Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where My Historic Sports Sites At?

I am one of those weird people who thinks about the term diversity in its most broad definition. I think that we do a disservice to the concept of diversity by limiting our approach to the subject by erecting the parameters of race and ethnicity. It is one of the principal problems with the broader historic preservation movement. Generally speaking, when people in that world hear the term "diversity," they automatically think "Black." With that line of thinking, and it certainly isn't limited to the world of historic preservation, the discussion often ends before it begins, and diversity continues to occupy a cloistered space.

I raise this point to talk about the history of U.S. sport, as well as the preservation of the historic sites associated with that field of study. Too, often people have dismissed the historical relevance of American sports, and concomitantly, those associated sites. Issues related to gender, race and business innovation are all there. I, for example, focused on Jack Johnson and Joe Louis in my Master's thesis (white southern newspaper coverage of their championship reigns). In doing the research, I wondered how many of the various sites related to the first two black heavyweight champions remained. Were there markers identifying the historic significance of what once existed?

Sadly, very few historic sites related to American sport remain in tact.

One of my friends from graduate school has written a history of DC stadia politics, Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC. Brett Abrams, who is now an Archivist with the National Archives, is, like me, a sports fan (though I am quite particular about which sports I like). And, I would like to think that I had some minor influence on his decision to look at American sport history. Brett also got something of a "shout out" from Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, with his blog post about the book.

What I think is important in histories like Brett's is that it provides preservationists with an opportunity to learn about sports related historic places of which we may not be aware. I doubt many know that Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC sits on the site of the old Griffith Stadium, where the Washington Redskins, Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays (Negro Leagues) once played. Which reminds me, I will have to check to see if there is a marker of sorts identifying that fact.

Those people who want to preserve historic sites related to American sports diversify the preservation movement. This type of preservation opens the field to people preservationists may not normally reach. Think of the preservation of Fenway Park, for example. People who'd never thought about preservation raised their voices to make sure that park was saved (though I wonder if the preservation community took sufficient advantage of that crescendo of interest). That effort showed people that places related to things that are a part of their lives have historic value, and that they have the power to save them.

Hats off to Brett for finishing his second book, and I hope that some here in DC will read it and be inspired to look at the preservation of some of the city's historic sport sites. And I hope that they will realize that they are helping to diversify, in a real sense, the preservation movement.


Anonymous said...

There are so many sites and they all get casually blown to bits. Like Yankee Stadium will: the site of the Joe Louis first round knockout of Max Schmelling: one of the first times caucasian US people rooted for a black fighter!

Will B. said...

Jeff, good posting. It makes me think of the city of Hampton: oldest English speaking city in the U.S., but there is nothing to show for it, except signs!