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The I in TeamSports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity$
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Erin C. Tarver

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226469935

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226470276.001.0001

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Hero or Mascot? Fantasies of Identification

Hero or Mascot? Fantasies of Identification

(p.79) 4 Hero or Mascot? Fantasies of Identification
The I in Team

Erin C. Tarver

University of Chicago Press

Many have argued that the racial integration of sports is indicative of racial progress, since white fans now cheer for players of color. This chapter argues that although such fans may root for and valorize star players of color, they often do so by treating these players as mascots rather than heroes. Drawing on the work of Malcolm X, I contrast white fans’ hero worship of white star players like Tim Tebow with their mascotting of star players who are black or Latino men. Though both hero worship and mascotting are fantasies of identification, they are distinguished by different ways of imagining that player’s relation to the community of which one is a part. To treat a person as a mascot is to treat them as a symbol or object instrumentalized in the service of communal identity, even as they are excluded from full membership in it. Hero worship, in contrast, conceives of its object as “one of us,” and as belonging to the community in a representative, rather than commodified, sense. Both forms of fan identification contribute to the normalization of white masculinity, meaning that the mere existence of cross-racial sports fandom is not necessarily cause for optimism.

Keywords:   mascotting, hero worship, Malcolm X, Tim Tebow, white masculinity, black masculinity, identification, Latinos in baseball, fantasy, Michael Jordan

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