New Orleans Sports: Playing Hard In the Big Easy


The forlorn condition of the South will in all probability surrender the majority of the old racing grounds to the weeds and grass, but with New Orleans the case is different. It matters not what comes to pass—whether sugar cane flourishes or the cotton plant blossoms—New Orleans will be the rendezvous of gaiety for all America.

New Orleans Picayune, December 1866

New Orleans Sports will provide a history of sports in New Orleans from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth century, while also surveying the state of the city’s sports historiography. That historiography has long been dominated by the one monograph on the subject, Dale A. Somers’s The Rise of Sports in New Orleans, 1850-1900. That book is an institution unto itself in New Orleans sports historiography, but it leaves much for expansion. Somers’s work was published in 1972, and its coverage stopped at the end of the nineteenth century. This volume will provide an expanded, modern examination of sports in the city. It will pay homage to Somers while expanding on his work and developing an understanding of sports in twentieth century New Orleans.

Such an understanding is vital, as New Orleans was and is a city obsessed with its own history and culture, where that history and culture are so palpable that they have become the city’s principal economic vehicle. Founded in 1718 by the French, transferred to the Spanish in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and sold to the United States in 1803, the city’s culture, law, architecture, food, music, language, and sports evinced a rude conglomeration of the influence of all three countries. The history of New Orleans, then, bore down on residents in every game that was played. It was, befitting that French heritage, un métissage culturel, a culture of blended ancestries and memories that coalesced into one collective history. Because of that cultural mélange and the realities of southern urban life, race would become another dominant factor in the development of the city’s athletic contests.

As the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came and went, a new imperative, that of Sunbelt civic and business development, drove New Orleans to a new kind of growth that was impossible prior to integration. That growth included major league professional sports, seen as fostering further growth, aiding gentrification, and standing as symbols of civic success.

New Orleans Sports is divided into three sections, the first dealing with the Victorian era, the second describing legendary institutions of the city, and the third evaluating the intersection of race and gender from the 1960s to the 1980s. Most of the articles will be new creations by leading scholars of sports history and Louisiana history, while others will be seminal works and rare accounts, all of which will combine to provide a clearer picture of the history of New Orleans sports and the state of the field since Somers.