Bethel University
Spring 2020

Dr. Chris Moore and Dr. Chris Gehrz

History and Politics of Sports [draft]

Course Description
The history of sports in the modern era, with particular attention paid to sports’ connections to international politics and public policy and to sports as a mirror for the history of race, gender, education, business, labor, and religion in the United States.

Course Objectives
At the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Identify significant changes and continuities in the modern history of sports and recognize individuals, groups, organizations, and movements that played key roles in that narrative.
  2. Explain the political and historical significance of sports -- both as a component of the status quo and a means of protest and change.
  3. From a Christian perspective, evaluate the spiritual and ethical issues of sport as seen in the history of the modern era.
  4. Demonstrate clearer, more effective expression in writing and speech.

General Education Category Objectives
As this course fulfills the “Contemporary Western Life and Thought” category in Bethel’s gen ed curriculum, by its completion you should be able to demonstrate the following outcomes:


  1. Recognize the richness of contemporary Western culture in light of the influences of the past 200 years.
  2. Distinguish between several of the diverse ideas, events, and/or persons that have shaped contemporary United States culture.
  3. Critique and evaluate various Christian responses to contemporary United States and Western cultures.


  1. Discern how one’s values relate to new and changing situations and when to accommodate, resist, or attempt to change.


  1. Summarize and interpret scholarly texts or primary sources.
  2. Demonstrate a writing process that includes drafting and response to feedback.

Assignments and Grading

Group History Report (10%): In our first “quarter” we’ll present comparative histories of four sports, surveying how they developed in the United States and other countries from the late 19th into the mid-20th century. At the end of that unit, you’ll give group presentations on the historical development of other sports.

Simulations (20% each): At the end of our second quarter, we’ll conclude an examination of “Sports as a Mirror for American Society” with a week on the public policy and business of sports in 2020. You’ll take part in a simulation in which you’ll write briefing papers on an aspect of a proposal to build a new professional sports stadium, then simulate a city’s decision on the proposal.

Then we’ll conclude the third quarter (on sports and international relations) with a different scenario: on cities bidding to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. Here too, you’ll be assigned roles and write briefing papers, then simulate International Olympic Committee deliberation on the applications.

Both simulations will include individual writing assignments (with a process of feedback and revision) and group presentations/discussion.

Exams (35%): In place of a midterm exam, you’ll write a take-home essay at our “halftime” (10%), summarizing a key issue in the recent history of sports in America and articulating a personal response in light of your faith. The final exam (25%) will include an in-class check on your knowledge of the history and politics of sports over the time period covered in class, plus a take-home essay in which you use our semester-closing visit to Target Field or Target Center as a prompt to revisit and reevaluate key themes from throughout the course. (To prepare for that trip, you’ll each research some aspect of what happens in and around Target Field/Center on a typical Twins/Lynx game day.)

Course Participation and Preparation (15%): We’ll expect you not only to attend class regularly and listen actively to lectures, guest talks, and film clips, but to participate in large and small group discussions, simulations, and our field trip to Target Field/Center. For every hour of class time, expect to spend 2-3 hours outside of class completing assigned readings, reviewing notes, drafting and revising written assignments, and collaborating effectively with peers on group projects. Preparation and participation will be evaluated by a mix of peer review, in-class quizzes and reflections, and instructor observation.

Grade Distribution

A 94-100%

B+ 87-89%

C+ 77-79%

D+ 67-69%

A- 90-93%

B 83-87%

C 73-77%

D 60-66%

B- 80-83%

C- 70-73%

F below 60%

The following required books will be available for purchase from the Campus Store:

• Richard O. Davies, Sports in American Life: A History, 3rd ed.

• A course reader including excerpts from recent articles and books by scholars who study sports

In addition, we’ll occasionally link blog posts, newspaper articles, and perhaps podcasts online. (Potential reader excerpts and online articles are listed in the course schedule and will be assigned on Moodle as the course proceeds.)

Accessibility and Accommodations

Disability-related accommodations are determined by the Office of Disability Resources and Services (DRS). Students are responsible to contact the Office of Disability Resources and Services. Once DRS determines that accommodations are to be made, they will notify the student and the instructor via e-mail. Students choosing to use the disability-related accommodations must contact the instructor no later than five business days before accommodations are needed. The instructor will provide accommodations, but the student is required to initiate the process for the accommodations.

Other Policies

Review and be aware of Bethel policies on academic honesty, academic appeals, and computing/network use. These policies are linked online through Moodle.

Course Schedule

Warming Up

Just as athletes need to prepare their bodies before competition, we need to prepare our minds to think about sports.





Why do we play sports? Watch them? Invest in them? How do we study sports?

Davies, pp. 1-22

First Quarter: Sports Enters the Modern Age

We’ll start by doing case studies of four sports, tracking their development from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries and introducing some of the key themes of the course. Then you’ll try your own case studies: giving group presentations on the historical development of other sports.





Baseball and Boxing

Davies, pp. 22-58, 95-118, 148-157


Football (American) and Football (British)

Davies, pp. 74-94, 146-48


GROUP PRESENTATIONS: Case Studies of Other Sports

This quarter there’s no assigned reading beyond relevant pages/chapters in our textbook. But expect to read other books and articles in researching your group presentations.

Second Quarter: Sports as a Mirror for American Society

As we take the American share of our story into the second half of the 20th century and then closer to the present, we want to think about what sports reveals about some larger themes in American history.





Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

Davies, pp. 185-214; excerpts from *Bass, Burgos, or Ruck


Gender and Education

Davies, pp. 239-271,  365-89; excerpts from *Ingrassia or Ware


Business, Labor, and Public Policy /

Davies, pp. 58-62, 273-304

*Possible additional readings for this quarter: Amy Bass, Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete; Adrian Burgos, Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line; Brian M. Ingrassia, The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Alliance with Big-Time Football; Rob Ruck, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game; Susan Ware, Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports.


Before we turn our attention to the international history of sports and the future of sports, we’ll pause for more focused consideration of a topic that runs throughout the whole course: How has Christianity shaped American participation in sports?





Christian Perspectives on Sports

Take-home essay for midterm exam

Davies, pp. 62-66; *articles or posts by Gehrz (2015), Hart, Putz, Remillard, Scholes/Sassower, or Watson/Parker

*Possible additional readings: Christopher Gehrz, “Anabaptist Visions of Sport” (2015); David Bentley Hart, “A Perfect Game: The Metaphysical Meaning of Baseball”; Paul Putz, “Football and the Political Act of Prayer”; Arthur Remillard, “From Muscular Christianity to Divine Madness: Sports and/as Religion in America”; Jeffrey Scholes and Raphael Sassower, Religion and Sports in American Culture; Nick J. Watson and Andrew Parker (eds.), Sports and Christianity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.

Third Quarter: Sports and International Relations

As the second half of the course kicks off, we’ll start to look beyond America to consider how sports have developed in other countries and how sports have intersected with global politics and economics.





The Globalization of Sports

Excerpts from *Bar-On, Foer, Kuper/Szymanski, LaFeber, or Markovits/Rensmann


The History of the Olympics

Davies, pp. 309-30; excerpts from *Boykoff, Gehrz (2016), or Guttmann


Sports, Diplomacy, and Economic Development / SIMULATION: Olympic Bids

Excerpts from Dichter/Johns

*Possible additional readings for this quarter: Tamir Bar-On, Beyond Soccer: International Relations and Politics as Seen through the Beautiful Game; Jules Boykoff, Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics; Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns, eds., Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945; Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization; Christopher Gehrz, “Religion and the Olympics—and the Olympics as Religion” (2016); Allen Guttmann, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games; Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Soccernomics: Why England Loses; Why Germany, Spain, and France Win; and Why One Day Japan, Iraq, and the United States Will Become Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport; Walter LaFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism; Andrei S. Markovits and Lars Rensmann, Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture.

Fourth Quarter: The Future of Sports

Then as our clock starts to run out, we’ll look to some more recent trends in sports, including the emergence of new kinds of competition, coverage, and performance enhancement. Reading will taper off a bit as you start to research some dimension of our Target Field/Center trip.





Media and Celebrity

Davies, pp. 140-46, 217-37


Sports and the Human Body

Davies, pp. 409-19, 436-41


eSports, X-Games, and Fantasy Leagues

Davies, pp. 403-409, 441-48


To conclude our semester together, we’ll visit Target Field or Target Center on the day of a Twins or Lynx game, using it as a real-world prism for several of the topics we’ve touched on in the class: sports business and media, labor-capital relations, globalization and patriotism, faith and ethics, public policy, etc.






Final Exam
including take-home essay prompted by reflection on last week’s field trip