Like Father, Like Daughter, Sort Of

My first football game was in Death Valley, Baton Rouge, on a Saturday night; I was six or so, and my dad, my stuffed tiger, and I sat in the student section. It was also my dad’s first football game. I’ve forgotten who LSU played against. I probably never knew.

Rather, I was in awe of so many people crowded into one space. And of course the live tiger wheeled out in his cage, with cheerleaders sitting atop. When the stadium erupted, I’d ask my dad what had happened, and he’d say “I don’t know, just cheer.” So I waved my stuffed tiger around and did just that, taking my cues from 75,000 strangers. I had a blast.

In a way, my ignorant zealousness of football then has fueled my love of sports ever since. I’m fascinated by not only the sports themselves—the athleticism, talent, artistry, strategy—but also everything else that happens in and around sports. For the inside scoop on the players and the game, I rely on the professionals. My own take on sports is in the surroundings.

I’m easily distracted by mascots, the cultural diversity of concession stand foods, racist fight songs, what type of grass is used in the fields I visit and if it’s owned by Monsanto, how much tax-payers’ money goes into new stadiums, NFLPA members, how Condoleeza Rice swindled her way onto the NCAA playoff committee, Anthony Davis’s trademarking of his unibrow, Prince Fielder’s Korean tattoo, all of it. All of these things are arguably tangential to the sport itself, yet for me, are what make the game.

Noam Chomsky was flat out wrong when he said that professional sports “deflect people’s attention from things that matter.” Rather, I agree with David Zirin, who suggests that nowhere else can one understand contemporary U.S. cultural politics better than in professional (and mega-money college) sports. It’s where issues of race, gender, sexuality, hypercapitalism, militarism, neoliberalism, and patriotism all play out, in public, on network TV, day in and day out. I’m particularly drawn to sports journalism because of this.

Colin Cowherd, for goodness’ sake, talks more about race and masculinity than The New York Times. Though he may not always get it right, he and other sports journalists deal with these politics as everyday topics much more frequently than the general U.S. public, because they have to. Recent expressions on the part of players in support of #Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter have been particularly motivating, and I expect this trend—of athletes unwilling and unable to separate sports from politics—to grow.

As an Asian American sports fan who grew up in (and still loves) the Deep South, I’m hoping to provide a fresh take on the Asian American experience, including the sticky realities of race relations in the South. When I first read the “dat” in “Dat Winning,” I confused it with the New Orleans Saints’ “dat” in “Who Dat”. This double dat reminded me of the history of Chinese “coolie” labor imported to Louisiana to help work the sugar plantations after the end of slavery, which reminds me of the ways in which capitalist exploitation functions upon a logic of racial competition, which brings me right back to sports. These are the types of generative (mis)connections I hope to bring to the blog.


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SERENITY JOO

Serenity Joo is an educator, thinker, spectator sport fanantic, and nacho enthusiast. She grew up in the Deep South, which explains everything. Her body currently resides in Winnipeg, Canada.