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.


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.

Opening Day magic with the Rome Braves

April 11, 2015
Bobby Cox

Bobby Cox (Photo by Jim Alred, Rome News-Tribune)

ROME, Ga. — Minor league baseball returned to Rome Thursday night, bringing with it the balm of fresh hope and a blank slate. A nearly full ballpark embraced the 2015 Braves with all the vigor and vim of a community that loves its baseball.

“Opening Day is special,” said Hall-of-Famer Bobby Cox, the long-time Atlanta Braves manager who drove up to Rome to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. “I still get goosebumps, even right here at a minor league ballgame. There’s nothing like it.”

Cox added an exclamation mark to a special night in inaugurating the new season and staying on hand to watch the game, which begins a 140-game summer march into early September. The 4-3 loss clinched by a base-running blunder? A minor blemish on an otherwise magical night.

“My wife would rather be right here watching a minor league game than go see one at the TED,” Turner Field, said Cox.

The Friendly Confines of Sect. 206

There’s certainly nothing like Section 206, situated behind the home dugout. There you will find most games all season long the K Man, the Duck Man and the Bubble Gum Man.

Ernie Studard, the K Man, will lead the section in celebrating strikeouts for this, his 13th season, or each and every Rome Braves season since the team arrived in 2003.

“I’ve been Facebooking, texting, taking photos of the sign out front that shows how many days left before opening day. I’ve been counting down for months,” said Studard, who calls his section where those “fan-oriented” gather for games.

Opening Day for Studard is a common thread running through his entire life.

“I think it goes back to when we were kids,” he said. “School is letting out for the summer. At the end of the season, it can get a little tiring, but today? Everything is new again.”

When asked what it would take to keep him from the ballpark for Opening Day, Studard’s response was immediate: “I’m deputy coroner for Floyd County. It would take a murder.”

Adrian Carney, who anchors Section 206 in Row 4, Seat 13, supplies his patented duck call whenever Rome needs some runs, or whenever there are “ducks on the pond.” He said he loves the sense of camaraderie in 206, which has grown over the years.

“If you sit in the same seat for a while, you end up with a second family,” said Carney, also on duck call duty now for his 13th season. “It’s kind of a social club. People buying tickets will ask for this section because they know up here they’ll have a good time.”

Off-season Preparation

Mike Dunn, the club’s general manager, said a lot of people have been working since September to ensure that everyone Thursday night went home with some good memories. The club served up approximately 1,000 hot dogs and poured around the same number of beers to keep the conversations convivial and the confines friendly.

“It’s just so rewarding to see the children smiling and people having fun,” said Dunn, also a 13-year veteran here overseeing operations. “The game of baseball brings people together.”

Dunn is right, and especially so with regards to the Union Rangers, a Little League team of 7- and 8-year-olds that made the drive up from Dallas to trot out onto the field with the 2015 Braves players and stand for the national anthem.

In all, 56 Ranger players, parents and coaches made the drive to State Mutual.

“The kids loved it, but it meant just as much to us parents,” said William Fry, assistant coach for the Rangers and Dad to 7-year-old second baseman Robert Fry. “I had a tear in my eye for sure.”

The Ranger group inaugurated the new Suzuki Showcase seating area in right field, a picnic area topped with canted ATVs.

“I want one of those four-wheelers,” said Chip Smith, whose 7-year-old Cody is an outfielder with the Rangers, and who experienced his first Opening Day ever.

“I didn’t grow up playing or watching,” he said. “I’ve been missing out.”

Matt and Jill Abbott turned a whim – driving over for the game – into dinner for two at Bella Roma. In an early-game promotion, Matt had to accurately tell the 3,683 on hand where he first kissed wife Jill. It was the state of Maryland, and he got it right.

“I’d’ve been in the doghouse if I’d got that wrong,” said Abbott, who convinced his wife to move to Rome from southern New Jersey and, more importantly, to convert to the Braves from the Phillies.

Seeking — and finding — redemption

Baseball’s hallmarks: Family, food, fun. Oh, and redemption. Fans got to see that, too.

Highly touted rightfielder Braxton Davidson committed two errors on the same play in the fifth inning, first fumbling the catch, then misfiring to the second baseman on the throw. The errors led to a pair of Asheville Tourist runs.

In the Braves’ half of the inning, however, the 210-pound lefthander from, ironically,, Asheville, ripped a Zach Jemiola fastball over the wall in left center for the team’s first long ball of the new campaign.

Davidson is among a slew of newcomers: 18 of the 27 on the opening day roster are just getting to know Rome for the first time, including slick fielding shortstop Ozhaino Albies. Only 18 years old and hailing from the land of shortstops – Curacao – Albies made three very different and difficult plays look easy, and he ranged from the third base line into shallow right field to do it.

“He’s a special kid,” said Cox, who knows a little something about identifying baseball talent.

The first hit of the game came at 7:27 p.m., a single up the middle by Jordan Edgerton. The first Rome run came on Davidson’s jack. And the first Rome win? Maybe tonight, when the Braves play game two of their four-game set with the Tourists starting at 7 p.m.

The gender debate in sports

March 3, 2015

mia hamm

All-time great Mia Hamm

One thing is clear after reading the takeaways/questions from the Bridgeman reading: Guys, do not become athletic directors. The problem, dear Brutuses, lies with you.

Here are a few of the pull quotes from the men’s side of the sports aisle:

“Until women’s sports create a substantial fan base, I can’t see there being any changes in professional women’s sports.”

If the likes of ESPN are providing LESS coverage of women’s sports (1.9%, according to our textbooks, and dropping), how can “women’s sports create a substantial fan base?” If it’s all about the money, and it appears to be, what chance do women’s athletics have?

It’s a chicken-and-egg proposition. If women’s coaches continue to dwindle in number, if salaries continue to be lopsided along gender (and racial) lines, if the number of women’s pro sports role models continues to number, oh, about five, asking women “to grow their fan base” before making any significant changes is impossible and even unjust.

Isn’t it incumbent on society, including the media that reflect it, to expand opportunity? To expand that fan base, or at least to give it a fair chance at growing? Isn’t there a greater good in play here? I think so.

“I don’t think that not showing women’s sports is unfair; it is more of a demographic choice from media companies.”

As an economic argument, maybe. But purely economic arguments were used to justify slavery, as well, which might be provocative to say, but not unreasonable. We have to get past the money and the marketing, and we can if we see this as much more than “who wants to watch what on ESPN.” Even in fiscal terms, consider: Women’s events such as the World Cup do spectacularly well; figure skating, as we read in Feder, is by far the most popular Winter Olympics sport; and, for the big surprise, women’s events out-sold men’s during the Atlanta Olympics, and by a comfortable margin.

There is demand out there.

Think about what is televised, what does get its own network, the miniscule numbers these networks garner on the cable dial, and then consider what a legitimate commitment to covering and broadcasting women’s sports might look like and generate in terms of share and ad dollars. Some of these channels are in the low single digits, advertising little more than themselves.

“I don’t think women are treated unfairly in sports.” Again, consider:

  • the money spent on the men’s side
  • the opportunities for male coaches, assistant coaches, SIDs, ADs, reporters — ALL JOBS in sports
  • the pay on the men’s side v. pay on the women’s
  • the illusory “equality” demanded by Title IX, producing a sort of equality, but not meaningful equality
  • the DECLINE in coverage of women’s sports by the likes of ESPN, broadcast
  • and little things, like skorts v. shorts and The (Ladies) Professional Golf Assn.

Does this not strike you as patently unfair, even unethical or immoral.

“I understand the fact that women want to be equal to men.”

I’m not sure that you do. My daughters don’t want to be the same as men, equal in any sort of apples-to-apples comparison; they love their feminity. What they want is to be treated equally, given the same kinds of opportunities and the same numbers of opportunities, to be accorded the same default respect as men. Equality isn’t sameness, in other words. Think of what’s implicit in this statement: That women aren’t somehow equal to men. Of course they are. Women ARE equal to men; they want, I think, to be treated as such.

Men’s sports are on “a completely different level of competition.”

The competitiveness is the same. The quality and skill “levels” are the same. Different, of course, but not inferior in any way.

“Women will always be in the shadows of men’s sports.”

If men continue to control access, you might be right. So let’s clear out some of the men and make room for women of vision. This begins to sound a lot like civil rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had the imaginative power to see a better America. He had the vision, the intelligence and the courage to imagine meaningful equality as promised by this nation’s founding documents and “fathers.” Where is that vision, intelligence and courage with regards to women’s athletics? It’s not in the bolded statement above.

Don’t my daughters deserve to have the same quality and kind of hopes and dreams of, say, an 8-year-old Derek Jeter or 8-year-old LeBron, or an 8-year-old Brandon, Trevor, Cole or Kevin, for that matter? Of course they do.

So who will re-make our athletic world such that those girls with dreams can see them fulfilled in lives flourishing in a world of women’s sports? No one with views like, “Women will always be in the shadows of men.”

“We have come a long way . . . but not close to where most women would like it to be.”

And what about the men? Don’t you care? Isn’t this a men’s issue, too? “All that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” So, men, put down the remote or game console, get out of your recliners and and at least attack your ignorance. As a start.

Men’s sports are simply “more entertaining than women’s sports,” “just what people want to watch.”

Again, if it’s simply the money, only an economic TV broadcast issue, you might be right. But by now can’t we see that this is about the dignity of women in a supposedly free, democratic society? But I also disagree with the premise. More entertaining? Have you ever been to a DIV I women’s soccer match between Top 10 teams? I’ll take that over Hawks-Rockets ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. I’ve watched an awful lot of truly dreadful men’s competition over the years. But there is NOTHING genetic or in any other category that precludes women’s athletics being as entertaining if not more entertaining than anything on the men’s side.

I like Clara’s statement that men’s and women’s sports at the college level are sometimes “equal,” usually for Title IX reasons, but not equal enough to make a meaningful difference, or for it to count or matter. This is the “meaningful equality” Bridgeman described. This is what we should be talking about, beyond or besides Title IX, which is how to achieve meaningful equality for women and people of color.

Ashley pointed out that what women aren’t arguing for here is sameness — same locker rooms, same uniforms, same rules for sports — but, as Clara articulated, for equal value and respect. Keep the sports separate by gender, in other words, but value each equally in every way.

And Madison had some good questions for us, but she rode out of class (horse reference) with her sheet, so I’ll mention those later.


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