Shut Up and Play: Sport, Labor, and Activism in the Global Sports Industries

AHA Session 171
Labor and Working Class History Association 1
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Empire Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Theresa Runstedtler, American University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This roundtable session explores the intersection of race, gender, labor, and sport in the post-Civil Rights, post-Title IX era. Although sport is often pitched as an exceptional space of fair play--a place where political and social concerns are irrelevant--anti-blackness and patriarchy have continued to shape working conditions in elite athletics both in and beyond the United States since the 1960s. Using a broad definition of sporting labor--including athletic, symbolic, political, and activist labor that occurs on and off the field/court--the panelists will discuss the strategies of resistance athletes have deployed in response to the various methods governing sports bodies have used to silence, contain, and control them. Amira Rose Davis explores how Black and Polynesian college athletes of the 1960s and 1970s navigated Jim Crow and settler colonialism, as schools in Hawai’i and on the mainland used their sporting and symbolic labor to help build their institutions, raise their national profile, and jumpstart fundraising campaigns. Covering from the 1970s to the 2000s, Brenda Elsey examines how Latin American women, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, have organized transnationally for better conditions in elite soccer. Their sustained protest sheds light on how gender shapes the global sporting landscape and how women athletes have tapped into new feminist movements in the region. Frank Guridy analyzes the significance of the establishment of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in 1972, in the immediate wake of the passage of Title IX, which opened up new opportunities for women athletes. Just as women gained a foothold in elite athletics, the Cowboys Cheerleaders represented an effort to relegate them to the sidelines. Theresa Runstedtler traces how professional basketball players challenged the anti-competitive business practices of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 1970s. Players filed lawsuits and testified in front of Senate and Congressional investigations, striking a blow to the system that had long suppressed their wages and put them at the whim of team owners. Tyran Steward uses the controversial dismissal of the “Black 14” from the University of Wyoming Football Team in 1969 to explore activism and free speech in college athletics during the Black Power Era. Rather than quietly accepting their expulsion from the team for protesting the racist policies of the Mormon Church, the “Black 14” pursued a federal case against the University of Wyoming, charging the school with violating their First Amendment rights. Together these panelists foreground sport as a vital site for exploring the racial and gendered dynamics of labor politics in the late twentieth century.
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