Review: A People's History of Sports in the United States
By Dave Zirin
The New Press; 268 pp.
In A People's History of Sports in the United StatesZirin sets out to deflate the misconception that sports are "only a game." He chafes at those who dismiss them as entertainment or cordon them off from weightier subject matters, arguing instead that sports are a valuable prism through which to examine American history. Like the work that was Zirin’s inspiration—Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492-Presentthe book takes gleeful pleasure in puncturing popular myths; in an interview with the Guardian, Zirin savaged sportswriters for relying on tired cliches that "[paint] every athlete like the love child of John Wayne and Sarah Palin." An unvarnished history of American sports, he argues, is grittier and more interesting, with a rich tradition of political protest and deep ties to our cultural conflicts. At times, sport has been "a fetter holding back the tide of change," Zirin writes. "In other instances, it has been a Taser, sending an electric jolt into the body politic."
1.Baseball lore long held that Abner Doubleday invented America's pastime in Cooperstown, N.Y. Not so, Zirin says. He attributes the game's growth to Alexander Cartwright, a New York City bank teller and volunteer fireman ("baseball's Prometheus," Zirin calls him) and points out that the first game took place not in picturesque Cooperstown but in the industrial hamlet of Hoboken, N.J. The notion that Doubleday created the game, Zirin claims, was fabricated in 1895 by sporting goods executive Albert Spalding — who thought Doubleday, a decorated Union general, would make a fine founding father for the sport. Zirin notes that Doubleday himself never laid claim to inventing baseball, that his New York Timesobituary failed to even mention the game and that there is no evidence that Doubleday “ever even set foot in Cooperstown."