America’s Fascination with Sports and Sports Heroes

I. Course Description

What values do sports teach us? Are Americans too obsessed with Sports and sports heres? Scholars will examine American culture through the perspective of sports. Sports have had a prominent role in American society since the turn of the century when industrialization allowed the typical citizen to have more leisure time. Scholars will be introduced to sports heroes from many different eras and sports. We will explore a plethora of topics through film, literature and activities. We will look at athletics at all levels, from high school to professional sports, with a particular emphasis on “America’s Pastime.” Scholars will debate pertinent contemporary issues in sports such as race gambling, rugs, sports heroes and role models, paying college athletes, and the escalation of salaries of professional athletes. Scholars will be involved in various simulations including, developing a salary cap, arbitrating a player strike, and conducting a trial on the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The course will culminate with a look at the role of sports and athletes in high school. The ultimate goal of the course is not sports trivia, but why American continue to have sports dominate their lives.

II. Instructor: Jeremy L. Plowman
  • Bachelor of Arts (Russian Studies and Political Science), Gustavus Adolphus College
  • Master of Arts (Social Studies Education), University of Iowa
  • Lee Summit North High School
  • Missouri Scholars Academy faculty – 1999
III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

Students will have the opportunity to discuss and analyze topics, which are rarely addressed in traditional high schools. They will look at issues such as gender, race, and idolatry through a whole new paradigm. The topics are challenging and will promote high levels of critical thinking and writing skills. Also, the interactive nature of the course and the inclusion of the humanities are conducive to gifted learners. Much of the processing of materials for this course will occur on the analysis, application and synthesis level.

IV. Major Topics Covered
  • Definition of a hero
  • Gender in sports
  • Race in sports
  • Morality and sports
  • Economics and sports
  • Tragic flaws and sport heroes
  • Use of sports in film
  • Drugs and sports
  • Family and sports
  • Athletes as role models
  • Societal and community importance of sports
  • Skills and values garnered from sports
  • History of sports in America
  • Why the intense devotion to sports in America
  • How to run a sports franchise
V. Prerequisite knowledge

The student, first and foremost, should have an open mind about a variety of issues. The student should have proficient reading and writing ability, which will allow for the completion of challenging reading material and journal writing or impromptu writing assignments within the class period. Each student will write on a prescribed topic about various problems in sports. The mode of operation in class will usually be discussion, so the students need to be able to both support their own opinions and show a willingness to listen to other’s opinions. Research and analytical skills are of paramount importance, as students will be expected to support their opinion. Finally, the students must be actively engaged in all aspects of the course.

VI. Learning objectives

The student will be able to:

  • define and discuss what constitutes a sports hero
  • examine the importance of sports in American society
  • identify the origin and development of sports in America
  • experience the rules of the American game of townball (a precursor to baseball)
  • analyze the issue of economics in sports through a draft and salary cap simulation for a fantasy baseball league
  • examine how sports affect relationships within the family
  • evaluate the obligation of athletes to be role models through a debate
  • define tragic heroes and relate athletes to heroes in Greek tragedies
  • evaluate whether Pete Rose deserves to be on the Hall of Fame eligibility list through a trial
  • recognize the different aspects of a trial
  • recognize race bias in sports
  • examine avenues to eradicate race bias in sports
  • define academic requirements for college sports through Proposition 16 and 48
  • analyze the problems with Proposition 16 and 48
  • discuss the pros and cons for Title IX through a lively debate
  • identify and analyze various problems with contemporary sports
  • create a class journal on how to fix sports in America
VII. Source materials

The students through their own research provided many of the sources used. Thus, this bibliography only provides you a glimpse of what was used to examine sports in America.

  • Becker, Carl M. & Richard H. Grigsby, “Baseball in the Small Ohio Community, 1865-1900.” Sport in America: New Historical Perspectives. Ed. Donald Spivey. Westport, Connecticut: Greenworod Press, 1985.
  • “The Case for ‘Shoeless Joe’”. The Kansas City Star.  June 5, 1999.
  • Chariots of Fire”, Warner Brothers, Inc. and The Ladd Company, 1981.
  • Dowd, John. “Dowd Report” for Commissioner A. Bart Gramatti,” May, 1989.
  • Edwards, Harry. The Revolt of the Black Athlete. New York: Free Press, 1969.
  • Field of Dreams”, Universal City Studios, 1989.
  • Grant, Dr. Christine H.B. “Title IX and Gender Equity.” NACWAA Fall Forum,Cedar Rapids, IA. September 25, 1995.
  • Heckman, D. The Explosion of Title IX Legal Activity in Intercollegiate Athletics During 1992-93: Defining the “equal opportunity” standard. Detroit College of Law Review, 3.  Fall, 1994.
  • Hoop Dreams”, Fire Line Productions, 1994.
  • “Hoosiers”, Hemdale Film Corporation, 1986.
  • Kirsch, George B. The Creation of American Team Sports. Chicago: University Of Illinois Press, 1989.
  • Lamoreaux, David. “Baseball in The Late Nineteenth Century: The Source of Its Appeal.” Journal of Popular Culture X. Winter, 1977.
  • Lifetime Online. Women’s Sports Foundation. “What Every Female Athlete Should Know.” 1998.
  • The Natural”, Tri-Star Pictures, 1984.
  • NCAA Gender-Equity Study Summary of Results. The National Collegiate Athletic Association. March, 1992.
  • “Official Statement Regarding Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson” National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1997.
  • Rader, Benjamin G.  American Sports. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983.
  • “Stepping Up to the Plate.” Time. Vol. 149, No. 13. March 31, 1997.
  • “Title IX Athletics Investigator’s Manual”. Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education, 1990.
  • “Top 100,” Cincinnati Post, June 21, 1998.
  • Voigt, David Q. America Through Baseball. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976.
  • “What’s Wrong with the NCAA Test Score Requirements?” The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 1996.
VIII. Syllabus and typical classroom strategies
Day  1   Introductions/Prevalence and value of sports in America

Brainstorming and discussion

Group definition of a sport hero

Day 2  Origins/development of team sports in America
  • Guest lecturer/historian: Chris Bobal
  • Question and answer following lecture
  • Set up and participation in townball, a precursor to baseball
Day 3   Money and sports
  • Discussion on salary caps
  • Analysis of revenue and costs in sports
  • Fantasy league/salary cap simulation
  • Individual marketing plans of fantasy teams
Day 4  Sports and Society
  • Field of Dreams
  • Focus questions and journal writing on why baseball was used to tell this story
Day 5   Athletes as Role Models/Flawed Heroes
  • The Natural
  • Debate on obligation and media’s need to find fault withsports heroes
Day 6   Flawed Heroes/Focus on Gambling
  • Internet research on Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose
  • Assign roles for trial
Day 7   Pete Rose Trial
  • Conduct a full trial in front of judges on the Pete Rose controversy
  • Eight Men Out
  • Post movie discussion on culpability of players involved
Day 8   Race and Sports
  • Group research on the Internet
  • Debate: Is there racism in sports?
Day 9   Issues in College Sports/Focus on Proposition 16 and 48

Panel discussion on Proposition 48 and the obligation and privileges of scholar-athletes at Universities

Day 10  Gender in Sports/Focus on Title IX
  • Title IX lecture
  • Guest speaker: Senior Women’s Athletic Administrator,
  • University of Missouri
Day 11 Sports and Film
  • Cross-curricular project with film class
  • Sandlot
  • Discussion on sports in film
Day 12  State of American sports
  • Assign individual topics for research on the Internet
  • Topics: drugs, strikes, stadiums, community, salaries, etc.
Day 13  Value of sports in American communities
  • Brainstorming and discussion on the cost and benefits of sports to communities
  • Case study on St. Louis and Kansas City
Day 14  Research and writing on individual sports topic

Computer laboratory

Day 15  Journal writing

Group editing of journal

Day 16  Culmination/Finish league simulation
  • Sports as inspiration
  • Hoosiers
  • Discuss aspects of film