Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson, "Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back" (U Texas Press, 2020)

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Today we are joined by Jessica Luther, a freelance investigative journalist, and Kavitha Davidson, a sport and culture writer with the Athletic, who together are the authors of Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back: Dilemmas of the Modern Fan (University of Texas Press, 2020). Our free-flowing conversation covered the use of indigenous American imagery by sporting teams in the United States, athletes and domestic violence, and falling out of love and into love with sports.

Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back is a comprehensive book that examines fourteen issues facing contemporary sports fans, including: football and CTE, doping, racist mascots, unequal pay, LGBTQ+ participation, representation in sports media, domestic violence, bad owners, the NCAA and amateurism, and the cost of building stadiums and hosting mega-events like the Olympics and World Cup. Rather than ‘sticking to dribbling,’ Luther and Davidson demonstrate the inherent politics of sports culture. In each chapter, they address the different ways that sports influence political issues and showcase how some athletes, organizers and fans have responded to the failure of sporting life to live up to our expectations. For example, in their chapter on racist mascots, Luther and Davidson trace out the human costs of awful caricatures like Chief Wahoo, but also highlight how even teams that work closely with American Indian groups still open the door for native people’s disparagement by their rival fans.

Their work is both aimed at people who might feel left out of sporting life, including women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ fans. Their chapter on representation in sports media, for example, offers an innovative oral history of media figures from marginalized groups. At the same time, they also address issues facing all sports fans including how to justify (or not) watching the NFL and college football when so many players are suffering from CTE.

Their work offers fresh critiques of sports from within a progressive and capitalist framework. In their chapters on the MLB’s free market system, they note that it has done a better job of producing competitive parity than the NFL’s salary cap and they also point out that it benefits players whose salaries are constrained by the cartelization of the leagues. They strongly critique the NCAA’s approach to player compensation and I look forward to hearing them both more in the future on Name, Image and Likeness rights. They take seriously the problems of stadium building, especially gentrification, but still consider the possibilities for people’s enjoyment of a new arena. Their chapter “Watching Women’s Basketball When People Tell You You’re the Only One” offers hope for fans who want to support a league with genuinely revolutionary potential.

Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back is a wide-ranging analysis and discussion of many of the key issues facing sports fans from two leading sports writers. Their work will be of general interest to sports fans, but particularly useful for people teaching about sports history, sociology or politics.

Keith Rathbone is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His book, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life, (Manchester University Press, 2022) examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at keith.rathbone@mq.edu.au and follow him at @keithrathbone on twitter.

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