North Korean Ice Hockey Has Presbyterian Roots

North Korea

This is news to me.  Atlas Obscura has it covered.  Here is a taste:

FOR ALL THE INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are bringing to the Korean Peninsula’s fractious history, tense present, and uncertain future, there will likely be little talk about the era when a team of American high school students represented the (now North Korean) city of Pyongyang—in hockey. Today, North Korea has thoroughly erased positive depictions of Americans from its capital, but before World War II it hosted a strong American missionary presence, and was the site of a remarkable chapter in sports history.

The first documented ice hockey games in Korea occurred in 1928, when the Japanese Empire ruled Korea, which they called Chosun (1910–45). An organized national hockey league and a national championship followed a couple of years later. In the Chosun Hockey League, which included teams of all age groups, Americans from the missionary communities were instrumental in developing the game. The first national champion, in 1930, was Chosun Christian College in Seoul, a school founded in 1915 by American Presbyterian missionaries. In Pyongyang, the leading team was from Pyongyang Foreign School, the school that served the American community. Hockey was the school’s leading winter sport.

Hockey games in 1930s Korea were elemental, played on outdoor rinks on land and on Pyongyang’s frozen Taedong River. Bitter cold, rough natural ice, ankle-high improvised boards, and wind and snow were normal for the players, and spectators had to stand all game on the edge of the ice, and sometimes on it. Like pickup games on frozen ponds in Canada or Minnesota, the conditions of these early games challenged the dedication of players and spectators alike.

Read the rest here.

Episode 14: 107 Years in the Making

When the Chicago Cupodcast-icon1bs finally ended the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” they demonstrated just how historic “America’s Pastime” truly is. When Michael Phelps won his 28th Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, he furthered his case for being known as the greatest Olympian history has ever known. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling once again tackle the history of sports, and are joined by Emmy award-winning sports historian, Amy Bass (@bassab1).

Most Olympic Medals Per Capita

Olympic Medals

This came across my feed today.   Grenada has one 1 medal at the 2016 Games, but they only have 106,825 people.  This makes them the most successful nation per capita at the Rio Olympics.  They are followed by Bahamas, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Jamaica. The United States is 42nd.  Indonesia is last.

When it comes to Gold Medals per capita, Bahamas, Fiji, and Jamaica top the list.  The United States is 32nd.  Ethiopia is last.

The Olympics Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It


A person with character exemplifies constraint and self-control.  How one behaves on a big stage says a lot about a person. Whether it’s Donald Trump, U.S. Olympic soccer goalie Hope Solo, or African-American swimmer Simone Manuel, character matters.

Women’s soccer, especially the United States National Team, is a big deal in our house. My youngest daughter, now 15-years old, has been playing and watching since elementary school.  We were thus very disappointed with Hope Solo’s comments about the Swedish team that knocked the U.S. out of the Olympic soccer competition.

We are also big swim fans.  Simone Manuel’s victory in the 100 freestyle, the first win in an individual event for an African-American woman, was a great opportunity for all of us to learn a bit more about the history of racial segregation, especially as it related to community swimming pools.

As sportswriter Bill Plaschke reminds us all in his recent LA Times column, the Olympics does not build character, it reveals it.

Here is a taste:

In a stadium far north of the Olympic heart, a goalkeeper spewed ugly.

“We played a bunch of cowards,” Hope Solo said. “The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

In a news conference room in the center of the Olympic soul, a mom spread grace.

“We started talking to [Simone] about how swimming isn’t just going to be about her,” said Sharron Manuel, the mother of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the United States.  “She will have to share that gift with the world and it will carry a message”

In the stadium, the goalkeeper reacted to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s stunning Friday afternoon shootout loss to Sweden by epitomizing the word she had assigned the Swedes. Hope Solo ran from responsibility and accountability like a coward.

“Sweden dropped off, they didn’t want to open play, they didn’t want to pass the ball,” Solo said. “I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.”

In the news conference room, the mom reacted to daughter Simone’s historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle the previous night by epitomizing wisdom and grace. Sharron explained how she had spent years preparing Simone for this milestone moment.

“As an 11-year-old she did come to me asking . . . why she had not seen many others like herself in a sport of swimming,’’ Sharron said. “I said . . . I don’t know, let’s look it up, so we got on the Internet. . . . That was the moment she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”

Like the sports it celebrates, the Olympics doesn’t build character, it reveals it. In an illuminating few moments about 600 miles apart Friday, the world saw America at its best and worst.

Read the rest here.

Rowdy Gaines: Gold Medalist, Olympic Commentator, and Tweeter


A lot of great things happened last night in the Olympic swimming pool.  I got pretty excited about it:

On that last tweet about Ledecky, check out our post from this morning.

And yes, I am aware that I misspelled Anthony Ervin’s last name in these tweets.

After this initial flurry of swimming tweets, things got even better.  NBC commentator and former Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines jumped into the conversation. He “liked” my tweet about Ervin sleeping on his coach.

I responded:

Then came this:

I responded as a total fanboy:

And then came another “like” from Rowdy.

Made my night!  And yes, I am a middle-aged man with a Ph.D who makes a living as a college professor.

Katie Ledecky: Springsteen Fan


I was thrilled to learn that Katie Ledecky is a Bruce Springsteen fan!  See her interview with Bob Costas here.  I am hoping that the Boss will invite her to one of his upcoming stadium tours!

Ledecky told Costas that her father first introduced her to Springsteen when she was six-years-old.  They would play the Boss on their drives to and from swimming practices.  As some of you know, I have a daughter, Allyson, who is a year younger than Ledecky.  She is a volleyball player and we have spent a lot of time over the years on long car drives to volleyball practices and tournaments cranking the music of Bruce Springsteen and singing together at the top of our lungs. When our throat got sore I would stop the CD and explain to her the meaning of the songs we just heard.  I have no idea if anything I said during these mini-lectures actually sunk in, but I definitely think these experiences taught her patience! 🙂

My daughter is about to leave home. Her first college volleyball preseason starts in a few days, and classes begin at the end of the month.  So I must admit that I got a bit emotional when I heard about the way Ledecky bonded with her father through the music of Springsteen.  I loved the look on her father’s face when the camera panned to the Ledecky family standing off stage. I could relate.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to more father-daughter bonding on some of the long car rides from Harrisburg, PA to Grand Rapids, MI.

Fea ladies

The Fea ladies enjoying a Springsteen concert at Hershey, PA in 2014

And now for a full confession.  I went to bed last night just before the Costas interview with Ledecky.  As I climbed under the covers I got some texts from Allyson, who was at a friend’s house. Here was part of our exchange:



Me: No, I’m getting in bed


Me: Who?



Me: Awesome



Me: Wow!



Me: It’s a sign of YOUR future Olympic glory!

Ally:  And she’s also 6’2

Me: Yup–there you go.

Ally: Hahahahahahahahahaha!

OK–with the emotional father-daughter stuff out of the way I will now write the rest of this post as a serious Springsteen aficionado.

If you watch the end of the interview, Costas says that Springsteen’s song “Glory Days” should now be on the top of Ledecky’s playlist.  Obviously, Costas has never listened to the lyrics of “Glory Days.”  It is a song about a guy who was a good high school baseball player but never really made it.  Now he sits around as “time slips away” sharing his “boring stories” of Glory Days.

Hardly the song that Ledecky wants on her playlist right now.  Somehow I also doubt that it is a song she will relate to thirty years from now.  “Time” will definitely “slip away,” but the stories she tells her kids, her grandchildren, and the people she meets in bars will hardly be “boring.”

 To put it differently, I doubt Katie Ledecky will become another Uncle Rico:

Brazil’s Statue of Liberty?


This is how American religious historian Thomas Tweed describes “Christ the Redeemer,” the statue of Jesus that looks down over Rio. Tweed’s reference to the statue as Brazil’s “Statue of Liberty” is from Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece, “The Many Meanings of Rio’s Massive Christ Statue.”

Here is a taste:

Christ the Redeemer” — or “Cristo Redentor” — rises almost a half-mile into the Rio sky, and is perhaps the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America.

Yet Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a “monument to science, art and religion.”

Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is “reproduced everywhere,” read a 2014 BBC feature, “in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin.” During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo,” that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.

Thomas Tweed, a history professor and Latino Studies Institute fellow at the University of Notre Dame, compared Cristo to the Statue of Liberty — national iconic images that can’t help but stir debate about what, specifically, they say.

“The statue looms large on the landscape, but it hides as much as it reveals about the diverse religious life of Brazilians,” Tweed said Monday.

When the project began in the 1920s, Brazil was almost entirely Catholic. It made perfect sense for the most ambitious public art project to be funded through the Catholic Church. Until as late as 1970, 92 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic, according to a Pew Research poll.

But today, Tweed noted, Brazil is “a remarkably diverse religious world.” A quarter of the country is Protestant — mostly evangelical — 10 percent more are unaffiliated, and there is a great deal of blending of faiths and beliefs.

According to the BBC, the original idea for a monument to Christ came from a group of Brazilians who, “in the wake of World War I, feared an advancing tide of Godlessness. Church and state had been separated when Brazil became a republic at the end of the previous century, and they saw the statue as a way of reclaiming Rio — then Brazil’s capital city — for Christianity.”

Read the entire piece here.

Simone Manuel’s Accomplishment in Historical Context


With her stunning and surprise co-victory in the 100 freestyle last night (take THAT, Australia!) Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

After watching Manuel swim my mind eventually went back to a piece I heard on National Public Radio in 2008 about the history of segregated swimming pools in the United States. I did a quick Google search and found Rachel Martin’s interview with Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana and author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.

Here is a taste of that interview:

MARTIN: So, Jeff, you wrote that, in the late 19th century and early 20th, municipal pools, city pools, weren’t built, just weren’t built in African-American neighborhoods in the same way, or at the same rate that they were in other neighborhoods. Then things seemed to shift in the ’20s and ’30s. Pools were segregated, but separate-but-equal wasn’t really equal. Right? Talk about how those pools varied. What were the differences?

Dr. WILTSE: OK, well, first let me address what you brought up initially, which is that, during the late 19th and early 20th century, cities throughout the northern United States built lots of pools in poor, immigrant, working-class-white neighborhoods, but conspicuously avoided building pools in neighborhoods inhabited predominately by black Americans.

And then in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a pool-building spree in the United States. And there were thousands, literally thousands and thousands of pools that were opened up in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of them were large, leisure-resort pools. They were – some of them – larger than football fields. They were surrounded by grassy lawns, and concrete sundecks, andContested they attracted literally millions and millions of swimmers.

And yet, it was at that point in time that cities began to racially segregate pools throughout the north, and it then extended, obviously, all throughout the United States. And black Americans were typically relegated, if a pool was provided at all, to a small indoor pool that wasn’t nearly as appealing as the large, outdoor resort pools that were provided for whites.

And so, take the city of St. Louis. In St. Louis, black Americans represented 15 percent of the population in the mid-1930s. But they only took one-and-a-half percent of the number of swims because they were only allocated one small indoor pool, whereas white residents of St. Louis had access to nine pools. Two of them were the large resort pools that I’ve been describing.

MARTIN: Hm. And you have written about some specific instances where there was some real violence surrounding these swimming pools, when black people would try to access these white pools. Can you tell us about some of those incidents, specifically in Highland Park?

Dr. WILTSE: Yeah, sure. So, there were two ways in which communities racially-segregated pools at the time. One was through official segregation, and so police officers and city officials would prevent black Americans from entering pools that had been earmarked for whites. The other way of segregating pools was through violence.

And so, a city like Pittsburgh, it did not pass an official policy of racial segregation at its pools. But rather, the police and the city officials allowed, and in some cases encouraged, white swimmers to literally beat black swimmers out of the water, as a means of segregating pools, as a means of intimidating them from trying to access pools. And so there was an instance, well, there was a series of instances over two summers in Highland Park pool, when it was first opened in 1931…

Read the entire interview here.

My Stupid Tweet About Rio

After I posted this tweet I was quietly rebuked by one of my twitter followers.  Amy Jade, a history student studying nineteenth-century Brazil, pointed me to Vincent Bevins‘s piece at The Awl: “You’re Complaining About the Olympics Wrong: How to Criticize the Game Without Sounding Stupid.”

We’re right in the middle of the phase that precedes most global sports mega-events: apocalyptic predictions and violent rejection. This usually gives way to a second phase, when the television show actually begins, everything goes mostly fine (fingers crossed here in Rio), and attention shifts to the sports. This first phase occurs in part because mainstream English-language reporters cast their eyes on places like South Africa, Russia, or Brazil, and find them unpleasantly strange and foreign, sometimes even poor. A bunch of journalists get there and find there’s not much else to do but repeatedly ask, “Wow, is this going to be a disaster?” But it also occurs because we know there are some real problems in the ways that these events are put on. Not only are many recent complaints overstated, they’re pointed in the wrong direction. Here’s a helpful guide to help you complain correctly:

First, avoid reproducing the basic, sensational, or anti-Brazil gripes. There are a great number of ways that Rio is a mess right now. But that’s not the same as saying the event itself, mostly vacuum-sealed far away from the city, will be a disaster, or that Rio shouldn’t have been given the thing. The reality may be closer to the opposite. Rio, a city quite capable of putting on big sporting and tourist events (see: the World Cup final in 2014, every Carnaval every year since forever) maybe could have chosen to skip this one.


Brazil can be criticized for broken Olympic promises, and the IOC can be criticized for its mode of operation, but to complain that Rio de Janeiro has problems in general — crime, poverty, disease, some logistical breakdowns — is tantamount to insisting the games should never happen in developing countries. One could make the argument that the Olympics don’t need to move around, or that they should only happen in the world’s best-run, safest countries, but that would go against whatever the official Olympic spirit is supposed to be these days.

Brazil is not a rich country, but it’s not poor either. It’s a very large country,roughly in the middle of world wealth rankings. But Brazil is also going through an unforeseen, once-in-a-generation catastrophic political and economic crisis. How will this affect the tourists!? Who fucking cares, say many Brazilians, very understandably. Brazil is not China or Russia, it is not a sports rival, and it is not a geopolitical enemy, it’s a nice, democratic country down on its luck right now, and journalists or tourists coming from the world’s richest countries are not fighting Latin American corruption by complaining about bad service or their hotels. Some things are just crappy here, that’s because life on Earth is crap in general, ugh, chill.

Read the rest here.  I’m glad Amy called my attention to it.  Thanks!

Edwin Rios has a similar piece at Mother Jones.