Dr. Gregory Kaliss’s new book explores society viewed through the lens of sports
The latest work by the York College of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor of History is slated for a spring release.
The intersection of sports, gender, and political movements long has held a fascination for Dr. Gregory Kaliss, Assistant Professor of History at York College of Pennsylvania.
For his latest book, Beyond the Black Power Salute: Athlete Activism in an Era of Change, Dr. Kaliss spent nearly a decade diving deep into the workings of sports during the volatile 1960s and 1970s in the United States. The book will be released this spring.
“Often we think of sports as just fun and entertaining, but removed from the important things of our lives,” he says. “One of the things about sports, though, is that because so many people are invested in them, they can offer real insight into what’s going on in American life.”
Sports as a measure of society
While working on his doctoral dissertation in the early 2000s, Dr. Kaliss researched the desegregation of college sports during the 20th century. His in-depth examination of the period opened his eyes to how sports can take the temperature of society.
As he researched, he kept looking for a book that outlined a general overview of athlete activism in the 1960s and 1970s.
“That book didn’t exist,” he says. “I realized that if I wanted to read it, I’d have to write it.”
As Dr. Kaliss’s book took shape, controversial athlete activism was happening all around him. NFL players were kneeling during the national anthem. The U.S. Women's National Team in soccer was suing for equal pay. Famous athletes were wearing T-shirts with political messages.
Dr. Kaliss realized the deeper importance of helping people understand the longer history of politics and sports.
“I think it’s a very timely topic,” he says.
Through sports, Dr. Kaliss found a window into how conversations around race, racial identity, and gender have shifted over time. A chapter in his book about Billie Jean King explores the pursuit of equal pay for professional women tennis players and sparks a conversation not only about tennis but about how women were treated in the workplace.
In a chapter about the American Basketball Association of 1967-76, Dr. Kaliss highlights the roots of some of the earliest forms of hip-hop culture.
The book outlines the way that many doors opened for women’s sports, individual financial empowerment, and greater collegiate athlete activism. It also examines issues that weren’t addressed by society during the period and which continue into the current era. Athletes are still chastised for taking a political stance. Women in many sports are still paid less than men. Race still plays a role in who makes the decisions.
“Despite all these efforts of change,” he says, “at the end of the day, the people in power in almost all major sports remain relatively wealthy white men. Why didn’t that power dynamic change?”
Connecting with history
Beyond politics and activism, Dr. Kaliss finds that his students often connect better with history when he approaches the subject through the lens of sports. It’s a mindset that helped shape his career choices.
During his undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Kaliss took an American Studies class in which he learned how statistical analysis in the 1920s reshaped America’s attitude toward baseball.
“I realized I was super interested in thinking about American cultural forms that have hidden meanings that can tell us a lot about what we value in our lives,” he says.
Bringing it into the classroom
Dr. Kaliss looks forward to bringing his research into his York College classrooms. Since joining the faculty in August 2022, he has been working to create classes and syllabi that explore many of the ideas in the book as well as sharing some of his research and writing process with his students.
“Writing this book is part of that ongoing process of engaging with American popular culture, thinking deeply about it, and bringing it to students so they can begin to think deeply about things that they thought were for entertainment only,” he says.
Beyond the Black Power Salute: Athlete Activism in an Era of Change is just the latest iteration in Dr. Kaliss’s body of work exploring the collision of sports and activism. In 2012, he released Men's College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality: Five Pioneer Stories of Black Manliness, White Citizenship, and American Democracy.
Whether inside or outside the classroom, Dr. Kaliss hopes the book encourages readers to think and ask questions about the sports and TV shows they watch and the music they listen to, all of which are windows into American life.
More importantly, he hopes that readers use that newfound knowledge to forge new connections and become more involved in their community at large.