Unbeautiful Watchers and Whereas Hoops

Date and Time: Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 3 p.m.
Location: West Hall 135 & Zoom

Sports fandom—often more than religious, political, or regional affiliation—determines how millions of Americans define themselves. In my 2019 book, We Average Unbeautiful Watchers, I examined contemporary sports culture to show how mass-mediated athletics are in fact richly textured narrative entertainments rather than merely competitive displays, and argued that humanistic methods are urgently needed for developing nuanced critical conversations about athletics. One such conversation, born of my own interactions in the sporting landscape of my home city, St. Louis, and the disruptive force of the COVID-19 pandemic, has produced “Whereas Hoops”: a multimedia project that explores the history of racism that undergirds the lack of basketball facilities in Forest Park, St. Louis’s premier public space, and aims to do something about it. Developed in collaboration with visual artist and fine art faculty member John Early, the Whereas Hoops project has taken shape variously as an Instagram account, a guerilla hoop installation, an artist’s book, and public activism, all aimed at bringing about the installation of permanent basketball facilities in the park. In this presentation, I trace the evolution of the project as well as the progress made toward building hoops in Forest Park, and argue for the importance of both self-reflective sports fandom and publicly engaged Sports Studies scholarship.

About the Speaker:

Noah Cohan is Assistant Director of American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. His research and teaching are oriented to the intersection of American fan cultures, sports, and narratives, particularly as they pertain to race and gender. Cohan’s book, We Average Unbeautiful Watchers: Fan Narratives and the Reading of American Sports, was published in July 2019 by the University of Nebraska Press. He is the co-editor of Sport in the University, a special issue of the journal American Studies (Fall 2016), the founding coordinator of the Sports Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association, and co-convener of the AMCS program initiative in Sports and Society: Culture, Power, and Identity.