, examined constructive for Bute. Since Fuller was from Boston, and the Derby an occasion related to southern tradition and custom, stripping Fuller’s horse of the title was seen as a politically-motivated act to punish a northerner, though Fuller was a Republican and lots of (white) Kentuckians, like a lot of the (white) South, was starting to desert the Democratic Get together in favor of a extra socially-conservative Republican Get together.
Whereas the disqualification was an enormous shock, it was nothing compared to the MLB’s unwillingness to respect gamers’ need to commemorate the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. Following Kennedy’s homicide, two Houston Astros gamers refused to play within the subsequent recreation; they have been fined for his or her refusal. Amongst Black gamers, the dearth of commemoration for the demise a King was seen as one other occasion of the institution neglecting to acknowledge what they thought of to be their primary rights. Most journalists didn’t facet with the gamers, as a substitute producing articles within the vein of the more moderen, notorious “inmates operating the asylum” assertion relating to NFL gamers’ protests towards police brutality.
Staying in baseball, the 1968 World Sequence between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals brought on an uproar. The nationwide anthem efficiency by blind Puerto Rican-born singer Jose Feliciano earlier than Recreation 5 outraged folks within the stands and viewers of their houses, who known as the tv station to complain. Vietnam Conflict veterans voiced their anger and baseball gamers blamed their poor performances on the singer’s rendition of the anthem. Nonetheless, the music was later put out as a single and was fairly standard. The World Sequence additionally would grow to be the final performed on the previous area dimensions. Quickly thereafter, MLB homeowners agreed to implement a better mound and a wider strike zone in an effort to make their recreation extra thrilling, as soccer lastly had surpassed “America’s pastime” within the battle for fan curiosity.
The person considerably liable for soccer’s surging reputation was New York Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath. The youth of the day noticed in Namath certainly one of their very own––a person who merely was not afraid to reside and, extra importantly, was freed from prejudice in the direction of different races. In a time of racial tensions, Namath unified all of those that opposed the institution. When he drunkenly assured that his Jets would beat the heavily-favored Colts within the Tremendous Bowl––and later delivered on that assure––it was an open problem to the stereotypically humble, silent, and bland athlete afraid to talk his thoughts. Namath proved that one could possibly be cocky, take pleasure in a celebration or two, and nonetheless ship on the sphere.
After all, a very powerful sporting/political occasion occurred throughout the Summer time Olympic Video games in Mexico Metropolis. American observe medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested the oppression of African People on the rostrum, eradicating their footwear and holding their gloved fists towards the sky. Whereas the act and its penalties have been lined and mentioned extensively, Nicholson takes care to emphasise the function of San Jose State School sociologist Harry Edwards in each athletes’ lives. Edwards was a celeb in his personal proper, standing up for the oppressed and delivering talks on the educational circuit. Himself African American and a former athlete, he was the explanation why Carlos enrolled at San Jose State, in addition to why Carlos and Smith determined to stage their protest.
All in all, Nicholson’s 1968 makes for a brief, but charming learn. His narrative disrupts the cyclicality of sports activities; because the saying goes, “There may be at all times subsequent yr.” But, some years are simply too particular to be ignored.
Łukasz Muniowski recieved his Ph.D. in American Literature from the College of Warsaw. He’s the writer of Three-Pointer! A 40-Yr NBA Historical past (McFarland, 2020), Narrating the NBA: Representations of Main Gamers after the Michael Jordan Period (Lexington, 2021), and The Sixth Man: A Historical past of the NBA Off the Bench (McFarland, 2021).