God, country, and big-time sports : American Protestants and the creation of "Sportianity," 1920-1980.


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In 1976 Sports Illustrated journalist Frank Deford coined the term “Sportianity” to describe a newly conspicuous evangelical subculture within big-time sports represented by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, Pro Athletes Outreach, and Baseball Chapel. By examining the American Protestant men who engaged and interacted with big-time sports in the years between 1920 and 1980, my dissertation provides a comprehensive historical study of how the world of Sportianity was created and the ways in which it intersected with notions of masculinity and American identity. I pay special attention to the influence of non-elite mainline Protestant leaders and institutions. These “middlebrow” Protestants were the primary driving force behind Protestant engagement with big-time sports in the 1920s, the decade when commercialized athletics fully emerged as a mass media spectacle at a national level. They were also the primary influence on the founding of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1954), the organization that spearheaded the full-fledged institutionalization of Protestant piety within big-time sports. By the 1960s, however, the center of gravity for sports-friendly Protestantism had shifted from its mainline Protestant roots to the Sunbelt boosterism at the confluence of southern white Protestantism and neo-evangelicalism. By charting and explaining that change, my dissertation not only examines how evangelical Protestantism became embedded within athletic institutions, it also uses sport as a lens to analyze the shifting center of twentieth-century American Protestantism and to show how at least one wing of the movement described after the 1970s as “evangelicalism” was influenced by mainline Protestantism as much as by the reformed fundamentalists of the neo-evangelical movement.



Sports. Mainline Protestantism. American nationalism. Evangelicalism. Middlebrow culture. Fundamentalism. Southern Protestantism. Masculinity. Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Religious pluralism. Popular culture. Christian Right. African Americans. Race. Muscular Christianity. Football. Baseball.