Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Michael Oriard's "Bowled Over"

Michael Oriard is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. He was offensive captain and a second-team All-American at the University of Notre Dame and played four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. His books include Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport (2007), King Football: Sport & Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies & Magazines, the Weekly & the Daily Press (2001), and Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle (1993).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Bowled Over deals with a single brief episode in the history of big-time college football since the 1960s that is covered in my book. The book has two parts. The first focuses on college football in the 1960s, in particular the politicizing of the game in those years, and more particularly yet the racial revolution that transformed the sport. The second part traces the subsequent history of the sport as a working out of its fundamental contradiction as an extracurricular activity that is at the same time a multi-billion-dollar mass entertainment. This contradiction has played out in recent decades as a frantic pursuit of revenue that continuously undermines attempts to maintain academic standards, and as the fostering of a football culture in which athletes are simultaneously over-entitled and exploited. Linking these two seemingly disparate parts is a discussion of decisions made by the NCAA in 1972 and 1973 that responded to the upheavals of the 1960s and laid the foundation for the developments that followed.

On page 99, I discuss the community response to one of several black protests that rocked college football in 1969: the suspension of a black football player at Oregon State University named Fred Milton for refusing to shave his moustache and goatee, in defiance of a team rule forbidding facial hair. In the spirit of “The Page 99 Test,” this small moment actually does capture “the quality of the whole” book in a couple of ways. It looks at the way that local newspapers covered the Milton incident, and one of my fundamental arguments about football in all of my books is the importance of the media in shaping the ways that we have understood the game. Likewise, in noting the range of responses to Milton’s suspension, it expresses another of my fundamental principles: that the culture of football has never been monolithic but has been shaped by competing, often conflicting beliefs, desires, and ideas.
Learn more about Bowled Over at the publisher's website. Read about how Oriard's experience as an All-American at Notre Dame during the period of social change he writes about in Bowled Over influenced his perspective.

--Marshal Zeringue