Textbooks & Teaching Home
Journal of American History

2002 Syllabi
Teaching outside the Box

Editors' Introduction
Gary J. Kornblith & Carol Lasser

U.S. Women Activists
Catherine Badura
Syallbus: 1998, 2000 | Article

The Black Athlete
Amy Bass
Syllabus | Article

Recovering Detroit's Past for History & Theater
Charles Bright

American History Since 1865
A. Glenn Crothers
Syllabus | Article

Intro to American History
John J. Grabowski
Syllabus | Article

American History
Cecilia Aros Hunter & Leslie Gene Hunter
Syllabus | Article

In Search of America's Civil Rights Movement
Alyssa Picard & Joseph J. Gonzalez
Syllabus | Article

Out of Many: Histories of the U.S.
David A. Reichard
Syllabus | Article

Women & Social Movements
Kathryn Kish Sklar
Syllabus | Article

Law & Society in American History
John Wertheimer
Syllabus | Article

Colonial & Revolutionary History of the Southern Tidewater
James P. Whittenburg
Syllabus | Article

American National Character
Michael Zuckerman
Syllabus | Article

The Black Athlete

Honors Seminar 129A
Wednesday, 3:00 to 5:30 PM

Amy Bass
Plattsburgh State University

Manifest in many forms in American society, race is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the arenas of athletic competition. On the surface the black athlete is perhaps the most visible integrated racial subject in the U.S.--seen in all facets of the media, cheered by millions of fans, and teamed with white counterparts. To some the projection of the black athlete on TV, the sports page or the cereal box is a reassurance that minorities are understood and accepted in the U.S. However, while often hailed as an icon of racial progress, paradoxically, the black athlete creates a potentially injurious basis for all other ideas about blackness and black identity.


  • David Wiggins, Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America
  • Walter LeFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism
  • Buzz Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream
  • David Remnick, King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero
  • Jules Tygiel, The Jackie Robinson Reader: Perspectives on an American Hero


· Attendance & Discussion (25%): Students are expected to attend all classes, prepared to intensely discuss the assigned readings. Beginning with the October 12th class, each week a different set of students (groups of 2 or 3) will lead discussion. As well, every student is expected to bring to each class one or two typewritten questions for discussion. These questions will be turned in for attendance credit, therefore late work will not be accepted. In addition, students are asked to frequently read and contribute to the class online discussion, located on the course web page ( - click on the photo of Ali to enter. This online forum will be the primary means of communication with the professor while she is in Sydney, Australia.

· Olympic Journal (20%): Students will create a personal journal of their "media" experience with the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. See the hand-out for specifics.

· Paper (30%): Students will complete the writing of a research paper on a topic of their choice, but ideally derived from some facet of their Olympic journals. Papers are due on December 13th; late work will not be accepted without proper notification from the administration. The papers should be ten pages in length, and should incorporate ideas from class discussions, readings, and films.

· Presentations (25%): Each student is asked to give a 15-minute presentation of their research from their final papers to the class on the last day.


August 30th: Introduction
· get syllabus & review Olympic journal assignment
· reading assignment: everyone reads all of David Wiggins, Glory Bound, due October 11th
· discussion assignment: each student (pair up if necessary) prepare to present a chapter in Wiggins

September 6th: Video Presentation
· watch The Journey of the African American Athlete, parts I & II
· discuss film online
· sign up for individual meetings with professor for week of October 4th

September 13th: No Class
· begin gathering materials for journals
· try to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony on September 15th (check local listings)
· gather media reactions (sportswriters, etc.) to Opening Ceremony
· discuss online

September 20th: No Class
· follow Olympics & work on journals
· discuss online

September 27th: No Class
· follow Olympics & work on journals
· discuss online

October 4th: Individual Meetings with Professor, Champlain Valley Hall #320

October 11th : Wiggins Presentations & Discussion
· Olympic Research: bring journals & collected materials to class
· Wiggins Reading Presentations: be able to summarize the author's argument (five minutes each)

October 18th: What Did Baseball Do?: Jackie Robinson
· read Tygiel, pages 1 - 144
· discussion questions on Tygiel due

October 25th: Robinson continued
· read Tygiel, pages 145-278
· discussion questions on Tygiel due
· brief paragraph outlining research papers due, including a list of sources

November 1st: He Was So Pretty: Ali
· read Remnick, parts I & II, including the prologue
· discussion questions on Remnick due

November 8th: Ali continued
· read Remnick, parts III & IV, including the epilogue
· Video Presentation & Discussion: When We Were Kings
· discussion questions on Remnick due

November 15th: How do you lose those Varsity Blues?
· read Bissinger, chapters 1 to 8, including the preface & prologue
· discussion questions on Bissinger due

November 22nd: No Class - Have a Good Holiday!

November 29th: High School Football cont.
· read Bissinger, chapters 9-16, including the epilogue and the afterword
· discussion questions on Bissinger due
· Video Presentation & Discussion: Varsity Blues

December 6th: His Air Up There: Michael Jordan
· read all of LaFeber (it's not that long!)
· discussion questions on LaFeber due

December 13th: Presentations on Final Papers & End-of-the-Semester Celebration!


This course begins with a close and studied 'mixed media' observation of the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. As the Olympics unfold, you are asked to create a personal journal based on multiple sources: U.S. television news, NBC coverage of the Olympic games, Canadian television, domestic and foreign news publications, the internet, and local Plattsburgh news--don't limit yourself to just one. Collect as many primary documents as you can--newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and so on--as ideally your journals will become the source for longer research papers. You should base your journal on the following questions:

  • Who are the stars of these Olympics? Do early favorites fulfill their prescribed roles? Who are the surprises?
  • What sports seem to dominate media coverage of the Games? What sports are left out? Why?
  • How are sports different from one another, in terms of who does them and how they are perceived? Are some sports "richer" than others? Are some "whiter" than others? Are some dominated by only a few countries? Is there a difference in how team sports and "individual" sports are represented?
  • How are Olympic athletes "amateurs"? Are they? Where does a commercial role enter the Olympic arena?
  • How are identities - nation, race, class, gender, age, ethnicity - demonstrated, described, and performed?
  • What is the role of the media in creating an athlete's identity?
  • How do nations position themselves around their athletes? What nations seem to dominate the media coverage?
  • How is aboriginal culture represented during the Sydney Olympics? What kinds of associations does the American media make?
  • What is your favorite Olympic moment? Who is your favorite Olympic athlete? Are these choices unexpected? What is "favorite" about them?

To get a good background on who and what to watch, check out Olympic web site put together by NBC at, especially the athlete biographies. Some notable athletes to consider (NB: this list was compiled before the Olympic teams were set - there is a (slight) chance some of these athletes did not qualify for the Games):

  • Marion Jones, USA, track and field
  • Michael Johnson, USA, track and field
  • Maurice Greene, USA, track and field
  • Cathy Freeman, Australia, track and field
  • Hicham El Guerrouj, Morocco, track and field
  • Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopia, track and field
  • Felix Savon, Cuba, boxing
  • Muhammad Sabir, USA, swimming
  • Ghada Shouaa, Syria, track and field
  • Marie-José Pérec, France, track and field
  • Vince Carter, USA, basketball
  • Wilson Kipketer, Denmark, track and field
  • Jong Ok, North Korea, track and field
  • Brianna Scurry, USA, soccer