'Sports, Media and Race': Luther College Hosts Black History Symposium with focus on sports and the media

"Sports, Media and Race," the 11th annual Black History Symposium, will be held on the Luther campus Feb. 19-20. Participants will explore the popular perception of athletics, genes and cultural background predicting the advantages and disadvantages that athletes have in particular sports.

The research of cultural theorists, investigative journalists and sport researchers, and personal stories of black athletes raise key questions this conference will explore: Is there a race code in sport that reinforces simplistic explanations for black athletic ability? Is the stereotype of natural ability for black athletics exploited by sport media, and if so, how? Does the media portray athletic and intellectual excellence as mutually exclusive? The symposium challenges and encourages participants to think beyond the global appetite for sports celebrities and explore common beliefs about the athletic abilities of African-descended people. The goal is to consider how sport and media challenge and reinforce racial assumptions in American society and world culture. 

The symposium begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the Center for Faith and Life Main Hall with a Plenary Lecture, "Dangerous Dichotomies: Nature versus Nurture and Athleticism versus Intellect," by David Epstein, senior investigative reporter of Sports Illustrated magazine and author of "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance." After the lecture, Epstein will sign copies of his book in the Center for Faith and Life lobby.

Symposium events restart at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 20, with the second Plenary Lecture, "Race, Sport and Media: Lessons from the 1968 Olympics, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Clinton and Midnight Basketball," given by Douglas Hartmann, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and author of  "Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete: 1968 Olympic Protest and their aftermath."

The Black History Symposium Chapel will take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, honoring Wilma Rudolph, three-time gold medalist at the 1960 Rome Olympics. She was chosen as the legacy honoree because of her athletic ability and her personal story. At age six, Rudolph lost the use of her left leg due to polio and was fitted with metal leg braces. However, she recovered the use of her leg around age 12 and became an all-state basketball player at Burt High School where she set a state record by scoring 49 points in a single game. The Tennessee State track coach, who spotted Rudolph during that basketball game, decided to train her to be a world-class sprinter. She went on to earn three gold medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics and was known as the fastest woman in the world.

The symposium continues at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, with a respondent panel composed of Thomas Johnson, Luther assistant professor of communication studies, Emerald Jane Hunter, Emmy-winning producer of Windy City Life, and Benny Boyd, former Luther College assistant football coach, in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

At 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, there will be a gallery talk in the Center for Faith and Life second floor gallery where Luther student Ian Carstens will discuss the art exhibit "Who's Playing Who" which features works by Luther students Brian Nnaoji, Jenna McGee, Jacob "LeRoy" Smith and Decorah artist Tom Sheppard. The talk will be followed by a reception.

The conference closing session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 in the CFL gallery.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,500, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the bachelor of arts degree in 60 majors and preprofessional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website: www.luther.edu.

Wilma Rudolph