Southern California native Lou Moore is a history professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The author of a forthcoming book about African American boxers during the turn of the 19th century, Moore recently wrote about letting Lebron James practice activism on his own terms, which prompted us to learn more about him. He’s also active on Twitter. Foul and Fair spoke with Moore about his study of race and sports, some of the books he’s working on, and how his career impacts his fandom.
Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
Bradford William Davis: How did you start studying the intersection of race and the sports?
During my senior year at UC Davis, we could write a paper on any topic in California history. I wrote about the Jack Johnson v. Jim Jeffries fight and did most of my research by looking through the archives of California newspapers since I was in Sacramento.
Morgan Lee: You did your undergrad in Sacramento. I’m from the Bay Area!
Congratulations to you! I’m from SoCal though. The way you guys talk is so different! When I moved up there, everyone said “hella.” I’m like, “I’m not gonna say hella” but within it's every other word you say! Anyway, I wrote a good paper and went on to get my Master’s and Ph.D. Along the way, as a historian, I always pushed to write about sports. In order to do that, you have to make some sort of social justice commentary. You can’t just tell stories, you have to show how sports connects to race or civil rights to survive your PhD. Getting my PhD, it’s all about survival, (laughs).
BWD: What are your most valuable research resources?
Most of my research is from newspapers. I try and find stuff that isn’t online. I’m often at the library getting microfilm and looking at old papers.
BWD: You recently shared a picture of an article quoting a black quarterback from the 60’s that wanted to play the position in the NFL.
Yeah! That was Eldridge Dickey from 1968. He was the fifth-best college player at the time, but he never got a chance to play quarterback.
ML: As a historian studying race and sports, what do you wish the average fan understood while they’re watching the game.
Educating people has always been a battle on *and* off the field. There’s always been a few that people hate, like Jack Johnson. It’s off the field stuff that people are uncomfortable with. If Cam Newton wasn’t playing football, this 6’5”, 250 lb black guy, we tend to forget he would have been treated a lot differently. A lot of times, we look at the athletes and how they treat them. Especially how black people celebrate them, it shows how we want to be treated ourselves. When you see a guy like Jackie Robinson, he got an opportunity to compete. For us, it’s not just sports, but all jobs. With Cam Newton, people embrace him because people want that chance to be himself. He brings that out. You don’t have to be like Cam, you don’t have to go around dabbing.
BWD: What, you don’t?!?!
Ha! No, no, but I’m a professional, I interact with people that don’t look like me. I’m part of that hip-hop generation. Sometimes I want to be different than the guy that grew up middle class in Indiana and went to elite schools. Cam’s being himself and succeeding. (That always helps, if he was doing this and failing, well ...)*
Ed: As you can tell, this interview was recorded before Cam lost in the Super Bowl.
ML: Is there a race angle with the Steph Curry phenomena?
Yeah! Steph is the NBA’s dream. Not a lot of tattoos, just the small one on his wrist. His [light] skin tone plays into it. He’s not overpowering—yes, he’s super duper quick, but he’s not gonna dunk on you. He shoots the three and he has fun. There’s something about his blackness that’s quiet. He has an edge to him, but it’s not too edgy. We haven’t seen that in a while, post-Allen Iverson. He brings something different, and I think the NBA likes that.
BWD: Would you say he’s the most culturally transcendent athlete since Jordan?
Well, Iverson was huge. The cornrows, the hip hop, just being himself. If you were to compare someone to Iverson, it would be Cam even though Cam is more polished in how he presents himself. Steph is up there because he succeeds without the hip-hop edge. He’s fun to watch, too!
BWD: Why are you a sports fan?
I played all my life, and now I have three little kids so it’s a break from not watching cartoons or staying up all night prepping for my job. I like the athleticism and competition. It’s something to talk to my students about, and hey, I do teach a sports history course. I actually played ball last night! Hit four threes, even though I’m the old man out there.
Twitter makes it fun to watch, too. You get to interact with fans outside your circle. It even allows me to study how people watch games.
BWD: What’s interesting about how people watch games?
They're more creative than me! I love when people put up, I don’t know how you pronounce it, “gif” or “JIF.”
BWD: Hard G.
I like watching games by myself, but when you flip through people’s timelines and something funny happens, over the top shit—I love that in the moment experience.
ML: What does MLB have to do to increase its African American audience and the percentage of African American players who are playing the Majors?
Keep investing. They have the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) program, but I don’t know how much money they put into it. They need to highlight guys like Lorenzo Cain and Andrew McCutchen. But it’s hard. Lots of people play basketball and courts are easily accessible.
MLB needs to build parks, kind of like what they do in the Dominican Republic but with more concern for humanity. In the DR they just get their clients and when they’re done with them they’re done. If you can do that in the inner city, you can’t just be done with people. The hard part about that is that the state hasn’t been investing in public parks in urban areas either.
There’s a great documentary called Harvard Park. It’s about Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry growing up in LA and playing baseball and how hard that was. Today, there’s no parks and there’s gang violence—which I don’t know if MLB can solve that.
BWD: Tell me about your upcoming book on black boxers.
The book looks at black fighters, race, Jim Crow, and the reaction to black manhood, all from 1880 up to 1915. I’m looking at boxing as a job, because many blacks saw it as a way out, even though it was dangerous. I’m examining what they did with their money, their investments, the conversations that they had—looking at them as humans.
Some of the black boxers got caught up in gambling, drinking and going broke because of it, so I’m adding some historical context to why that happened. I also contrasted it with those that invested their money and spoke about it publicly to give a positive portrayal of black boxers and [by extension] black families. There’s a chapter on the Color Line, a lot of states banned interracial fights after black people won. It took a lot of time to go through all these old newspapers, but hopefully, it works out and I get good news from the publisher!
Also, I’m writing a different book on black athletes and the Civil Rights Movement. I’m looking at the push for integration and how the black community reacted to integration in baseball. I’ll discuss issues like housing, athletes fighting for fair housing, the Olympics from 1948 to 1968. I’m still fleshing out the rest of the chapters. I got the contract, and I’m 95 percent done with the research, so now I need to find time to finish research and start writing!
BWD: What themes from your boxing book are still relevant in 2016?
Boxing hasn’t changed. Sure, the rounds and money have increased. But the [undercurrent] of race, ethnicity, and manhood haven’t really changed. At the turn of the century, the idea of “black manhood” didn’t even exist! Understanding black manhood required belief in equality. Because manhood and racial power was synonymous for many people, if a black boxer beat a white boxer, we had a problem. Consequently, lots of cities banned interracial contests, even before Jack Johnson was a national headliner, because they didn’t want to deal with that trouble of trying to explain black superiority. To be a champion in the Jim Crow era was a statement.
Today, we’ve seen a lot of blacks dominate boxing so a people aren’t worried about interracial fighting as much. Blacks have more rights so it’s not as big of a deal, but still, race is there.
For instance, think about how they promote interracial fights or intra-ethnic fights. A couple weeks ago, it was Danny Garcia v. Robert Guerrero being promoted as Puerto Rico v. Mexico even though both of them are US-born.
To go back to race, think about Floyd Mayweather. You can’t talk about him without acknowledging that he’s black. It’s probably why people hate him and people love him.
BWD: Even as I'm bothered by his domestic violence history, Ronda Rousey jabbing him for not knowing how to read, following rumors of him being illiterate. I’ve sensed a racial subtext behind a white woman telling a black man “You’re too dumb to even read what I have to say.”
The school system he went to is not that good. It’s not good at all. It kinda makes sense that this guy probably didn’t pay that much attention in school. A lot of these kids come out undereducated. And they’re still undereducated as adults. Rousey, she’s white and he’s black and that’s part of it. She’s pitted against Floyd in that sense.
BWD: How do you remain a fan in spite of all the problematic stuff you study?
I’ve been watching sports my whole life so it’s hard to get away with it. I think the hardest part is the bias in football. We're used to celebrating big hits. Now you’re like, “Oh that guy is going to be hurt for a long time.” Kind of the way I watch a boxing match. In football, you can’t stop it. That’s the hardest part for me. Reconciling the love for the action with the fact that all of these people are getting hurt. I believe a lot of people are conflicted with the violence. With college sports, it’s hard to watch because the student-athletes are exploited. It’s like, I want this dude to get paid, he’s really at good at something most people are not! Yet, these guys are economically exploited, but they’re these really entertaining games that make me really happy.
There’s the domestic violence issue. We’re the first generation to worry about it. Everyone else pushed it aside. Many of our sports heroes had major domestic violence issues, but the Ray Rice video changed a lot of people’s minds. How do you watch a Dallas Cowboys team with Greg Hardy in it or an Adrian Peterson game knowing what he did to his son?
BWD: I’m a Yankee fan and we traded for Aroldis Chapman, who fired gunshots into his garage and allegedly choked his girlfriend while their son was in the house, so I get that conflict.
BWD: People forgot about Cabrera.
If it had been post-Ray Rice, it would have been a lot different.
Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.
“Unfailingly honest and unshakably human.” That’s what the New York Times calls pro-golfer Bubba Watson in a recent profile. Why? He eats fast food with pastors after winning the Masters. He passed a kidney stone five days before winning another tournament. And golf courses scare him.
"I have a lot of fears in my life, which as I'm reading the Bible, I'm not supposed to have, but I do,” he said in a 30-minute press conference on Sunday. “... A lot of those fears come out on the golf course: Big crowds, people touching me, people yelling at me. Just, I want to go and hide."
Some other topics that Bubba spills on: telling his adopted children their story, “Girl Meets World,” feeling sad that his critical comments about a recent golf course were received critically, and the goals he’s setting for himself for retirement. Enjoy!
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Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
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His last memory of Bahrain was in prison, after he was accused of vandalizing a police station. “They blindfolded me,” he said. “They held me really tight, and one started to beat my legs really hard, saying: ‘You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future.’”
Finally, the other half can play. The International Volleyball Association awarded two international tournaments to the Persian nation. Were women allowed entrance for the first time in decades?
“I’m sure it was an isolated incident.” According to a lawsuit, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones accused Drae Bowles of "betraying the team" when the ex-player helped a rape victim. Jones denies the allegation, defending himself against what he called "false attacks on my character." Sportswriter Jessica Luther’s cutting instant reaction captures our feelings about the latest sexual assault-related controversy from Peyton Manning's alma mater.
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