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In this episode, I was thrilled to be joined by Dr. Louis Moore. Lou is a sports historian and a professor of history at Grand Valley State University. He has published two books: We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality, and I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880-1915. He also writes essays for many outlets and, along with fellow historian Derrick White, hosts an excellent podcast called The Black Athlete. If that all wasn’t enough, he has also produced two audio courses that you can find on Audible, called African-American Athletes Who Made History and A Pastime of Their Own: The Story of Negro League Baseball. We talk about all of that, what he’s working on now – and why sports history comes with it’s own unexpected set of challenges. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dr. Lou Moore.
MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
- Historian and podcaster Liz Covart, who shared her favorite writing resources with Lou
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
- Storycraft, by Jack Hart
- Historian Alan Taylor
- Sports journalist Howard Bryant
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
- James Baldwin
- Poet Hanif Abdurraqib
- Moore’s First and Pen essays, including the one we talk about in this episode
- Kate Aguilar in Made by History, “It took until 2023 for two Black QBs to start in a Super Bowl. Here’s why.”
Kate Carpenter 0:01
Welcome to Drafting the Past, a podcast all about the craft of writing history. I’m your host, Kate Carpenter, and this week I was thrilled to be joined by Dr. Louis Moore. Lou is a sports historian and a professor of history at Grand Valley State University. He has published two books: We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality, and I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880-1915. He also writes essays for many outlets and, along with fellow historian Derrick White, hosts an excellent podcast called The Black Athlete. If that all wasn’t enough, he has also produced two audio courses that you can find on Audible, called African-American Athletes Who Made History and A Pastime of Their Own: The Story of Negro League Baseball. We talk about all of that, what he’s working on now – and why sports history comes with it’s own unexpected set of challenges. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dr. Lou Moore.
Louis Moore 1:01
So this is going to be pretty embarrassing, but maybe helpful for others. When I was in grad school, I was actually told up I couldn’t write. And I actually had to take like some kind of extra undergrad or graduate writing class, I can’t remember. It didn’t help. Because that’s not that wasn’t my my problem. But I think I still struggled with writing, I always had these great ideas. And because I do sports, there’s there’s such rich resources. And you’re doing a lot of storytelling. My thing was just trying to figure that out. And early on. When I got my job here at Grand Valley, I had reached out to an old colleague at UC Davis, Liz Covart, and so Liz is pretty big in the podcasting world herself, and was doing stuff on writing. And I was like, Hey, let’s talk about writing. What are you reading, you know what works for you. And then she sent me a whole list of books. And one of them, Writing Well, actually helped me out. I went to my used bookstore, found a copy, bought it, read it a million times. And from then on out, I’ve been really, I don’t say I’m a great writer, but I always look to improve and realize that I have to read other people’s stuff, I have to read about writing, and just read in general. And so that’s, you know, that’s what worked for me. The other thing is, is going back to my graduate days, as a TA, I was a TA for Alan Taylor, when I was at UC Davis, I believe now he’s at, he’s at Virginia. And he’s probably one of the greatest writers ever, as historians, because he’s so clear. And going back to look at my old TA stuff, I found his old writing prompts for students, and it was all about clarity and topic sentences and assertions. And so I figured out the very basic, I’m gonna have this down, right, I’m gonna write really good topic sentences, and everything else will hopefully fall in place. And so my boxing book, people tell me, I Fight for A Living, the boxing book, that it’s really clear, right, you could read these topic sentences. And part of that is that and then also understanding as a grad student, you can’t read everything. Sorry, to my, to my professors at UC Davis, there was, there’s a books I didn’t get through. But you can read the introduction of a bit of a chapter and also topic sentences, if you get behind. And if they’re really good introductions. And if they’re really good topic sentences, then you can get through the book. And so that’s kind of how I started to write. So that’s the process. And then it’s just about, you know, asking people who, who I like, who are good writers, whether they’re journalists, like, you know, Howard Bryant who works for ESPN and writes a lot of sports stuff, or historians like Amy Bass, who wrote a really good book on not only on civil rights of the black athlete, but as a really good book on on soccer, and for, you know, pop history, and I was like, you know, how do you do this? What did you read? And she was like, it’s writing or Storycraft or one of those ones that’s like, Okay, let me get this. And so that’s it, right, just listening to others, and then really being honest with myself and telling myself that maybe necessarily, something’s not good, but it doesn’t quite work. Right. And so right now I’m in the process of writing another book. And what’s been super helpful is just that honesty. And part of that honesty is letting myself know I will edit this a lot. So you don’t have to get it right. The first time or the second time, you just have to write. And so that’s been really helpful for me.
Kate Carpenter 4:29
Excellent. So let’s dig into the details. So what when and where do you like to do your reading?
Louis Moore 4:34
Oh yes. This is my favorite part about the podcast. This is when I listen to this podcast when I workout at the gym. So it’s not high intensity, but I always love this part when people say where they write in. And so there’s there’s different places. Last semester, fall 2022, I was on sabbatical and so I was able to write at home first time ever, you know, I’m at a small R2 school. We get sabbatical once every seven years. The first time I had sabbatical, we had two young kids in daycare and just had to take the kids out, right? Couldn’t afford the $1,000 a month. And so writing during when I was writing, I Fight for Living. And part of we will went days when they took naps, they’d be naps on the couch or in the rooms, and I would be in the living room. Now I got my office in the basement, dropped the kids off school, come back home and write in the basement. And, and then also at the coffee shop. I have an older kid, freshman, practices for sports. And they are two hours long, and we are out of district. So about a good 20 minute drive. And I was like, I’m not driving home. So I would drop her off to practice. And I would go to a local coffee shop, I have my iPad, Google Docs, and get a coffee and just write in, I would say about I have about 130,000 words this semester of writing. And I would say up about 50,000 of those were written on Google Docs at a coffee shop just just right now they’re not good words at this moment. But they’re words, and that’s where I write Google Docs at a coffee shop or in my basement.
Kate Carpenter 6:07
Do you have sort of a routine for how you how you organize things, how you put things together?
Louis Moore 6:12
Yeah, so much like everybody else, Dropbox, I have a Dropbox and the reason why I have Dropbox, because I have little kids. And I’m not saying which one — my son — years ago, was messing around and knocked over one of my jump drives, I used to just save stuff on jump drives, and it completely destroyed the jump drive. And I lost a ton of research that wasn’t backed up and some writing. And I was like, oh, gosh, like, how am I going to move on? And someone’s like, you should have a Dropbox, what’s a Dropbox and looked into it, okay. And you know, I realized your school will pay for that, right? It’s part of, you know, we don’t get a lot of money for research and development at my school. But it’s enough to cover a Dropbox subscription. And so that’s the first thing. But what that allows me to do is, I have everything synced up. So it’s synced up to my phone, it’s synced up to my iPad, it’s synced up to my computer. So at any time, I can look at my research. And so I do a lot of and we’ll we’ll talk about this later, I’m sure but I do a lot of primary sources, a lot of newspapers, a lot of PDFs, and they’re all on the Dropbox. And so I could be at my kids’ parking lot, waiting for them to get off school. And you know, what, 15 minutes, because you have to get there earlier, or else you know, you’re gonna be picking them up late. That’s the way it works. And I’ll just sit there and I can read an article that I PDF, or I can be at my, my house or about to go to bed. It’s like, you know, I think I’m gonna write in the morning. Let me read this article real quick, get up and ready to get in there. Right. So that’s one. The other thing is I have Scrivener. And that’s really been helpful just to be able to click through, write stuff, move it around really quickly. Keep everything there. And so for me, that’s that’s where I keep stuff. That’s where I write stuff. But the problem with Scrivener is editing is not really fun. They don’t really have a good grammar check and spelling check and just kind of get grammar and stuff like that. So I realized I’ll have to eventually pull it out on Word. And sometimes they do change your words around without without, you know, once you’ve like, I know I spelled this correctly, and then it’ll just be all off you have to go back through. But Scrivener has been, it’s been a blessing, just be able to see everything right there. And because I do a lot of public facing writing and write in chunks of not 1000 words, a lot of it is 1000 word pieces, right? Or maybe at the most 2000 words. So it’s not hard to go back and go through it because I’m only looking at 1000 words, as opposed to oh gosh, here’s 130,000 words on this one Word doc. So that’s really how I organize, move stuff around. And then again, with everything it doesn’t matter where I’m at, I could write anytime.
Kate Carpenter 8:57
This is really sort of getting into the nitty gritty, but how do you how do you organize in that Dropbox? With files, do you tag things?
Louis Moore 9:03
Yeah, so I’m really weird about organizing. So I do a lot of again, a lot of newspapers. And so the key is for me is everybody. So I’m working on this book on black quarterbacks. So everybody so there’s there’s one big folder that says black quarterback book, right. And then within that folder, every quarterback I’m writing about has their own folder. So nothing’s mixed up. So there’s, you know, Warren Moon, Doug Williams, Vince Evans, all those guys have their own folders, where I dropped and I save and drop. And so I’m doing stuff on microfilm. And luckily now we’re able to PDF stuff and PDF pages, right? Whereas back when I was starting out, you had to have a quarter or you had to have really good handwriting. I’m saving stuff. newspaper.com has just been really good. Whatever databases we have at my school, and so I’ll save it and then I save it by date. That’s where I organize it. And so if it’s 1975 it’s 1975 it’s the day It’s right there. Even though newspaper.com is really good about having the date on the PDF, I need it for being able to find stuff because I’ve organized chronologically in my head. And so everything’s dated, everything’s in order. And then if it’s really good, I’ll say great, or something. So I know to come back to it. And then I go through, and I take notes, and I read it, read all of it, take really good notes, try to get the quotes correctly. So I could just cut and paste what went on when I’m typing. And that’s what what takes a lot of time, because sometimes it’s not, you know, just a simple key search on newspaper.com. Sometimes I’m doing all of the sports sections. So for my book on civil rights and the black athletes, We Will Win the Day, I have every sports section from the Louisiana Weekly, which is the black newspaper, from 1955, to 1968, like every sports section, and I go through and had to read them and have to take notes, or for this book on the black quarterback, you know, I did the Los Angeles Herald Examiner for the football season of 1976. And so from August to December, and it’s a daily newspaper. And so, you know, going through and reading every sports section on the Rams, and also USC football takes a lot of time. And then you take those notes. And so I have 10s of 1000s of pages of notes. I think I have at least 15,000 words on on Vince Evans and another 15,000 on Doug Williams. And so that’s how I organize, I have a decent memory, where stuff is and like, oh, yeah, he said this, but before I write, I go over those notes again, or if I know, I’m just gonna write about something very specific, a game or a season, then I just, you know, I could just hyper focus on 1976 from you know, September to December. But that’s, that’s how everything’s put in place that sounds everything’s organized. I do the same thing with magazines. If I get something from Document Delivery at school, I organized it in a certain way based on the newspaper or, or the magazine. So being organized is key to write, because you got to know where things are at before you start going.
Kate Carpenter 12:09
So where in the research process do you start writing? Is it after you’ve done all the research or partway?
Louis Moore 12:15
Yeah, so for this one, I made up my mind, oh, about two and a half years ago, like I’m gonna write this book on black quarterbacks, I don’t know what’s going to be about specifically, I’ve talked to some folks and but I’m gonna write it. But I also knew that I had a sabbatical coming up. At the point I decided I had a sabbatical coming up in a year, but COVID hit, and then it got pushed back a year. But that’s cool. Because I’m a little bit more, I’m in my mid 40s. But I’m a little bit more mature as a writer now and a thinker. And it’s allowed me to write, I think, a better book, getting pushed back. But I still had to do all my research. And I’ll be clear clarify that when I say all my research enough where I felt good about writing. And so I would say coming in to the project, I researched for about two years. That’s like getting all the PDFs and the microfilm and going on eBay and buying magazines, or just seeing what’s out there. And then talking to my library and seeing if I can just get a PDF of it some some libraries actually bought all these sports, these random sport magazines, right? Not just the Sports Illustrated or sport, but some like local Philadelphia magazines, like yes. So that’s part of it, it takes, you know, takes a while and it’s actually fun going on eBay, especially if you’re not spending all your time, like buying baseball cards and stuff. And then I and then I started to write, and then I realized this past fall when I was writing, I didn’t have everything. And that was okay, because I had time, right, there was no rush. And so part of it was like, You know what, I want to go on this whole different angle, let me spend a few days getting everything I can and getting all these books, so I can get it right. Or, you know, I might be writing a paragraph on on a game or a season and think you know what, I really need this. And that’s the beauty of newspapers.com. Because I can generally find something I need within, you know, a couple minutes. And then you know, go down the rabbit hole of finding another article and another article. And then all of a sudden, you have a couple of paragraphs that you just don’t need. Which is fine, though. I told myself and that’s why this I wrote so much because I knew I was going to cut a lot. But I can’t cut what I don’t have. And so I tend to overwrite and then I’ll correct myself.
Kate Carpenter 14:27
So you’ve mentioned now and in a couple of times getting comfortable with the idea that you’ll go you’ll go back and work on it. What is the revision process look like for you?
Louis Moore 14:35
Pain? No. So, so I’ve realized that, you know, it’s key for all you writers out there, and especially the students. I always tell my students listen to this, but there’s two things there’s writing and there’s editing, right, and once you realize there are two separate things that will free you up in the writing process, but you still have to you still have to edit and then I realize moving forward, you know, this is my third book, that there’s crafting to write, you really want to be able to put together a nice book, move chapters around, tell a really good story. So you know, there’s those three phases: writing, there’s editing, and there’s crafting, and I’m in the editing stage. And like I said, I got everything I needed to most of them, I think about 95% done of writing, I have to come back and finish the chapter at the end, in May. But I wanted to write and now it’s editing and editing, I can get it in where I can fit it in, right. So, earlier this morning, I, you know, I had a dentist appointment at 9:40, I was up. And so let me edit really quick for 40 minutes or 45 minutes, which I couldn’t do if I was trying to write right, like just write in a hurry with only 45 minutes’ time. And so I’m going to go over this manuscript, at least three or four times just editing, just cleaning it up, before I can even craft it and move it around. And so that’s been the process this semester is that when I have a break, when I’m not grading or, or, you know, doing a review for another journal that, you know, I sit down 20, 30 minutes and just do a section at a time. And that’s, I think that’s the beauty of Scrivener, I can see where I need to go, I just do a small part of the chapter. And that’s where I’m at. And then around May I’ll start moving stuff around. And I have an idea, I wrote in order pretty much. So I have an idea of where I want things to go. But there are a few chapters where it comes to the narrative and storytelling that I’m really going to. I’m looking forward to crafting it and making sure it works for me.
Kate Carpenter 16:34
Are there people you get feedback from at that point in the process?
Louis Moore 16:37
Yeah, so I have a partner, Derrick White, who’s at, who’s at Kentucky, he’s my podcasting partner, and we’re pretty honest with each other. And he’s pretty, he’s got a really good eye. And so I’ll send little chunks to him. I don’t know if I’ve never sent like a whole chunk to anybody. But as long as I’m on the right path for like the small stuff, I feel pretty good about it. And so I’ll send stuff to him. And then a lot of stuff is just you know, if I’m doing public presentations, I’ve had an opportunity to do some talks with this book a few times, and just getting feedback from people what they really like about it. And when they don’t say anything, I know that that part probably wasn’t good. And so I had to go back and clean it up. But just being able to talk about it online, when people are really excited about what I mentioned something on Twitter, it’s like, Okay, let me make a note about that they really want to know about this person. So that’s really that’s helped, too.
Kate Carpenter 17:27
Let’s talk a little bit more about using newspapers as sources, because I know that in We Will Win the Day, you relied a lot on newspapers, and especially the black press to talk about black athletes and get that perspective. And it sounds like the quarterback book also does that. What are some of the challenges of working with newspapers?
Louis Moore 17:45
Yeah, so so there’s the challenge of being a historian, right, which is, you, you know, people sensationalized or change things around, right. And so you can’t just go, everything they say, might not be accurate. And so I tell people all the time, I’m a, I’m a two newspaper guy. And that is, if you are in a city that has two newspapers, then I’m going to get both newspapers. And so and I think that also separates me as like a writer, you know, versus someone who just uses, you know, some non academic and not a shot at any non academics, but they don’t have the resources that we have, right, so they can get on newspaper.com. And maybe just do LA Times. But if you know anything about newspapers, they’re totally different, right? The writers are different, their angles are different, what they’re interested in is different. And so you know, having the Herald Examiner and the LA Times to be able to look at the same subject really helps. Understanding how these newspapers work is, is key. It’s not only key for saving yourself time when you’re going through them, right, you’ve got to know the rhythm of a newspaper, it’s, you know, when does that sports section come, because if you don’t know that rhythm, then you’re going to be there forever. But also understanding what they’re, you know, what they’re trying to do with it with their paper. And so writing about boxing in the 1880s and 1890s, is really different than writing about the civil rights movement in sports in the 1960s. They’re trying, the press is trying to do different things, what with these athletes with these black athletes, and, and that’s where I think being a historian helps, right, understanding the timing, understanding just how the press saw, for lack of a better term, the black body and, you know, race and the difference of Jim Crow in the 1880s and the 1960s. And then, you know, as the expert, understanding that I’m the expert, and being able to trust myself and my, my training that what I’m reading is, is correct, right. This is truly how society fell about these black fighters. And it’s not just some one off quote, that seems good. But I have five different quotes that are just like this. And this is the one that I’ve used. And so you have to be able to understand those things. And then also understand the writers that you’re working with. So when I was writing the book, We Will Win the Day and I, you know, I use all the black press and some, some guys are very critical, the athletes, some guys just want to use the athletes for, you know, approval of the civil rights movement. And so you have to understand who the writer is and really get to know that writer. And so there was some guys who I really trusted from newspapers and understanding that they give me a different perspective, but they also tell me the truth. And so that that can only come with just being familiar with your sources. And so you have to, before you do this whole newspaper stuff, you have to understand that and then the other thing and now and I tell people this, people don’t want to believe me, writing about sports is hard. Because everybody knows about sports, right? In a way that people don’t know about, and there’s no knock if you study Maine, but in a way that people don’t know about, you know, some small county in Maine in the 1860s, whereas they know about these major sports figures, right? And if you don’t mention a certain thing, they might say, Oh, what about this? What about that? And so like, dang, I gotta, I gotta have all this information down. The other thing about writing about sports is that it’s daily, it happens all the time. And if you’re not careful, when it comes to the editing process, or the crafting process, you’ll also get into that daily rhythm of just, you know, spitting out what the newspaper said. And now you sound like a newspaper. This happened, this happened, this happened, this happened, instead of being this historian and being able to tell this story, right. And that’s the other part about sports. It’s great, because it is storytelling, it is entertaining. And the hardest thing I think we have, the hardest challenge we have as historians is to be entertaining, like our subjects, right, when it comes to sports. And so that’s where I’m at right now in the process, like, okay, I can never be as great as Grantland Rice, who’s this great sports writer from the 1920s, the 1930s. But I could try to tell a story just like him in, you know, 21st century time, understanding what he doesn’t understand and, and putting a story together that I like, and hopefully, my readers will like, too.
Kate Carpenter 22:06
So that’s a super great transition to my next question, because, in addition to your books, which are very accessible to audiences beyond historians, you also do all these other projects that are very public facing. You and Derrick White have this great podcast, The Black Athlete, which I love. You also write a lot for a public audience from essays and podcasts. And we’ll even talk later about your audio course. Why is that kind of work important to you?
Louis Moore 22:30
Yeah. So I have a colleague who, I won’t say his name. But now must have been like, 15 years ago, we were talking, I was young and listening to him just rant about colleagues not doing enough scholarship. And even though we’re at an R2 school, so it sounds different now, like when you’re when you’re first starting out, you think you’re gonna produce produce produce, and then you realize that it takes a lot of time like to write a book or to write an article. But one of the things he would complain about, and he would say, like, why would you be historian if you’re not going to share your work with other historians? And says, why can’t we see what you’ve been working on? We need this and, and I realized that it’s important for us to stories to share our work with everybody, right. And so part of being online being on social media, when I first started out was just that now, I know, I tweet a lot about live games and stuff like that. But I used to tweet a lot of primary sources and treat the public like a classroom. And so that’s kind of how I approach things, but just through my mind, and through my angle. And so it is very, the way I write is very primary source intense. It’s also very, like putting the past back into the present, as we say, on our podcast. That’s how I, you know, how my students do their writing. Now, we do try to do a lot of public writing, just because I think the public needs us as historians, right? They know there’s basic history they can get, they can go to Barnes and Noble or their local bookshop and get this kind of basic history. But for us historians to be able to tell a story to make sense of things like right away. I think that’s important. Now, I could do that through a sports and race context, whereas maybe somebody else like if we take East Palestine and the train derailment, somebody else could get on and in 1000 words, be very clear about deregulations and the railroad industry. And I think we need that right now. I can’t tell you that people’re gonna read it, like everybody’s gonna read it that especially the people who need to know, but I think, you know, we could do a better job of arming everybody with our knowledge if we, if we write, do some public writing. And now the next phase is, you know, for a lot of people is doing it via Tik-Tok. And that’s just a whole different way of doing things. I’ve tried it in the past and it’s not bad. Take some time to figure out you know, play with the app a little bit and get your get the media setup right. But I think it’s the same thing. Right. As historians, I think we have an obligation to help teach the public about these things to make sense of the past.
Kate Carpenter 24:56
Do you find the writing process different when you’re focused on kind of a more public audience?
Louis Moore 25:00
The podcasts we don’t write, we used to try to script it out, it just takes too, it just takes too much time. And we want to be able to use our minds right away and be there. But with doing the public writing, it is because you’re super conscious, because it’s, it’s, it’s right away, right. Whereas, if I’m doing a journal article, which maybe some listeners will get upset at me, I just don’t do it anymore. Just because it takes so long like, I’m not going to sit there and give somebody a year of my time for 30 pages. And then the wait, wait and wait, where I can write right away, right, I have my contacts, I know who I can, if I want to write something right now. I can get it out by tomorrow morning. Now, it’s only 1000 words, and maybe it doesn’t count on my CV the same way. But I don’t, I don’t need that anymore. But you also know that people who follow you on social media, people, you know, will be reading it right away, and they’ll be judging you. And so it’s really sharpened up my writing, trying to get the correct note, understanding the temperature of the room, understanding what people want to hear, they want you to be very direct, they don’t want you to play around. And this is where like, you know, training from Alan Taylor, we were talking about topic sentences and making assertions and supporting your evidence comes in. And that’s how I try to write. I try to be entertaining, I try to, you know, play with words, as much as I can understand it, that editor will come through it and clean stuff up. But really trying to say what I need to say in a way that I don’t come off as like too academic and there’s nothing wrong with that, but just very, I write, I’m not, there’s nothing outside of my title. And the fact that, you know, I have only worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and you know, we’re off, you know, at the end of April, there’s nothing really academic about me, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s just really trying to be the man of the people. Right. What also has helped me is, is having a talk with Howard Bryant, again, I’ve mentioned him before he writes for ESPN, and wrote several really good award winning books. And one time he told me that, like, he had read a piece of mine, like a short public piece. And he told me that you know, you know, you don’t have to sell yourself anymore, like people trust you, you’re the expert. Right. And so I think what he was getting at, instead of telling me my piece wasn’t good, but you spend too much trying to sell yourself, trying to sell yourself as a historian, right? You just need to get in and out. And and know that people read you because they trust who you are. And so that’s part of the beauty for me about writing, public writing, is that I have put in a lot of work on you know, people know me from social media as a kind of sports history person. So there is trust there, and I can write in a certain way and people are reading my work because they like my words and I don’t have to go through and prove you know that I have this PhD to have all this training. I could just be me. That’s been really helpful and freed me up.
Kate Carpenter 27:55
To talk more about how Lou Moore connects with his audience on the page, I asked him to read an excerpt from a recent essay that he published on a website called First and Pen. Here’s Dr. Louis Moore, reading from his essay titled “Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts Complete Eddie Robinson’s Black QB Vision.
Louis Moore 28:14
Okay, so before I start reading, I just want people to know this has been edited. It was It wasn’t the original piece that I sent in, but, you know, I trust Yussuf [Khan] who, who’s the editor and runs First and Pen, to really get me right. So it says:
Louis Moore 28:28
“In the middle of the civil rights movement, Eddie Robinson set out to change professional football. He wanted to develop a professional Black quarterback, one so good that the pros could not use one of their familiar and lazy excuses to deny him an opportunity. In the past, the pros claimed the Black quarterback couldn’t lead. They couldn’t read defenses, learn a playbook, throw accurate passes, or communicate effectively with teammates. Why waste your time on developing a Black quarterback that might not pan out, some asked, when you could play him right away at another position? Merit mattered, but a man’s color counted more. For the Black quarterback, there was a special equation. Quarterback + Black = Cornerback. Robinson, however, remained unfettered. At Grambling, he modified his run-oriented offense to become more pro-oriented. He integrated long bombs and recruited quarterbacks that fit the mold of a pro quarterback. And to further eliminate doubt, Robinson told his guys not to run. That’s why we have running backs, he’d tell his field generals. Over the years, Robinson produced great ones like James Harris, Matthew Reed, and Doug Williams. While Harris got his shot, Matthew Reed’s 4.5 forty had NFL teams trying to move him to tight end. Then came Doug Williams, the best of the bunch. Called the Rifleman, the Grambling Gunner, and the Bayou Bullet, Williams entered the NFL in 1978 as the best college quarterback ever. “Doug Williams,” Robinson said, “walks the earth holding the distinction of having thrown more touchdowns in four years than any man in organized football.”
Louis Moore 30:20
Like Patrick Mahomes, Williams could put the ball anywhere he wanted. Yet doubts still lingered. Could he read the defenses? Could he throw with touch and accuracy? Could he lead? Would white fans embrace a black quarterback? Doug had all the pressures of being a trailblazing Black quarterback while having to lead a Tampa franchise that went 2-26 in their first two seasons. He did his best to dodge questions about race and symbolism. He was Black, yes, but he played for the Buccaneers. Deep down inside his soul, however, he also knew that he played for Black America. Yet despite the hate mail, the racist fandom, and the constant media critiques, Williams led the Bucs to the NFC championship in just two years. Every time he stayed in the pocket, stared down the defense, and unleashed a bomb with his quick trigger, he opened the door just a little bit more for another Black quarterback. In just his second season, he played in one of the most important games in league history. On September 30, 1979, his Buccaneers landed in Chicago to take on Vince Evans and the Chicago Bears. It was the first time two Black quarterbacks started against each other in a regular season game. The media tried to downplay the significance of the moment, one writer stating, “The most interesting thing about it is that nobody seems to care.” But there was no denying that this game mattered. It mattered for young Black quarterbacks. It mattered for the future of the league.”
Kate Carpenter 31:56
So essays like this one do such a good job of connecting sort of present day sports headlines with historical context. How do you come up with these? And what kind of material goes into writing an essay like this?
Louis Moore 32:10
Yeah, so it’s two things. Sometimes people ask me like, and Yussuf is pretty, so he’s the guy who runs First and Pen. So if you’re writing about sports, and you want to get something, contact me, I’ll contact him. It’s paid to write. So that’s always key. Right. And that’s probably the best thing about public writing is sometimes we do get paid, right? And when you’re young, or when you have young kids, that’s diaper money. That’s always how I looked at this, these extra gigs. Let me just say that first, like, it’s, it’s diaper money, it’s milk money. Now the kids are older. I’m like, yes. All right. So but I want to be different. And I don’t want anybody out there, and tons of people write about sports, to be able to do the same things I can do. And that means this is not me bragging. But this means that I have a lot of research already ahead. And so every time I write, you’re gonna get the historian and you’re gonna get that primary research, you’re gonna get quotes that you’ve never seen before. And that’s what I always go for. And so I don’t write until I have the right quote, so I have the right research done, even if it’s 1000 words, and generally, most of my public writing is about 1000 words, I think that piece might have been 1100. But that’s all I got. I got time for it, right? But that’s it, right? That’s the process like, What can I say that’s different? What can I show you that’s different. And the way I do that is understanding that I have a database of things. Remember, I spent two years researching for We Will Win the Day, I spent years more than that, researching for I Fight for a Living, I’ve done two years on this quarterback book, and everything is PDF, and everything is saved. And I have a pretty good memory of where things are. And so I could pull something out just like that, and, and write and if I can’t, then I have newspapers.com, I have Newsbank, which you know, is really good. If you’re, if you are at a university, make sure you know, you find that database, because they have some really good stuff that you can’t get on newspapers.com. And so I can look something up really quickly. And so whatever you read from me, you’re going to have the history. And the beauty of it. And I have it as a kind of shameless brag here. But but people read it. And so I don’t know if you know that. So the NFL last year got sued by Brian Flores, a black coach who was fired and then in the hiring process, realized that there’s some racism going on. In that lawsuit, they used one of my public pieces from the African American intellectual Historical Society and I thought this is the coolest thing in the world, right, like somebody I don’t know, some lawyer or some you know, somebody who works for the lawyers and law or, maybe some grad student or so we’ve dug it up and just like we’re gonna use part of this as the as the history, right. And so part of me doing the history is understanding that it can be used in that way and people really love history right? And they love learning about these things. And so I always try to put something in there that my readers, my public readers will appreciate.
Louis Moore 32:43
I was actually just talking about you and your work this past week talking about with people about how, how historians can reach more people. And I felt like you were a great example, in essays like this, and the podcast, too. I was saying, you know, it’s, it’s so great, because part of it is just like listening to sports talk radio, in some ways, you know, but then there’s also this, like, amazing context that you get, too.
Louis Moore 35:07
Yeah, you know, we appreciate it, because that’s what we tried to do, right, we try to, you know, what happens to and we, we could talk, we use Zencaster. And this feature of having the face to face has really helped us a lot, because it’s a lot different when you can’t see each other versus when you can, and now we’re just having a conversation. And so, you know, in the past, we’ve had to have like, our, our FaceTime opened up, or, and it like, messed up, you know, messed up a lot of things. But now, just, you know, this feature, you know, helps a lot and, but what we always want to do is, is be the experts, right? But do it in a casual way. And because we both have pretty good memory, we brought in our stuff. And so being able to drop stuff right away, I think I think helps.
Kate Carpenter 36:08
I want to talk a little bit about writing voice here too. Because in addition to being just accessible, your voice in this piece, and so many of your pieces is I don’t even know how to put it, so I want to say lyrical, let’s say sort of like, you know, there’s a good, a great rhythm, I guess. And I’m wondering, is that something you think about while you write? Is it something you edit for, or work on?
Louis Moore 36:30
Yeah, now I do. Now that I’m older. And I’ve read more. And I’ve tried, so I tried to be more creative. And I’m not that creative. But I try so even in that piece, right, like, so I tried to you know, the Buccaneers are like pirates. And so the way I tried to have them roll into Chicago, or I have this line. And listeners, please give me feedback. If this works. I’m talking about Warren Moon — also nobody steal this, by the way. So Warren Moon when he’s playing at the University of Washington, which is by Seattle, and their offensive line wasn’t good. And I have this line in there that says their offense, he had a leaky offensive line, like an old Seattle roof. Right. And so I’m just trying to, Does that make sense? Does that make sense?
Louis Moore 37:13
So so I’m just trying to play like leaky, I mean, you know, it’s a Seattle roof. And think I did something like that for like a dock in Tampa Bay, or trying to write about James Harris throwing a hook pass, that was a pass pattern, online like a polymer knot, right, tight like a polymer knot. So just, you know, I have time, like there’s no rush in getting this book out, especially since a book on the black quarterback came out last year. There’s one coming out this year. What am I rushing for? And so I can play? And I do think about it, and I don’t want people oh, gosh, this is gonna sound weird. So please keep that oh, gosh, in there. So, you know, one one person has helped me out reading is reading a lot of Martin Luther King. And the way he played with words and symbolism and just trying to go back and forth with things like I had never really studied writing and tried to be lyrical. And then you know, when you teach you teach the Civil Rights class every other year or so you read a lot of King and you’re like, man, I know he didn’t write his stuff, but whoever’s writing it and plus him could really write. And I sometimes I tried to be like that, just balance, like so if I say “merit mattered, but colored matter more,” something like that. And then I give an equation right? And so in that even that sentence I read, I was talking about counting, and then I knew next step, I give that math equation that I stole from, like 1971. But still, just the way playing around with words. And the other thing that’s helped me out is just realizing that I’m not from the time these people were. So like, if I’m writing about, like, say what I was writing about boxing, you know, I don’t know about black life, what it was like to be black in the 1880s or 1900s. But there are black writers out there. And so I tried to read those guys. And whenever I got stuck, in I Fight for a Living, I would just read Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk over and over and pick a chapter and try to capture black life. Or there’s this big chapter two, I write the books, I don’t really read them. But chapter two, there’s a scene where Joe Gans is, he becomes a light heavyweight or light, lightweight champion of the world. And he’s from Baltimore. And there’s this huge celebration of of him, it’s like 1902, a black Baltimore, of Joe Gans with all the, you know, 7000 black people out there and there was, you know, hooting and hollering, they’re drinking, they’re partying. And it’s, it sounds familiar to when Langston Hughes is writing about Joe Lewis and New York in 1935. And so before I even wrote this, I read that piece over and over and over again, just to capture what it was like what it must have been like to be back in Jim Crow and see this black hero, this boxer and try to like kind of emulate that. And so that’s helped a lot, just reading people from from their time and trying to capture black life where I, where I just can’t write, I just grew up differently at a different era in the 90s. And so I can’t capture what it’s like in any of these generations, but other writers have that have done a great job.
Kate Carpenter 40:15
It’s a super helpful piece of advice. That’s really great. I’m curious, you know, so it sounds like in many ways you write for the ear to some degree all of the time. But one of your recent projects is this audio course for Audible called African American Athletes Who Made History. What’s the process like for writing that kind of material that’s meant to be listened to?
Louis Moore 40:34
Yes. It’s fun, you know. So there’s actually two of them. I just, I just, I just finished one on Negro League Baseball, and it just got published, like a month ago, and I just got an email from somebody who, who’s reading it. And look, look, I haven’t read it. I haven’t read this. But let’s see, Oh, someone’s complaining about it. No. So I’ve got no, just kidding. He says, I’m just kidding. He says, I’m enjoying your great courses entry covering black baseball. And then it’s just a question about, you know, you have what’s going on, but it’s the fact that you know, they’re nice, and they’re joining. That’s all I got. He’s wondering my difference between Biz Mackey and Josh Gibson, two black catchers. But that’s what I meant when when writing about sports, right? Like, so if I wrote an article about Maine in 1860, nobody’s going to come and ask me this very detailed question. And so I have to be prepared to have a conversation. So you have to be an expert about Biz Mackey and Josh Gibson. But what’s the writing like? First, I’ll say this: listeners, if the Great Courses or Wondrium emails you and asks you to do a course, and you don’t have another project and you’re not like an R1 person, you need this I need a book book book book. Say yes, the money is the best money you’ll ever get. Right? Like it is it is. I’m not gonna lie, it’s really good money. They pay well up front. And so you know, when I finished the African American Athletes Who Made History, when that check hit we you know, we were able to go to Disneyland for like two days in California, right, and then pay it off. Right and so I don’t get any royalties out of it, just I’ll just be upfront about the royalty system’s not that great. But up front you get paid but you’re writing for a public audience or writing for you know, I would say primarily an older audience and you know, they’re geared toward people who are who are lifetime learners. So it’s Great Courses slash Wondrium now. And so you’re writing, not necessarily in an academic jargon that you would as historian so I don’t use these words like voyeur, voyeurism, you know, words I can’t pronounce. Right, right off the top. But I can just talk about the audience watching, right and, and you’re really trying to get colorful pieces. And so for the Negro Leagues, I read a lot of stuff on Negro Leagues Baseball, I had known stuff, but then I made sure I said, Okay, let me get at least five books that cover the whole thing. And, you know, they’re five different writers. And the problem, the hard thing about this, is that there isn’t a lot of academics writing about this stuff. There are a few, but there’s not a lot, right. And so it is, you know, the guy who really loves baseball, who’s you know, you know, maybe self published or writing for some small presses. So maybe it’s not edited. And maybe the fact checkers aren’t there, right. And so, you know, you have to read five different things to make sure this information is correct. And then you have to go to your newspaper databases that make sure that information is correct. But the other thing you realize is what the audience wants, they want stories, they want games, they want lively stuff, and part of the editing process, is them telling you hey, what about this game? Can you make this game more lively. And that’s the other thing about sports people. It’s a weird thing that people, like I write about boxing, the boxing book, they want to know about the match. So I’m like, That’s not important. Let’s just get on to the symbolism and stuff like that. They’re like, no, what happened in these 61 rounds, right? And they want to know everything. And so that’s the hard part about sports. And just balancing that out as someone who’s like, I don’t want to tell you what happened in the fourth inning, like, I just want to move on to this kind of business side of this, the culture side of this. But you do have to prepare for that, you have to think about that. The other thing is, they’re written in 4000 word chunks. And so they’re they do that, because each lecture is about 30 minutes. And so they’re really good at understanding that, how people will, the pace that they read that and how long it comes out. But the key is that our listeners, you know, sometimes I have a little lisp, sometimes my words aren’t clear. And so what I learned from writing the first one, and the second one is don’t use big words, don’t use words that you think are going to trip you up. Because you’ll be in that booth over and over trying to get the right word. I’ve been you know, I write in small sentences because, you know, if you’ve read from the teleprompter, you have got to keep going. And then your mouth gets dry and then you got to break and it’s like, then you got to start over again. So you want to write that gives yourself an advantage, knowing that you’re gonna have to read this out loud, over and over again. So that helps shorten things up that helps, you know, kind of with clarity, too, and then I also think it helps when it’s time to write again, because now all of a sudden, you know audience, you know your audience a little bit better. You know, I’ve been writing again, like we said, doing the public writing, but also writing on Audible has taught me to really think about who’s reading it, and what they need to get out of what you’re trying to say. And so just being clear, being concise, that’s the key to those things. And it you know, takes time. So the Negro League one is 12 lectures, 4000 words each, right and I did it from, I would say, August, last August to March. And then it’s a whole five day process of recording. But there’s also fact checkers, right? Because, like, like, you know, I got this email, I’m pretty sure he’s fact checking on me saying somebody’s a better catcher than somebody. So you have to be prepared for that.
Kate Carpenter 46:00
Well, so as we end here, I want to talk a little bit about inspiration. So I’m wondering what the best writing advice is that you’ve ever gotten.
Louis Moore 46:06
Oh, um, so I would say Clarence Walker, who was my major professor telling me I can’t write and me having to realize and just sit with that, and just — you know, part of it wasn’t that I couldn’t, and I’ve said this before, that I couldn’t write, but it’s like, I didn’t think about writing, right, and I think you have to think about writing. And the best advice I can give people is just to understand that there’s a process and we said it before, there’s writing, there’s editing. And when you’re ready for it, there’s crafting too. And I don’t necessarily think that you have to be ready to craft a book, your first book or your second book, I think you have to be able to write that book and get it published. So you can get tenure. And that’s the other piece of advice. Look, if you’re on a tenure track, and you don’t have tenure, you need to sit and think about what you need in writing, what they say, scholarship wise to get tenure, and you need to do that first. And then all this other stuff can come. And so you know, getting on social media, or writing these public pieces or whatever, it’s a lot easier when you’re free, when you understand that it doesn’t matter if that counts or not. Because I have tenure, I think a lot of people get tripped up on that. Because it is, you know, being on social media is enticing, and it’s fun. But, you know, having this, and academia can be awful at times. But look, getting that check every two weeks and then being done at the end of April, and then deciding if I want to do summer school, and that’s an extra check, is worth it, right? Especially when you have kids, you have the summer off and you can do these things. And then you get to write what you love. And so again, that’s just another piece of it. But writing, there’s writing, there’s editing, and there’s crafting, and if you convince yourself of those things, and you really put forth the time, then you’ll be a better writer because then you can just write freely. Right and not have to worry about all this, this sentence is terrible, because it’s gonna be terrible the first time anyway. And so understanding that and then be able to come back and make it better, really frees you up to get the words out that you need. And just to you know, think about it and write maybe sometimes more than you need because you’ll always come through and cut it out.
Kate Carpenter 48:19
I know you’ve mentioned a couple of names already in this conversation, but who do you read? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Louis Moore 48:25
Oh, um, I read so I like I said, I like Howard Bryant. You know, I read, oh my gosh, I’m gonna butcher his name, his book’s not around here. Gosh, I’m gonna get in trouble, but there’s this poet, Hanif [Abdurraqib] who’s, I love his writing, and I’ll butcher his last name. And now I’m in trouble because I need to, you know, I’m really bad at pronouncing people’s names. But I read there’s a poet that I read and he’s really lyrical with his words, and I can never, I said, Man, I wish I could write like that. And I can’t, but I love sitting down and reading. I love like everybody, I love James Baldwin. I love Du Bois. You know, like I said, I tried to read whoever’s writing at that time. And then I go old school. There’s this magazine called Black Sports and it came out in the 70s and they have really good writers and they’re really clear. And so so far for this book, I’ve just read their writers like you know, this worked for that time. Let me let me try to emulate this. Other than that, I I like when people, historians write short pieces, I always read them. I might not say anything. You know Kate Aguilar, who who’s who does sports and she loves your show. So you know I’m gonna mention her name. Because I think she was the one you got to have Lou Moore on, so shout out to Kate Aguilar who’s had two recent pieces in what, Made by History, the Washington Post one, on the black athlete and they’ve been really good. So I’ll give a special shout out to her. You know editors or manuscript people go talk to Kate Aguilar, go look her up, make sure that she can get a book contract and, and all that good stuff.
Kate Carpenter 50:06
So you mentioned it a little bit you’re working on a book about black quarterbacks, do you want to talk a little bit more about what what you’re working on now?
Louis Moore 50:13
Yes, so especially, especially acquisition, nah, acquisition editors or you know, if you are an agent or anything like that, I’m a free agent. And so anyway, so. And also if your acquisition editor you’ve always talked to me already talked to me, I apologize. I’m just being me [laughing]. So it is a book, what I wanted to write was historical, like, like a nonfiction narrative, right? On the first game between two starting black quarterbacks, Doug Williams and Vince Evans, September 30, 1979. I have gotten off a little bit off track, but it’s still good. It’s really about, a book about their lives, but also how hard it was to get to that point, not just for them, but for other black quarterbacks and, and the coaches that that were part of it. So for Doug Williams, it’s Eddie Robinson, the legendary black coach, and Vince Evans, it’s part telling the story of John McKay, who else who wound up being Doug Williams’ pro coach. And so it’s a white guy. And you know, how he felt about quarterbacks. And it’s a book about the system of football and trying to so it’s part of me is learning about, you know, plays and systems and why wouldn’t they think a black quarterback would fit into this and talking about race. And so it’s been really fun researching and writing. And again, eBay has been just awesome. Because there are a lot of old magazines out there and people like are selling like magazines for like seven bucks. I’m like, Yes, I got, you know, sometimes when I get paid, I will tell my wife this, but I get paid in, in Paypal, and you know, and now Paypal becomes my play money, my eBay money. But then I also I do also get reimbursed for like the scholarly stuff, the buying cards and stuff. And so that’s the book, it’s really telling the story about these two, these two black men their journey, Doug Williams grows up in rural Louisiana, in a small town. He says it’s so small, you can’t hang out in the corner, because there’s only straight streets, right? It’s one street, running through. Whereas Evans grows up in Greensboro, the home of the civil rights movement, right. And so they’re just two different guys coming to the same point. They’re different types of quarterbacks. And so it’s been fun, just telling that story and how we got there and then talking about it. So that’s, that’s where it’s at. Again, there’s a book that came out last year, on the black quarterback, there’s one this year on the black quarterback, they don’t do what I do, just because of the timing and the access I have. But the beauty of that is I don’t have to do that anymore. Right? When someone writes this complete book, a full book, you don’t have to, you can narrow in on what you want to narrow in on. So I’m really free. The other thing I’ll say is, a lot of times people write and and you know, the way it works, the manuscript process is that you approach the acquisition editor and say, Hey, would you like this, and they say yeah, send me a couple of chapters. And, and I’m not doing that, I’m not worried about a contract. I’m just writing. I’m not gonna let an editor shape my thoughts right now. I just want to see what I could do first, and it catches people off surprise, like when I wouldn’t write without a contract. And I’m like, I don’t, I don’t care. Like I don’t need it. Right. You know what I mean? Like, I have my book. So I have the Audibles. I’ve done a lot of things like, I want to be able to write what I want to write without someone telling me no, right off the bat, like this doesn’t work. Because I know that there’s a million different publishers out there and somebody, somebody will take it and then together we’ll, we’ll we’ll crack the rest of it together. But I this is my baby. This is my special project. And so I’m approaching it from that. Now it might seem like kind of selfish, it might be close minded. But it’s just what what I want to do at this point, right? Where I’m not going to worry about someone telling me no before I write it. Like I’m telling myself yes. And I think that’s been really empowering.
Kate Carpenter 54:03
It sounds great. I can’t wait to read it already. Well, Professor Lou Moore, thank you so much for joining me on this, this episode of Drafting the Past.
Louis Moore 54:11
Thank you for having me. I’ve been waiting a whole year for this, so I hope I didn’t disappoint.
Kate Carpenter 54:15
Definitely worth the wait. Thanks again to Dr. Louis Moore for taking the time to join me on Drafting the Past, and thanks to you for listening and supporting the show. You can find links to the books, podcasts, and essays we talked about at DraftingthePast.com, where you can also learn more about how to financially support the show and keep it going. Until next time, happy writing!
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