University of Alabama

SportsCenter spotlights race and sports at the University of Alabama

I am in Denver at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. Yesterday I was saddened to learn about the shooting in Ft. Lauderdale’s airport, a place through which I walked only eleven days ago to claim my luggage. That this incident took place in my home state hit home. I immediately wondered if people I loved were okay, among them a childhood friend who works in law enforcement in the area. She was fine.

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SportsCenter Cari Champion, Producers Jessica Turpin Delena Turman, and me. Girl power!

My shock was balanced by joy felt while seeing old friends at the AHA, but also by a recent interview with Cari Champion, television journalist with ESPN’s SportsCenter, a show I love. On Wednesday I received an email from Jessica Turpin, one of the show’s producers, inquiring if I could speak about African American history at the University of Alabama. She wanted me to meet the crew at UA’s Malone Hood Plaza, which was dedicated in 2010 to honor the historic enrollment of three African American students who arrived at the university in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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SportsCenter producer Jessica Turpin helps the camera and sound crew  set up.

The interview would figure into coverage of our university’s team as we prepare to play Clemson for the National Championship this coming Monday. I was excited as sports figures into my next research project which concerns racial and spatial politics in Florida, but especially in South Florida. I attended the University of Miami during the 1980s and saw Howard Schnellenberger’s legacy of roping off the state for recruitment purposes and establishing a winning team whose legacy is now celebrated despite Miami’s “bad boy” image. Schnellenberger’s ties to Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant  in the early 1960s (indeed Malone Jones has gone on the record as calling Joe Namath “her quarterback”) and my time here at Alabama make my interest in Miami football (Steve Walsh and Bernie Kosar were my quarterbacks) come full circle.

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Vivian Malone, one of the first two African American students to successfully enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963.

Rather than describe what’s in the interview, which aired Thursday while I was enduring a rather bumpy Delta flight to Denver, I’ve posted it here.

Thank you, Cari, an amazing human being from Pasadena a.k.a. “Dena,” for your heartfelt interest in the complex way in which race encounters sports in this country.

I enjoyed a panel at the AHA yesterday that presented scholars including UA’s American Studies lecturer Michael Wood who take seriously the value of sports history. Thank you also to Jessica and fellow producer Delena Turman (and the camera and soundmen) for coordinating this interview. I love celebrating girl power anytime I see it.

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Me and Zach Sell, former University of Illinois classmate, at 2017 American Historical Association annual meeting in Denver.
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