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How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics

by Frank Andre Guridy

Pub Date: March 23rd, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-4773-2183-6
Publisher: Univ. of Texas

The Lone Star State’s transformative role in American sports, from football to tennis and beyond.

Guridy, a professor of history and African American Studies at Columbia, shows how, as with so much else in American popular culture, Texas has played an outsize part in the development of sports. He opens with a storied football game between the Don Shula–led Miami Dolphins and Bum Phillips’ Houston Oilers, a championship playoff dubbed the Super Bowl by Texas sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, who, in 1966, had brokered the merger of the National Football League and American Football League. With the assistance of ABC Sports, football grew to become the most popular sport in the U.S., surpassing baseball. It was a golden age, writes the author, in which, “fueled by a booming energy economy, a group of imaginative sports entrepreneurs teamed up with a host of talented athletes from the laboring classes to usher in an unprecedented era of inclusion and popularity.” That athletic labor would soon be sorted into superstars and plebes, with the vast bulk of the money going to a few elite players. Some of them were Black players who were finally allowed to play alongside Whites in Texas in the 1960s, with some of the credit for the end of Jim Crow going precisely to those sports entrepreneurs, who made cities such as San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston into sports powerhouses. Some of the innovations were less creditable: AstroTurf, for instance, “produced…more injuries to players who had the unpleasant experience of being crushed by head-knocking tackles on the concrete-like floor or who ripped up ligaments on zippered seams that stitched the carpet together.” Some were true improvements, however, including a “revolutionary event in the history of American sports,” namely the first match between professional tennis players who happened to be women, later capped off by the “Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome. The author has a keen eye for turning and tipping points, and his lucid narrative serves his thesis well.

Sports buffs will find Guridy’s explorations rewarding.