The Greatest Rematch You Didn’t See

Claressa Shields & Savannah Marshall elevate women’s boxing. Photo by Tom Jenkins/The Observer.

Imagine you’re eleven years old and live in one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. Gun violence surrounds you. Father in prison, mother with substance abuse problems, kids at school throw your homework in the trash. Even the tap water is poisoned. You learn to stick up for yourself; you learn to fight back. Then, you find out you can fight in a gym–hallelujah! Except that you’re a girl.

Fast forward six years, and the gym has let you, Claressa Shields from Flint, Michigan, hang around and learn some things. No longer a punk little kid, you’ve been fighting with the gloves on, boxing for six years. In some sports, you’d be called a prodigy, but this sport isn’t for girls, isn’t for ladies, so you get no respect.

Shields as an adolescent lived with her trainer, Jason Crutchfield, and credits him and her grandmother for teaching her not to accept restrictions. Photo from Zackary Canepari.

You have won your first 25 matches. The one place you can gain respect–the biggest international tournament on earth–is finally allowing women in to box. The 2012 Olympics is coming, and you can qualify, if you just defeat one more person. She’s older; she’s taller; she’s also never lost. She’s English. Her name is Savannah Marshall. And she beats you.

Continue reading “The Greatest Rematch You Didn’t See”

Medal Counts & Manifest Destiny

The first U.S. Olympic team—a ragtag group of fourteen men, mostly Ivey Leaguers, with little support from the country—stood at the top of the podium for an amazing eleven events at the inaugural modern Games in 1896. Their unexpected triumphs caused a swell of national pride and paved the way for generations of U.S. Olympians.

Jacket copy from Igniting the Flame: America’s First Olymic Team

America has always positioned itself as the underdog, even at the Olympics, even when it earns medals by the fistful. Why is that? What is it about our national psyche that caused our athletic leaders to ask the International Olympic Committee in 1908 to establish a “point system,” so we can tell who wins?

Want to find out? Join me in a class this August...

The very first TEAM USA, 1896, Athens.

American Olympic athletes have dazzled the world, starting with the very first games in Athens, 1896. But their performances have always had a subtext. It might be validating capitalism, promoting democracy, or even confirming American exceptionalism. We will explore these subtexts, the history behind the history, starting with how an upstart nation sought a foothold with Europeans in the sporting world and to prove itself as a world power.

Medal Counts & Manifest Destiny:
Team USA at the Olympics

I’ll be teaching this end-of-summer class, Thursday afternoons in August, online through OLLI at Cal State East Bay.

OLLI ( stands for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. That’s shorthand for no papers, no exams, no homework. All the interesting bits of your favorite history class, without the outside work that causes all the stress.

OLLI classes are discounted for seniors, but this program allows all ages to participate. And because it’s online, you don’t have to live in northern California.

If you’re interested, or if you know someone who might be interested, check out the link to sign up for the class here.

And here’s a PDF you can download that will tell you more:

Hope to see you there! But don’t delay–the class may only be available for sign-up for a few more weeks.

Zeus is waiting!

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the original ancient wonders.

Happy Birthday Title IX! Keep on Fighting.

Donna deVarona, who had no college swim programs to attend after the Olympics.

They learned the hard way that even groundbreaking civil rights laws are not self-executing.

Kelly Belanger. Invisible Seasons

Considering that an earthquake of legislation was enacted on June 23, 1972, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the newspaper archives. Title IX isn’t mentioned in the NY Times story on June 24, which references Nixon signing the “School Aid Bill.” The president’s major gripe about the bill is the lack of restriction on school busing. A tiny note towards the bottom mentions that colleges would lose funding if they discriminated against women in admission policies.

Front page of the NYT when Title IX is signed; most of the discussion about the Higher Education bill is about busing.
Title IX, almost a footnote at the time. Photo from

On that day, Kissinger was in talks with “Peking.” The Hurricane Agnes flood was devastating Pennsylvania. The president held a press conference on Domestic Matters, whose first question was about what the administration knew about the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters the previous week. Nixon said, “I know nothing.”

Looking back now, you’d think there was a switch flipped somehow (by Nixon) and voila! Megan Rapinoe and the WNBA burst like fireworks on to the scene. But that’s misleading. Title IX was a slow burn. People at the time didn’t see the fire kindled and, when they did, tried various endeavors to stamp it out. Those pushing for it were political animals, jockeying for position. No one thought about women playing sports. Some of the best ideas come as unintended consequences.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday Title IX! Keep on Fighting.”
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