The fall semester conjures thoughts of crisp notebooks, school traditions, the start of the football season, as well as the World Series and basketball.
In a recent interview, Texas Program in Sports and Media (TPSM) Executive Director Mike Cramer, who joined the university last month, talks about sports: his personal experiences, the role of sports in our culture and what we can expect from the Texas Program in Sports and Media this year. Cramer is the former president of the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars, and most recently a professor in sports management at New York University
How did you become introduced to sports?
Growing up on a dead-end street in Albany, N.Y., sport was the escape for all the kids. Baseball was my favorite, as it was for most kids in the late ’50s and ’60s. We played in the streets all four seasons, even spray painting bases on the street, curbs and sidewalks. We played from early morning until late at night. We also had Little League through age 14, and I played in all of the leagues. I loved to watch baseball on TV, but at that time there was generally one televised game each week, so we listened to games almost every day on the radio.
Who are your sports heroes?
Living in New York, it was almost always the Yankees, but that was not much different from the rest of the country, which also identified with the Yankees. Remember, until 1959 there were no teams west of St. Louis. The Yankee’s Roger Maris, who I still believe is the real home run single season record holder, was my hero.
As time went on, I have to add Jackie Robinson to that list. While I didn’t get his impact as a kid — as by the time I became a fan, sports had begun the integration process — I have been increasingly fascinated by his story and his role as I began to understand the bigger picture of what occurred.
What role do sports and sports figures play in American society?
Sports have always played a role in American society. Back in the late 1800s sports were a means for immigrant groups from Ireland, Germany and other countries to integrate and gain acceptance into American society.
Sports have also played important roles in acting as diversions when times are bad. Baseball may well have been the glue that held together a fragile and hurting nation during the depression, especially in the large eastern cities. Today, sports in cities like Detroit are providing comfort and diversion from a beaten down economy.
What attracted you to TPSM, and what is your vision for the program?
When I heard about the Texas Program in Sports in Media, I was taken by the prospect of building a program from scratch, while still teaching and interacting with students. Add to that a chance to return to Texas and join an institution like UT and it was an easy decision.
Because of its broad areas of focus — sports, the impact of the media on the growth of sports, and the societal and cultural underpinnings of sports and media in our society — I see the program as being the place for students, scholars and the media to learn more about the role that sports and media have played in American society.
How can students connect with TPSM during its first year?
In addition to guest lecturing on sports and media in classrooms across campus, I’m collaborating with colleges to produce events that bring sports and media thought leaders to campus. These events include educational panels and symposia that will be open to all students during the year, culminating with our second annual McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society in the spring.
Ultimately, the Texas Program in Sports and Media aims to round out students’ education by giving them improved tools and focused knowledge to become better leaders in a variety of industries that are touched upon by sports and media in American society.