CSUEB Professor’s Sport History Book Nabs Top Prize

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • June 15, 2016

Cal State East Bay kinesiology professor Rita Liberti beams with pride when she talks about her book, “(Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph.” And for good reason. Liberti and her co-author, Sacramento State kinesiology professor Maureen M. Smith, recently received the 2016 North American Society for Sport History Book Award. 

“It’s an incredible feeling, this type of award — this is about as good as it gets for us, so we were thrilled,” Liberti said.

According to the organization, “(Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph” was selected because it not only told about the life of an accomplished Olympic athlete, it offered a fresh vantage point from which to explore race, class and gender issues.

A judge’s review said the committee saw it as a window into a part of America’s past that is begging for much-needed attention. Judges said it was more than “just another biography,” and pushed the boundaries of how authors should write about the lives of others.

And that’s exactly what Liberti and Smith were hoping to do. Liberti said the pair wanted to “write against the idea of biography,” instead focusing on how Rudolph is remembered and represented.

“Those biological facts don’t really do her justice,” Liberti said. “She was more than a great runner; she fought against sexism, she fought against racism … these are the stories we wanted to bring to light.”

Liberti and Smith worked on the book for eight years in between teaching full time. In addition, Liberti served as the kinesiology department chair for some of that time, and currently directs the Center for Sport and Social Justice.

It was a busy near-decade of work, but Liberti said she enjoyed using the opportunity to discuss her research in class, and is proud the book was written by two California State University professors.

“The book’s content about identity speaks to many of the experiences of our diverse student body … I would bring my primary source materials to class and we would analyze them together — some of the best ideas came out of those classes,” Liberti said.

She added that there are many reasons why professors write books, one of them being knowledge production, but there’s more to it.

“We do it because we love it … it informs the work I do in the classroom, enriching my teaching,” Liberti said.

Copies of the book are available for purchase from several online retailers and two copies are available to check out at the CSUEB library.