You are who you root for

January 20, 2016

I wear something with a Tar Heel on it almost every day. If not the heel, then an interlocking ‘NC’. If not either the heel or the NC, then something powder blue. Every day. Some days it’s three or five such apparel choices, all layered on top of Air Jordans, in tribute to His Airness (UNC, BA-Geo., 1986). InterLOCK

Why? Why do I wear so much to affiliate myself with a university and, to be honest, an athletics program and, to be even more honest, one team — Carolina basketball? Is it that I wish to share in the glow and aura that are Tar Heel hoops? Is it an important aspect of how I construct and communicate my identity? Did I choose to attend Carolina (twice) in part because of its campus sports culture? (Yes, absolutely.) Why was that so important to me?

“Communication and Sport: Surveying the Field” tells us that people “enact, produce, consume, and organize sport primarily as a communicative activity.” Our college and team affiliations seem to communicate something essential about our identities. And as a society we use sports to communicate something about “American values,” as we’ll see both in its sophistication and vulgarity in about three weeks (the Super Bowl). My own research certainly suggests that sport is one of the primary sites for constructing, maintaining and contesting identity. Think about Jackie Robinson. His courage and success on the field communicated important, undeniable truths about blackness in America. I’ve written books about this.

So my questions for you here:

  • How do you use sports to create or construct identity?
  • How do you use sports to communicate who you are, what’s important and who you are NOT?
  • How have you seen sports used to contest identity? This last question might be especially apt for our class’s women.
  • How specifically do these choices and values manifest themselves in your dress and in your behavior? (In 2012, $4.6 billion — that’s BILLION — was spent on collegiate licensed merchandise like my UNC sweatshirt and Tar Heels baseball cap, not to mention garden gnomes and dog bandanas.)

Post a few graphs that show your thinking about these questions about sports, communication and identity.



Brain as place

December 30, 2015

I’m sure you’ll hear about this journalism from other places, but I’m referencing it for three writerly reasons:

1. Knausgaard serves up a smorgasbord of metaphors, which I know is a metaphor, but one that is at least specific to the author’s nationality.

2. The presentation’s exquisite layered multimedia, and in that presentation, the very wise choice to put the video at the very end.

3. The reminder that nothing can do the heavy lifting of storytelling like long-form. In this post-happy, ‘like’-driven socially mediated world, narrative can still arrest.

Take a look, if you dare.

Tending the garden

October 7, 2015

In an article about online trolls in the Chronicle of Higher Education, tech culture expert Xeni Jardin is quoted saying that she believes “online communities rot without daily tending by human hands.” It’s a wonderful garden metaphor, and garden metaphors, like that of Adam and Eve in the unspoiled Eden, are among the most durable and delightful of metaphors. Shakespeare knew this. Advertisers know this. Adding another semantic layer to Jardin’s use of this metaphor is the delicious fact that Jardin’s name, in French, means “garden.”

How cool is that?

New book on black baseball and the black press

August 19, 2015

The press release on my new book:

New from Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis, is A Devil’s Bargain: The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955, a new book by Brian Carroll, chair of the Department of Communication at Berry College and a black press historian.

The new book brings into dramatic relief the dilemma, or devil’s bargain, that faced the black press in first building up black baseball, then crusading for the sport’s integration and, as a result of that largely successful campaign, ultimately encouraging and even ensuring the demise of those same black leagues.

“A Devil’s Bargain is a once-in-a-great-while book that changes the way we see the black press and how it helped fuel a national social movement,” said Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and a black baseball historian. “The book inbook covervites readers to judge the motives of writers seeking to integrate society without losing their self-identity.”

Carroll’s book drills down on a handful of representative events and phenomena to present a history of the black press and black baseball from the origins of the Negro leagues in 1915 to their fade in the mid-1950s, finishing with the desegregation of spring training in the early 1960s. Chapters focus on a singular event or phenomenon from each decade of the period covered.

“Even casual baseball fans know the outlines of the Jackie Robinson story,” Carroll said. “But did you know he wrote a newspaper column his first season in baseball? That story is a classic case study in public relations. This book’s stories aren’t in the mainstream of baseball scholarship.”

A Devil’s Bargain is one of only a few histories to apply traditional methods of historical scholarship to an under-represented story in American scholarship, which is the black press’s involvement in integrating baseball.

“The book’s great service is as an indispensable guide to understanding these period writers in their quest for justice and changes in attitudes towards minorities,” said Lester, who wrote the book’s foreword.

Carroll said his hope is that the book “exposes a new readership to the contributions to American society of both the black press and the Negro leagues.”

Book Information
Title: A Devil’s Bargain: The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955
Series: Research in Sports History
ISBN: 978-1138887855 | Publisher: Routledge | 160 pages

Available through bookstores everywhere.

The (learned) meaning of the stars and bars

June 25, 2015

In Visual Rhetoric, we study signs and symbols, with signs signifying some basic, universal meaning and symbols telling a story using multiple signs. The confederate flag certainly has a story.

That symbols tell stories implies that their meaning is utterly learned. A smiley face is a simple sign signifying a human face. It doesn’t look much like any one human’s face, but it has dots and dashes proportioned in a circle just similarly enough to all human faces that even small children pick up its meaning with little or no help. For the same reason, we see a face in the fronts of cars, on WallE or R2D2, and really anywhere there is even a remote spatial relationship of elements that could be perceived as a face. Cognitive psychologists call this personification. It’s one reason robots are so scary, because they’re becoming a bit too much like us.

stars and barsSo on the stars-and-bars, the stars are mere signs. They look enough like all stars to be perceived as stars, though no one real star of course looks like those on the flag. But the collection or set of signs that is the confederate flag — in those particular colors — that has to be learned. And it’s in that learning where we sowed the seeds of the current controversy. Many Southern whites learn it to represent Old South heritage, valor, independence and, ironically, freedom. Many Southern blacks learn it to represent white oppression, lynching, secessionist insurrection, and, the opposite of freedom — slavery, as Joe Morton (as Scandal‘s Eli ‘Papa’ Pope) eloquently articulated it on The Nightly Show on June 23. Both narratives are true-ish, and therefore both are culturally valid. (I think it’s important to note that the Pope character stereotypes and prejudices in ways uncomfortably similar to the ways he perceives he has been stereotyped and prejudiced. While eloquent and funny, the soliloquy cedes the moral high ground in an interesting rhetorical choice.)

The question right now is whose learned story should be authorized by mainstream society. For South Carolina as a state, there is the additional question of whether a state government should be in the business of authorizing any narrative for such a controversial symbol. States such as Virginia, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina are asking this second question, as well. Prior to the Charleston shootings, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas can reject the symbol on its license plates, because the plates are a form of government speech. By that line of reasoning, a confederate flag on the state capitol is the government shouting.

If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, American society seems to be arriving at a consensus that the flag as symbol is too toxic to remain prominent in American life, including state capitol flagpoles, license plates, WalMarts, Apple apps and, with the exception of Mississippi, official state emblems and flags. This changing consensus makes the flag a classic case study for semioticians studying signs and symbols, because at its most basic level, this symbol is some read, some blue, some lines and 14 stars — not much. Yet its meaning has changed dramatically over time, and oddly at no time was it ever the official flag of the confederacy. This is interesting to note given its near sacred status for some today.

Along with religious-looking garb strikingly similar to that common in the Catholic faith, the stars-and-bars has been appropriated by the Ku Klux Klan. It was appropriated as southern kitsch by the CBS TV show Dukes of Hazzard. And it is often fused with Harley Davidson iconography in a sort of southern tableau of manly manhood. And that’s what happens with symbols — they are created, learned, appropriated and misappropriated. The Nazi swastika originally was a symbol of — and you can’t make this stuff up — Bhuddhist peace.

If anyone is grateful for the current confederate flag controversy, it would have to be the Washington Redskins, because the debate about that team’s own problematic symbolism is sort of lost in the flagpole shuffle.

My questions for SPRING 2016 COM 270:
Referring back to some of the organizing questions for the entire course that we looked at a few weeks ago,

•In what ways is our perception of what the confederate flag means conditioned by custom, socialization and culture?
•How has the meaning of the flag changed over time, and what does this tell us about signs and symbols more generally?
•Who should decide what a symbol means? What gets memorialized and remembered? What gets remembered in particular ways (the authorized memory, in other words)?

In answering these questions, think about some of the artifacts and events we looked at to start Friday’s class:


Rome Braves baseball update

May 13, 2015

{Author’s note: This game report was erroneously omitted from the local paper, which really steams my clams. Spent five hours covering the game and writing it up. So here, and only here, the report in full. Grrrr.}

12 May 2015

ROME, Ga. — Home cooking? No, what the Rome Braves need are bus rides, hotel beds and plenty of fast food.

Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers in front of 4,152 on Education Day gave the Braves a 2-5 record during their latest homestand, a stretch that followed a 5-2 record on the road in Kentucky and North Carolina.

The Grasshoppers (15-16) outscored the Braves 30-17 in taking three of four games at State Mutual Stadium. The Braves have a rare day off Wednesday before opening a four-game set at Asheville on Thursday.

But 31 games into the season, Rome’s coaching staff likes what they see – defensively, on the mound and at the plate.

“These guys don’t let up,” said Randy Ingle, who had most of this year’s Braves last season in Danville. “They’re tight-knit, like family. They brought this with them to Rome as a group.”

In losing Tuesday’s game, a loss Rome (13-18) could have avoided with even a single in its last at-bat, the Braves showed off the qualities Ingle and hitting coach Bobby Moore said they feel good about going into the heart of the season: a medley of starting pitching, solid defense and consistency in approach at the plate.

Starting pitching: Starter Sean Furney turned in seven innings of shutout baseball, pitching out of no fewer than four jams, inducing groundballs in bunches, and doing it efficiently; he needed only 90 pitches.

“We need some length out of our starters going forward, just like we got today,” Ingle said. “Hopefully today is a trendsetter for us.”

Furney dropped his ERA by nearly half a run, to 3.16.

Solid defense: Furney used his fastball to set up his off-speed pitches, which more often than not resulted in a groundball out. In all, 13 Grasshoppers ran futilely toward first base only to be thrown out by a Rome infielder. This kept the defense involved and the ball down, out of harm’s way.

Reserve shortstop Omar Obregon turned in the defense’s signature play in the sixth, ranging far to his left into centerfield to scoop up Brian Schales’s would-be single up the middle, whirling 360 degrees, then throwing a dart to first to get Schales out by a step.

J.J. Franco also sparkled, playing a solid second base and snuffing out a Grasshopper scoring threat, also in the sixth.

Consistency at the plate: Despite a beguiling lack of power and low productivity with runners in scoring position – 0-for-7 in the latter department Tuesday – Rome’s young hitters are grinding out at-bats and sticking close to the game plan, Moore said.

“We don’t preach power, we preach approach,” Moore said. “We want them to be consistent in their at-bats, and they’re doing that. So we need to continue doing what we’re doing. Those clutch hits will come.”

The Braves have just five long balls for the season, compared to, for example, 18 for the Grasshoppers. One of those round trips, however, came only a day before on newcomer Matt Tellor’s grand slam – his first hit as a Brave. The feat is a first for Rome in 14-plus seasons of Braves baseball.

Ingle, who managed Tellor last season in Danville, said the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder adds power to the lineup from both sides of the plate.

Matching Furney frame for frame Tuesday was Greensboro starter Michael Mader, who scattered five hits across six innings. Like Furney, he struggled with control early before settling into a groove and sitting Braves in bunches. Mader breezed through the fourth on seven pitches.

Greensboro posted a run each in the eighth and ninth, both off of reliever Dustin Emmons (0-1), who took the loss.

In the eighth, Greensboro’s Mason Davis scored on Austen Smith’s RBI single to deep left, the team’s seventh hit of the game but third of the frame. Schales scored the game-winner in the ninth on Ryan Aper’s double off the left field wall. Schales had singled to lead off the inning, then swiped second to put himself into scoring position.

Rome had every chance to bounce back in the bottom half of the ninth.

Tellor drew a leadoff walk off of Grasshopper reliever Luis Castillo, then scored when Braxton Davidson dumped a double into deep center. Davidson, the tying run, could get no further; Castillo got both Codey McElroy and Franco looking, Franco to end the threat and the game.

Castillo picked up his third save to preserve the win for middle reliever Kyle Fischer (1-2), who pitched two innings.

NEXT UP: The Braves return home May 18 for a seven-day, eight-game stretch beginning with three games against the Charleston RiverDogs.

The rise of Ozhaino Albies, shortstop

April 14, 2015

SS Albies taking third to set up winning run.

Rome 3
Asheville 2

Success and failure in baseball are often determined by the smallest of adjustments, most of them imperceptible to the casual fan. In Rome’s 3-2 nail-biter against Asheville, the team’s first win in four tries this young season, the difference proved to be Ozhaino Albies’s front foot.

“The hitting coach (Bobby Moore) told me to get my front foot down faster,” said Rome’s slick-fielding shortstop, who on Sunday afternoon added keen, aggressive base-running to his nascent but fast developing 2015 resume. “I wasn’t putting it down early enough, instead swinging with my foot in the air. I’m getting it down sooner so I’m better prepared for the ball.”

The adjustment’s results included a 2-for-3 afternoon in which Albies figured in all three Rome runs. This after struggling at the plate along with the rest of the team against Asheville’s starting rotation. Coming into the game, the Braves were collectively hitting just .186.

Albies “hit with authority this afternoon,” said Moore, who has only begun working with his hitters. “In the field, we’d heard good things about him. He’s got a lot of confidence, and he knows how to play the game.”

The Curacao native put his front foot into a 2-1 pitch from Asheville starter Carlos Polanco and dropped it into shallow centerfield, finding just enough grass to bring in Omar Obregon, who had walked to start the inning, and Joseph Daris, who had singled. The 2-0 lead represented the first time thus far in the 2015 campaign that either Rome had owned a lead or that Asheville faced a deficit.

Albies’s opportunistic hitting offset continued torrid hitting from Asheville’s Wes Rogers, who collected in Rome the past four days seven hits in 13 at-bats, four bases on balls, seven stolen bases in eight attempts, and his first roundtrip of the season, a no-doubter in the eighth inning that brought the Tourists to within one.

“Wes is a dynamic baseball player,” said Warren Schaeffer, manager of the Tourists, and at 30 years old, the youngest skipper in all of professional baseball, according to Asheville’s game notes. “I’m especially happy for him because his family got to see him do it.”

Rogers’s family made the trip from their home in Greenville, S.C., to witness the center fielder’s one-man highlight reel.

In picking up their first win, the Braves (1-3) showed a resilience that caught the eye of pitching coach Gabe Luckert.

“These guys compete,” Luckert said of his starting rotation. “They aren’t backing off when they struggle a bit, and our bullpen has really been doing the job.”

Rome needed a strong afternoon from its bullpen Sunday. Starter Alec Grosser’s inconsistency produced a high pitch count and an abbreviated day of work. He was pulled after the fourth. A trio of relievers held the offensive-minded Tourists to just one run the rest of the way, Rogers’s centerfield blast.

“These are starters who can pitch deep into games,” Luckert said.

As impressive as Albies’s at-bats was his base running. He noticed that Asheville’s outfield had shifted against Keith Curcio, playing the gaps instead of straight up. He decided standing on first that if Curcio could get it into centerfield, he would challenge the throw by heading all the way to third.

Curcio could, so Albies took off. From third, he scored the winning run standing up on a grounder to the shortstop put into play by Jordan Edgerton.

“You saw two really good shortstops today,” Shaeffer said, referring both to Albies and his own Emerson Jimenez, who dazzled in the field. Jimenez snuffed out no fewer than three seeming Braves hits, one of them Edgerton’s sharply hit grounder. He had six putouts in a busy day of work.

Also shining for Asheville was relief pitcher Blake Shouse, who played collegiately at Middle Georgia State College in Macon. In facing the minimum nine batters over three, Shouse induced six groundouts and kept the Tourists in the hunt.


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