History 2337: History of Sports in the U.S.

Course Description

This course presents an overview of the development of amateur and professional athletics over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States. Each class meeting will include sports history lectures (often illustrated), the screening of a sports documentary, and a guided discussion about an ethical issue raised by sports. The course considers the social, cultural, religious, and business history of sport in the United States, while focusing on the cultural meaning, religious aspects and ethical components of sports. Because the course is during the high point of the college and professional football season, some of our focus will be on football. Students will be asked to watch a few quarters of BCS bowl games and NFL divisional playoff games, in addition to reading about sports from historical, ethical and religious perspectives.

Instructor Biography

Since receiving her PhD from Harvard University in 1995, Alexis McCrossen has been a part of SMU’s history faculty.  She teaches courses on the history of consumer culture, cultural institutions, and the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Her publications include the books Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday, Land of Necessity: Consumer Culture in the United States-Mexico Borderlands, and most recently Marking Modern Times: Clocks, Watches, and Other Timekeepers in American Life.  Over the course of her life she has been a fan and an athlete.

Learning Outcomes and Benefits

  • Learn about the history of sports in the United States
  • Understand how sports in America are a civil religion
  • Contemplate ethical issues that extend beyond the domain of sports, such as “what is fair play?”, “is winning the only thing?”, and “what about gender equity?”
  • Explore how sports have reinforced and challenged racism and sexism
  • Consider the effect of commercialization on sports
  • See some of the greatest sports documentaries ever produced
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