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Showing posts from August, 2017

Football, Religion, and Image in Cold War Oklahoma (Guest Post)

This guest post comes from Andrew McGregor, who recently received his Ph.D. in history from Purdue University. McGregor's research focuses on the intersection of sports and politics, and he is the founder of the Sport in American History blog. You can follow him on twitter (I recommend it).


During the 1940s and 1950s, Oklahoma City referred to itself as the “Capital of the Bible Belt.” As its civic leaders hoped to brand the city a “businessman’s town,” as Milton MacKaye wrote in the Saturday Evening Post, they remained grounded in their plainspoken, folksy, religious outlook. This was one component of a larger effort to rebrand both the city and state while also rebuilding its economy during the postwar era. Oklahoma, more than most states, suffered a significant population decline during the Dust Bowl and was further defamed by the derogatory images of the state projected by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

My research explores the central role of college football in the pr…

Standing for Sunday Football, Kneeling for Racial Justice

The latest version of the national anthem protests sparked by Colin Kaepernick came from the Cleveland Browns. Before a preseason game against the New York Giants on Monday night, twelve Browns players knelt together and prayed during the national anthem. The prayers, Jabrill Peppers explained, were for people affected by "racial and social injustices" and for "the world in general."

The Browns players' decision to pray during the national anthem is another example of the ways in which the Christian faith of some black football players has intersected with their engagement in the struggle for racial justice. When Christian Kirksey led the Browns in prayer, he joined Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Marshall as African Americans who have been both outspoken about their Christian faith and on the frontlines of the national anthem protests.

The prayers also reminded me of a football-related "letter to the editor" from 1925 that I recently came across. Back t…

The Women Who Were Christian Athletes Before Title IX

Featured in the picture above is Jill Upton, representing Team USA as they battle the Soviet Union in 1962. The picture comes from an article written by Upton for The Baptist Student, a Southern Baptist publication. Like the magazines' articles featuring male athletes, Upton's Baptist Student piece draws on her sports success to promote Southern Baptist pride and proclaim a gospel message. Importantly, it was published ten years before Title IX and nine years before the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) began sponsoring national championship tournaments, both of which greatly expanded opportunities for women to compete in high-level intercollegiate athletic competition.

One of the surprising things I've found as I've conducted research on sports and Christianity is the way in which rural white southern Protestants tended to be more supportive of competitive women's athletics before Title IX than their more progressive northern counterparts…

NFL Players and Coaches in the 1970s Talk Racial Prejudice

In the early 1970s (probably 1970 or 1971), a handful of professional football players and coaches connected in some way to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were asked these two questions: "What do you think about racial prejudice? Is there prejudice on your team or former team?"

Their responses, recorded on a set of index cards, are among the many primary sources I am working through as I prepare for my next dissertation chapter, which looks at how evangelical sports ministry organizations interacted with the social revolutions of the 1960s.

One conspicuous detail that stood out as I went through these: only one African American responded to the questions. In 1970 African Americans comprised about 30 percent of NFL rosters, so the apparent dearth of black players connected to the FCA is telling. The absence of black coaches, however, does not tell us as much about the FCA. In 1989 Art Shell became the first black head coach in the NFL since the 1920s, and racial diversi…

The Sports Ministry Roots of Ralph Drollinger's DC Bible Study

Earlier this weekCBN reported on a Washington, DC, Bible study attended by members of Donald Trump's Cabinet, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. CBN had previously reported on the Bible study, led by Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries. But this time it quickly caught the attention of the religion news beat, with reports and/or commentary from the likes of Religion News Serviceand John Fea's The Way Of Improvement Leads Home.

Seeing Drollinger's name immediately caught my attention. In the 1970s the 7'2" Drollinger patrolled the paint for John Wooden's UCLA Bruins before eschewing the NBA to join the Athletes in Action (AIA) basketball team, one of the leading organizations within the world of Sportianity. Intrigued, I decided to look into what the old Sportian was up to these days. But as I looked into his latest endeavor, I discovered that Drollinger's sports ministry past is no…