What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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Identities

When Black Texans Gathered Under “Thursday Night Lights”

Why the Lone Star State Has Forgotten Its Proud Tradition of African-American High School Football

Austin Anderson's football team finished its 1961 season with a 20-13 state championship win at Jeppesen Stadium. Photo by Leroy Bookman.

By Michael Hurd
October 19, 2017

I had only been in and out of Houston since leaving our Sunnyside neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, in 1968, to begin eight years of Air Force service. Whenever I returned, I made only casual note of neighborhood and city changes, such as the sad state of the mom-and-pop “candy store” where we used to hang out after school, now boarded up, or a new skyscraper for a Houston skyline dotted with cranes, or another congested freeway opened to …

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Ideas

The Shoe Salesman Whose Name Became Synonymous with Basketball

Chuck Taylor, Though a Mediocre Player, Knew How to Hustle and Perform

The Converse All Star. Photo courtesy of Marc Roberts/Flickr.

By Abe Aamidor
September 14, 2017

When Chuck Taylor, who was born in rural southern Indiana in 1901, left home at age 17 to play professional basketball, he was following an unlikely dream. The game of basketball—invented by James Naismith, a YMCA physical fitness instructor in Massachusetts in 1891—was still a minor sport in America. Few competitive leagues existed, and those that did were regional. Most organized teams were subsidized by large manufacturing concerns, such as General Electric or the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., or …

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Identities

How Irish American Athletes Slugged Their Way to Respectability

Sportsmen with Roots in the Emerald Isle Reshaped the Image of the Shantytown Ruffian

In 1949, 86-year-old baseball legend Connie Mack was honored in front of 65,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. The Philadelphia Athletics manager, known for his upright and gentle character, helped pave the way for an emerging Irish American establishment. Photo by Jacob Harris/Associated Press.

By James Silas Rogers
May 19, 2017

In his 1888 book The Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport, a high-minded treatise on the ennobling effect of sports, the journalist, poet, and Irish exile John Boyle O’Reilly wrote that “there is no branch of athletics in which Irishmen, or the sons of Irishmen, do not hold first place in all the world.” The boast was closer to true than many would realize. By the turn of the 20th century, America’s professional sports were bursting at the seams with …

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Identities

When I Say “Dallas” … You Think “Cowboys!”

How Football Helped the “City of Hate” Recover From JFK's Assassination

Dallas Cowboys fans toasting “America’s Team” during the first half of a divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 15 in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press.

By Christian McPhate
January 24, 2017

Watching my Dallas Cowboys fall to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday on the last play of the game in an instant classic of an NFC Divisional Playoff, I couldn’t help but think back to my grandfather.

The first time I recall watching the ‘boys play, in the 1970s, I was knee high to him, paying more attention to the gun case where he kept his Purple Heart and the loot he’d collected from dead Nazis. As the men in …

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Places

L.A.’s Forgotten Avenue of the Athletes

Thirty-Two Grimy Bronze Plaques Are All That Remain of a Grand Vision to Create a Walk of Fame for Sports

Irish-born American Welterweight boxer Jimmy McLarnin during a traininf session at a gym in America, June 8, 1934. (AP Photo)

By David Davis
August 4, 2016

Walking along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles the other day I stumbled across an old acquaintance. On a small bronze plaque embedded into the sidewalk was the name Jimmy McLarnin, alongside a set of boxing gloves. In his prime, in the 1920s and 1930s, McLarnin was one of the baddest welterweights to climb into the ring. A two-time world champ, he fought at a time when the best Irish boxers were routinely pitted against the top Italian and Jewish pugs. …

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Journeys

Somersaulting into America

As a Top Japanese Gymnast, My Dad’s Future Was Laid Out for Him. He Opted for Adventure in the U.S. Instead.

Yoshi Hayasaki, gymnastics

By Erika Hayasaki
January 2, 2015

The letter that would change my father’s life—and eventually lead to his recent induction into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame—arrived in 1964, at his high school in Nara, Japan. Addressed to Yoshi Hayasaki, it was from an American.

My father, 17 at the time, could not make out a single sentence typed by Eric Hughes, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He asked a campus English teacher to translate. “It sounds like he is trying to invite …

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Identities

What Color Should a Quarterback Be?

How James Harris Changed the NFL’s Marquee Role

What Color Should a Quarterback Be

By Samuel G. Freedman
September 22, 2014

An hour or two before kickoff on the night of August 15, 1969, a rookie quarterback named James Harris noticed a well-dressed man about a foot shorter than him approaching through the tunnel beneath Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. His 5-foot-4 height notwithstanding, the man was a former NFL running back named Buddy Young. More to the point of this encounter, Young was now the first black executive in the league’s front office.

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Imperfect Union

LeBron James Is America

Grappling With the Tension Between the Comforts of Home and the Pursuit of Opportunity Elsewhere—and Getting Grief For It—Is a National Tradition

Cleveland Cavaliers fans in Ohio wear shirts expressing their disappointment towards LeBron James, who was with the Cavaliers for seven years before leaving to play for the Miami Heat

By Gregory Rodriguez
July 18, 2014

Every schoolchild in America should have to read LeBron James’ marvelously hokey essay in Sports Illustrated explaining why he’s going home to northeast Ohio. Before that, of course, they should watch a brief clip of 2010’s infamous The Decision special on ESPN. Four years ago this month, the NBA superstar announced he was leaving Cleveland and “taking [his] talents to South Beach” where he thought he would have the best “opportunity” to win championships.

 …

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