VOICES PODCAST: TOM SCHALLER
The 1980s marked the last generation of sports media without the internet (and eventually social media). ESPN was in its infancy. Cable TV (regional sports networks) were seeds waiting to be planted — and funded. ABC, NBC and CBS combined to air a couple NCAA college games on any given weekend. Broadcast revenue was not yet a major thing. The financial influence was untapped. College atheltics was not yet the “front porch” of major universities across the country.
But with generational talent like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Michael Irvin, Larry Bird, Herschel Walker, Eric Dickerson, Ronnie Lott, Isiah Thomas, James Worthy — you get the idea, right? — combined with unparalleled style and swagger, there was no need for worldwide media connectivity to attract an audience. They were irresistible. You couldn’t not watch.
The 1980s college sports landscape was a special time and, for better or worse, two athletic programs — Georgetown basketball and Miami football — were signposts for the future of college sports. In his new book, Common Enemies: Georgetown Basketball, Miami Football, and the Racial Transformation of College Sports, author Tom Schaller breaks down what is arguably the two most transcendent programs in college sports history. Add the racial component and, well, Schaller described it best:
During the 1980s Black athletes and other athletes of color broadened the popularity and profitability of major-college televised sports by infusing games with a “Black style” of play. At a moment ripe for a revolution in men’s college basketball and football, clashes between “good guy” white protagonists and bombastic “bad boy” Black antagonists attracted new fans and spectators. And no two teams in the 1980s welcomed the enemy’s role more than Georgetown Hoya basketball and Miami Hurricane football.
Georgetown and Miami taunted opponents. They celebrated scores and victories with in-your-face swagger. Coaches at both programs changed the tenor of postgame media appearances and the language journalists and broadcasters used to describe athletes. Athletes of color at both schools made sports apparel fashionable for younger fans, particularly young African American men. The Hoyas and the ’Canes were a sensation because they made the bad-boy image look good. Popular culture took notice.
In the United States sports and race have always been tightly, if sometimes uncomfortably, entwined. Black athletes who dare to challenge the sporting status quo are often initially vilified but later accepted. The 1980s generation of barrier-busting college athletes took this process a step further. True to form, Georgetown’s and Miami’s aggressive style of play angered many fans and commentators. But in time their style was not only accepted but imitated by others, both Black and white. Love them or hate them, there was simply no way you could deny the Hoyas and the Hurricanes.
Author Tom Schaller joins me on the latest episode of Voices: The Podcast. If you enjoy the show, I hope you will subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also follow me on social media @johnstrubel. Thank you for your support.
Voices is a sports-based podcast hosted by veteran broadcaster and sports journalist John Strubel.