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Reconstructing Fame: Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations

Reconstructing Fame
Reconstructing Fame

The subjects of the essays collected in this book are athletes who got clobbered in the press for taking unpopular positions, then enjoyed considerable acclaim once the rest of the culture had caught up with their positions.

Among the athletes discussed are Bill Russell, Paul Robeson, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos. While he was leading the Boston Celtics to an unprecedented string of NBA championships, Russell spoke out against racism in Boston and elsewhere. Paul Robeson, an extraordinary athlete at Rutgers, sacrificed his career as a singer when he told the House Un-American Activities Committee to go to hell. From the podium at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, Smith and Carlos, standing barefoot with their heads bowed, raised gloved fists to demonstrate their solidarity with struggling minorities.

Sports writers and columnists slammed these men for stepping outside of their games. Years later, they have been publicly celebrated, as have Roberto Clemente, Curt Flood, and the other athletes profiled in Reconstructing Fame.

At their best, these essays offer thoughtful takes on the process by which a culture can tame and then absorb the radicals who challenge it. At their worst, they present simple observations in the tortured prose too common to social science.

This program aired on January 15, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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