Tin Runners: Intersections of Community, Politics and Sport Eight Years after “Kent State”

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:50
Oral Presentation
Mark HAVITZ, University of Waterloo, Canada
Kent State is a large historically regional university in northeast Ohio between Akron and Cleveland. Over the years and buoyed by 40,000 students on its main and multiple satellite campuses, Kent State had developed a national reach. Yet first option provided by a contemporary (2017) Google of “Kent State” is “Kent State shootings.” The latter term references 4 May 1970 when four unarmed Kent State students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops during an on-campus Vietnam War protest. This juxtaposition serves to illustrate the historic staying power of explosive events which can, decades later, overwhelm contemporary accomplishment. The ongoing Kent State narrative came to life for me in 1978. Written using an authoethnographic approach, this paper explores, from the perspective of a student athlete visiting Kent eight years later for a varsity sports competition, interactions with teammates and local citizens struggling to come to terms with the protest legacy’s violent conclusion. Flashpoint for this discussion was proposed construction of a new gymnasium on the site where several mortally wounded students fell. Consensus among the visiting athletes was that such development represented an affront to those people, but it was readily apparent that we (the visiting athletes) held different positions vis-à-vis those of most local citizens with whom we interacted. These conversations prompted me to take stock of my then athletic-focused life and raise multiple questions relevant to early 21st Century citizens. Among them: How and where should contemporary society remember contentious historic events, and people who participated in them? What role(s) could or should contemporary citizens assume in these debates? Are apolitical stances appropriate, or is the act of taking a stand a moral imperative? The paper also explores mediating variables of race and gender. Relevant music and photographic images from the 1970s enliven and support the textual narrative.