Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Conversation with David C. Ogden and Joel Nathan Rosen

Joel Nathan Rosen and David C. Ogden are the co-editors of A Locker Room of Her Own: Celebrity, Sexuality, and Female Athletes the latest volume in our unofficial series of sport and reputation books. A Locker Room of Her Own is a collection of essays that profile superstar women athletes and the obstacles they face. The book is now available.

Below, Ogden and Rosen talk about their new book, how it fits with their previous two books, and what's on the horizon.  

This is your third collaboration regarding this notion of sport and reputation. Where does this particular work fit within the lineage thus far? 

The third volume picks up where the second (Fame to Infamy: Race, Sport and the Fall from Grace) left off. While the first two volumes explore the cultural and social nuances of reputation formation, A Locker Room of Her Own is more concrete in focusing on how race and gender serve as foundations of public image. Many of the figures in the first two volumes were buffeted by and often victims of those cultural winds and whichever way they were blowing at the time of their careers. 

While some of the figures in A Locker Room of Her Own also faced those fickle winds, some used their gender and race to further their reputations and careers. For others, race and gender only served as further excuses to castigate them. All in all, the three volumes show how time and history can soften otherwise coarse images of athletes and provide perspectives that were not present during the athletes' careers. From a communication standpoint, the three volumes show that press and media loom largely when it comes to reputation formation, and media accounts alone often tell only part of a grander story. 

You acknowledge in your introduction that you received ample criticism for not including sprinter Marion Jones in Fame to Infamy, which chronicled the changing career arcs of star athletes who’d fallen out of favor with the public following well-publicized indiscretions.  Do you think that the way you approach the athletes in this latest work puts some of that criticism to rest? 

This matter was a cloud that followed us until this latest work was released, which is why we chose to address it head on in that opening chapter.  We’d thought all along that while Ms. Jones’ story certainly warranted a place among the men in the second work, we were concerned—quite concerned, actually—that issues pertaining to her gender, which as explored in the Jones chapter of the new book were and remain the most salient aspect of her circumstances, would have gotten lost among the other male-dominated narratives.

We also had a situation where there were simply too many other women whose reputational arcs, while perhaps not as dramatic as Jones’, nevertheless, placed them in similar situations in terms of the ebb and flow of their public persona—Florence Griffith Joyner, for example.  So while we knew omitting Jones, who at the time the book went to press was headline news, was certain to stir up some quite negative controversy, we went with our initial decision that it would be best for the project as a whole to not allow the gendered portions of the narrative to slip through the cracks, which ultimately marks the most valuable contribution that this collection makes.

Structurally, how does this latest work differ from the previous two? 

The previous collections consciously place a more decided emphasis on joint chapters.  Reconstructing Fame has a chapter on Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Fame to Infamy has shared pieces on the 1998 homerun race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as well as a dual analysis of Joe Louis and Max Schmelling and the relationship that emerged between them, so this was not-at-all unprecedented.  But in constructing the table of contents for A Locker Room of Her Own, we thought it vital to offer more focus on the shared experiences of female athletes, and how these experiences often inform the reputations that result.

With more of these types of grouped chapters, we were able to add much more in terms of comparative as well as contrasting elements evident in the individual narratives that will allow us to attach questions pertaining to public persona, national memory, and even legacy to issues that swirl about the sociology behind gender and race and class that seem to play such significant roles in virtually all of the athletes chronicled.  The convergence of so many of these matters, while certainly evident in the individual chapters, seem even more revealing in those works that feature, for example, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, The Williams Sisters, and the women of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.  But in the chapter exploring the contemporary revival of women’s marathoning, we get to see more vividly the contrasting lines that continue to underscore the tension between Kathrine Switzer and Roberta Gibb now as then, which marks some quite compelling analysis. 

What is the next sport and reputation title we can look forward to?

Unfortunately for us, Dr. Ogden will be moving on, but the project itself will continue. Next on the drawing board is a work that explores the nature of reputation of internationally renowned athletes, many of whom remain virtually unknown to North American audiences but are regarded as major celebrity figures in their individual nations or regions and sports. Included among these figures are China’s Yao Ming, German figure skating star Katarina Witt, and tennis’ Andy Murray, as well as chapters on athletes in sports ranging from international football and cricket to surfing, Formula One racing, and even Sumo.

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