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Sports Historian Toby Rider

Helping Students Understand the Role of Sports in Society
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Physical education was one of Toby Rider’s early academic pursuits, but it took combining it with the history of sports to give him the grounding he sought in a career.

Rider, who hails from Framfield, England, had planned to teach high school physical education until taking a mandatory college history class where he was unable to elude the appeal of history — more specifically sports history.

“I wanted to study why we move, why we play sports versus how we move,” said Rider, who joined Cal State Fullerton this spring. “Sports are such a big part of our cultural identity.”

After graduating from the University of Birmingham, Rider spent some time traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and Southern Africa, before returning back to England to get a master’s degree in sport, culture and society from the University of Brighton. Rider also holds a doctorate in kinesiology with an emphasis on the sociocultural study of sport and exercise from the University of Western Ontario.

During his time at the University of Western Ontario, Rider studied with well-known Olympic historian Robert K. Barney, now professor emeritus of kinesiology and co-founder of Canada’s International Centre of Olympic Studies.

A combination of Barney’s influence and growing up during the end of the Cold War era generated Rider’s fascination with the Olympics and how nations around the world used the games to promote political strength and ideology.

“The Olympics provide a great entry point to understand the complicated relationship between history, culture and sports,” Rider said. “Through sport, governments and countries use their powers to solidify, mobilize and shape public opinion.”

Specifically tracing the U.S. involvement in sports, Rider has explored the U.S. government’s use of its athletes to promote American foreign policy and to manipulate the Olympic movement.

After three years of teaching at Pennsylvania State University, Berks, Rider traveled cross-country with his wife, newborn son and their cat to teach at Cal State Fullerton, bringing his expansive knowledge of the modern Olympic Games and the history of sports in the Cold War era.

“It was an amazing opportunity to teach at CSUF,” recalled Rider. “I knew this would be a great chance to collaborate with other sports historians and to develop something significant and compelling for students. Plus, California is an alluring destination.”

As a sports historian, Rider hopes his scholarship will challenge students to rethink their assumptions and predispositions about the culture and practice of sports.

“Our students are the next generation of movement specialists, but they have to know more than mechanics of movement, because people also move for cultural and philosophical reasons,” said Rider. “I want to teach students to consider the role of sports in society.”

Rider is currently working on publishing his dissertation and the book is scheduled for release in 2016.