This project stems from a blog I published in The Conversation in February 2021. In that blog, titled "The Lou Marsh Trophy builds on a racist legacy, tainting the award's meaning," I wondered what it felt like to "win a sport award named after a notorious racist." I was genuinely curious about how athletes might feel and wanted to raise the question publicly. I also wondered if people even knew who Lou Marsh was, and if my attempt to start the conversation would result in more than a few shares on Twitter.
For context, Lewis Edwin "Lou" Marsh (February 17, 1879 – March 4, 1936) is widely recognized as a pioneer of Canadian sports journalism. He worked at the Toronto Star for nearly 40 years, starting there as a copy-boy in 1892, when the Star printed its first newspaper. He quickly moved up the ladder to writer and secured his own columns, the most famous being his daily "With Pick and Shovel." In 1931 he replaced William Abraham "Billy" Hewitt (Foster Hewitt's father) as the Star's sports editor, a position he held till his untimely death in 1936 at the age of 57. The Lou Marsh Trophy was established that same year. It is handed out every December by a panel of professional journalists to decide Canada’s top athlete. It remains one of the most anticipated events in Canadian sport because it is awarded to any athlete in any sport, whether amateur or professional, male or female.
The blog I published in February received hardly any attention till later in the year, when journalists began discussing who might win the 2021 award. In October, Damien Cox, who oversees the Lou Marsh Trophy voting committee, reached out to me to discuss renaming the trophy: What kind of evidence existed to show Marsh was racist? Did I have this evidence? What kind of conclusions could we draw from it? Would it help the Star make a decision about whether to keep the name or change it? I explained that I had based my thoughts on other people's research on Lou Marsh, and that I too was interested to see what the Star actually published, specifically what Marsh wrote. No one had done a deep analysis of his journalism, which meant it was important to assess the evidence before the Star decided its next steps. Cox published our conversation in November, generating more interest in Marsh and the trophy's name.
The project advanced quickly after that and has become a major undertaking, with a core group of scholars throughout Canada committed to present and future analyses.
We are investigating the way Lou Marsh wrote about Tom Longboat, the famous Onondaga runner from Six Nations of Grand River, Ontario, who captured the world's attention in the early 1900s with his speed and endurance. We are focusing on this relationship because it was one of the main themes highlighted in the blog I published in February 2021, and because Longboat was one of the athletes Marsh wrote about most, which means there should be enough information in the Toronto Star to make strong statements about Marsh's reporting styles, especially where racism (specifically Indigenous racism) is concerned.
We are searching the Star's online database for items that can reasonably be attributed to Lou Marsh and also mention Tom Longboat. Since the Star is restricted access, our intent is to make all of the items we collect available publicly through an open-access repository so that people can use the materials for their own research. We will produce a report for the Star to help guide their decision-making about whether to change the name, as well as produce two op-eds that call attention to our findings and what they mean for issues concerning the politics of naming, the relationship between sports, racism, and commercial media, and the importance of understanding historical narratives in context. We aim to have the report completed by the fall with the two op-eds released sometime in 2022.
We also plan to submit a grant application to build on this project, with the specific objectives yet to be determined. However, we do know it will include nuanced analyses of Marsh's journalism, a publicly available curriculum designed to encourage media literacy on sports reporting, and offer insights on the relationship between media narratives, newspaper production, and sport and social relations in Canada.
The Research Team
- Janice Forsyth, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Nancy Bouchier, Professor Emerita, McMaster University
- Toronto Star, led by Bob Hepburn, Director, Communications and Community Relations
- Brittany Reid, PhD, Adjunct Professor, Brock University
- Eric MacPherson, PhD Student, McMaster University
- Camille Duggal, Undergraduate Student, Western University
- Ann Hall, Professor Emerita, University of Alberta
- Bruce Kidd, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
- Don Morrow, Professor Emeritus, Western University
- Carly Adams, Professor, University of Lethbridge
- Zachary Consitt, PhD Candidate, York University
- Russell Field, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba
- Rob Lake, Professor, Douglas College
- Jason Laurendeau, Associate Professor, University of Lethbridge
- Fred Mason, Associate Professor, University of New Brunswick
- Taylor McKee, Assistant Professor, Brock University
- Ornella Nzindukiyimana, Assistant Professor, St. Francis Xavier
- Christine O’Bonsawin, Associate Professor, University of Victoria
- Mac Ross, Assistant Professor, Western University
- Amanda Schweinbenz, Associate Professor, Laurentian University
Community Interest Partner
- Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Montreal