Derek Catsam went to South Africa to check historical past and fell in love with rugby. Now his newest e-book on the cataclysm of sports activities and politics in 1981 shines a light-weight on the intersection of sports activities and political activism at this time.
Catsam is the Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor within the Humanities on the College of Texas Permian Basin. An alumnus of Ohio College, Catsam graduated in 2003 with a Ph.D. in History and a Certificate in Contemporary History.
Catsam’s analysis focuses on the historical past of race, politics, and sport in america and South Africa. His newest mission, Flashpoint: How a Little-Known Sporting Event Fueled America’s Anti-Apartheid Movement (Rowan and Littlefield, September 2021) is the examine of a little-known, however necessary second in sports activities historical past: the 1981 U.S. tour of South Africa’s nationwide rugby crew, the Springboks. The e-book, which weaves collectively archival analysis and interviews with former Springbok crew members, examines how the uproar surrounding the tour helped catalyze a nascent anti-apartheid motion in america and in the end formed the Reagan administration’s coverage towards apartheid South Africa.
Catsam additionally authored Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides (College Press of Kentucky, 2009), which explores the deep historical past of racial desegregation efforts in america by recounting the story of the “Journey of Reconciliation,” a public disobedience marketing campaign waged by desegregation activists within the late Nineteen Forties to drive integration in busing and public transport 20 years earlier than the Freedom Riders gained notoriety.
Modern Historical past Institute graduate pupil James Bohland not too long ago spoke with Catsam about his new e-book, and sports activities and sports activities activism at this time extra broadly.
Q. When did you first grow to be on this subject? How did your expertise as a member of CHI form the way in which you method historical past and this mission specifically?
A: After my first semester within the Ph.D. program at OHIO, I went to Rhodes College in South Africa for a yr on a fellowship. Whereas there I took on a few analysis tasks, however I additionally obtained satisfied to check out for the college’s rugby crew. That started my ardour for rugby. It didn’t take lengthy to attach rugby and politics.
Once I found the 1981 Springbok tour to america, after the notorious tour of New Zealand, all of it started to click on.
CHI positively formed me as a historian, and I doubt I’d have taken on such a comparatively current subject had been it not for the toolkit I used to be given there. Lon Hamby and the opposite school helped us perceive that, as Lon would say, you possibly can suppose traditionally about very current occasions, and you’ll suppose very ahistorically about occasions from way back.
Q: Are you able to present a bit background for Flashpoint? Set the scene for us. What precisely was happening in South Africa and America within the Nineteen Eighties to make the go to of the Springboks such a controversial concern?
A: Rugby was a really minor sport in america. And the anti-apartheid motion was in its relative infancy in some methods. There had all the time been some anti-apartheid sentiment and a few protests in fact, however it might explode within the Nineteen Eighties. The thought of the Springboks – arguably the perfect crew on the earth on the time, definitely one of many high two groups, alongside New Zealand – coming to america to play the U.S. Eagles (the nationwide crew) or any rugby would have been absurd. However Australia not solely refused touchdown rights to the South Africans, however even forbid airspace. That meant that coming and going (from New Zealand) they needed to fly by way of america. A once-ridiculous concept got here to make extra sense, although the entire thing ended up being a contact ridiculous.
Q: What’s it about sport that makes it such an efficient device for political and social activism?
A: Visibility for one factor. Maybe not for rugby in 1980, however typically talking sports activities have a built-in viewers — together with within the stadium and on TV. Plus, sport connects to so many different points, so it’s fertile floor for a variety of protests inside and outdoors the power.
Q: Clearly, activism in sports activities is nothing new. Right here within the U.S., we’ve seen loads of current controversies in sports activities: the whole lot from the NFL anthem protests to bans over the usage of Native American imagery/crew names. Does Flashpoint present any perspective on at this time’s sports activities controversies?
A: Nicely, each creator goes to say that their e-book has up to date relevance! However I sincerely do suppose it applies, particularly the debates about preserving politics out of sports activities, one thing that even when it had been a perfect (and I reject that preferrred, frankly) could be an impossibility due to how sports activities intersect with so many parts of society. However just about each supporter of the 1981 tour claimed to wish to maintain sport separate from politics though just about the whole lot concerning the Springboks and their historical past was drenched in apartheid.
Q: What are the important thing classes you need readers to remove from Flashpoint?
A: I assume I need readers to understand (and wrestle with) the intersections with sport and society, on this case the intersections of sport and racism, of sport and the anti-apartheid motion. I hope that they notice that beneath the absurdity (and I hope the compelling nature of) the story that there have been actual points concerned.
Q: What are your favourite sports activities/groups? Your favourite sports activities reminiscence?
A: I’m a local New Englander, so I’m a Purple Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins fan. I detest the apartheid-era Springboks, in fact, however am an enormous fan of at this time’s Siya Kolisi-captained Springboks. I’ve numerous recollections – rising up as a Sox fan, not all of them nice! My first (decidedly non-scholarly) e-book was referred to as Bleeding Purple and was a fan’s diary of the 2004 Purple Sox through which I attempted to determine what the hell made a fairly well-adjusted school professor lose himself and his feelings over a bunch of men I’d by no means meet and if I did meet would most likely not essentially have a lot to speak about with. The 2004 championship win was definitely cathartic.
My two fondest recollections as an athlete had been most likely being voted captain of the monitor crew at Williams my senior yr and my first rugby match for Rhodes. The primary stay rugby match I ever noticed got here as a beginning wing. In my first minute of that first match I had the ball out vast. 5 second later I used to be a sprawled-out mess on the pitch. Thus started a love affair!
Catsam would additionally like to present a shout out to Amaryah Orenstein, his agent and fellow CHI alum (M.A., 2005).