Author: Sean Deveney
Title: Fun city : John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and how sports saved New York in the 1960s
Publication Info: New York : Sports Publishing, 2015.
Jonathan Mahler’s excellent book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning examines New York City in 1977 through the lens of that years highly contested mayoral election and the New York Yankees championship season, despite the high conflict within the team. Deveney takes a similar approach to New York City in the 1960s, albeit over a longer period of time. The political point covers the election and first term of liberal mayor John Lindsay, perhaps the last good Republican. The sports angle focuses on quarterback Joe Namath who would lead the New York Jets to an unlikely Super Bowl championship in 1969. Both men are characterized by their youth, good looks, individuality, and celebrity that defines the “New Breed” of 1960s New York. They also both make a lot of mistakes are subject to hefty amounts of criticism.
There’s a lot of nostalgia by proxy for me in this book as this was the New York City of my parent’s teenage and young adult years, a legendary time in “Old New York” that I would only later realize happened just a few years before I was born. Nevertheless, a lot of the issues in the book are startlingly contemporary: structural racism, angry white resentment that minorities are getting too much attention, conflicts over public education, growing inequality, disinvestment in municipal services, resources going to war taking away from resources that could be used to alleviate poverty, et al Other issues are from a different time such as the frightening increase in crime or unions with the power to dictate terms to the Mayor while still calling multiple strikes.
The book follows Lindsay and Namath’s careers from 1965-1970, with in-depth details of city politics and the New York Jets football. Occasionally, Deveney veers into other things happening in New York during the period, such as Muhammad Ali fighting a title bout that would be the last fight in the old Madison Square Garden and coincidentally would also be Ali’s last fight before his draft protest would get him suspended from boxing. Deveney also documents the demise of establishment teams, the New York Yankees and New York Giants, contrasting them with the rise of the fresh, new teams the Mets and the Jets. Lindsay, not a sports fan, attaches himself to the Mets’ 1969 World Series drive as part of his reelection campaign, which proves a successful strategy. A final chapter on the New York Knicks also winning their first championship in 1970 seems more an addendum than tying into the themes of the rest of the book.
I think Deveney is more effective as a straightforward sports writer than political analyst, but overall it’s still a good history of an interesting time in New York City history.
Recommended books: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler and Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh