Baseball, Race and Religion: Exploring a Bumpy Playing Field

For LeQuez Spearman, assistant professor of recreation and leisure studies and newest member of that department, his scholarship is often about the uneven playing field of America’s greatest game: baseball. During the Popular/American Culture Association in the South’s national conference in Savannah, GA, in early October, Spearman chaired a session entitled, “Lessons Learned from ‘42’: Examining the Intersection of Race, Class, Spirituality and Sport in the Jackie Robinson Story.” He also presented an individual talk he called, “A Critique of Meritocracy and Race in ‘42’: What Really Mattered in the Jackie Robinson Story?”

In early November, Spearman—whose research interests include social inclusion in developmental baseball, leisure constraints theory and environmental sustainability in sport facilities—will continue an iteration of his talk at the North American Society of Sport Sociology conference in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. There, he’ll focus on the twin tides of oppression Jews and African Americans have faced by using Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson as an entry point to examine the interface of sport and religion. 

Here is his abstract of the talk: “America is seen as a bastion for meritocracy, and the sport films produced and directed here tend to reflect this narrative. Sport is regaled as the great equalizer for so many of the social groups pushed to the margins of society. Simply put, the final score in a contest is decided between the lines and not in the public sphere. The film ‘42’ continues this tradition of meritocratic sport films with the biography of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to break the color line in Major League Baseball. My presentation and paper critiques meritocracy and racism as illustrated in this film.”


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